Night School: Contemporary Models of Agency

Night School: Contemporary Models of Agency

New Museum

Benji Okuda instructing a life drawing class, an adult night school group at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Image courtesy of the National Archives, Records of the War Relocation Authority, 1941-1947.

April 22, 2008

Night School: Public Seminar 4
Contemporary Models of Agency
A seminar with Maria Lind, Carey Young, Tirdad Zolghadr and others.

235 Bowery
New York, NY 10002

Thursday 24 April, 730 PM
Contemporary Models of Agency, part 1 – a lecture by Maria Lind
Friday 25 April, 730 PM
Contemporary Models of Agency, part 2 – a lecture by Tirdad Zolghadr
Saturday 26 April, 3 PM
Whose Image? – an artist talk by Carey Young

To speak of “agency” in the visual arts is currently the most polite way to raise the hairiest of questions, namely, does art have anything to do with a world beyond its own professional rituals and priorities, and, if so, could and should it strive to shape that world somehow. To raise the question of agency is to address matters of activism, realpolitik, the aesthetics of politics and the politics of aesthetics, but in a hope of discreetly dodging the dialectics of heroism and surrender, resistance and complicity that have plagued these things for so long. In our seminar, we wish to revisit these uncertain dialectics, to closely analyze the notion of agency in itself and to trace a number of models predominating today. But also to sketch out some key features of today’s context, including various forms of instrumentalisation, that determine our choices
and possibilities.

What Are We Doing – Artistic Agency and the Collaborative Turn: The seminar will begin with Maria Lind’s discussion of collective activities throughout the art world. This is a new wave, following the one which helped shape conceptual art in the 60s and which was arguably crucial in the transition from modernism to postmodernism. For some this offers an alternative to the individualism that dominates the art world, for others a way of questioning both artistic identity and authorship through self-organisation. For others yet, it is a pragmatic choice, a possibility of shared resources, equipment and experience.

Thoughts on Turns Less Collaborative: The seminar will then move on to Tirdad Zolghadr’s examples of agency within the arts that are less tangible as such. From tactical retreats, to the growing influence of Italian operaismo, to unapologetic business entrepreneurship, to strategic essentialisms, what are the working premises of these methods of procedure, and which, if any, is their common ground by way of zeitgeist and ideological self-perception. On this count, the lecture will attempt to specify precarious or “post-fordist” working conditions which have been developing internationally over recent decades.

How does artistic agency play in with these developments? To what degree can the above strategies claim agency, and what kind of instrumentalisation is affecting this mode of cultural production? How can artistic agency be reformulated under the current neo-liberalised working conditions?

Whose Image? – An artist talk by Carey Young
Using a variety of media including video, performance and photography, London-based artist Carey Young uses found tools, language and training processes from the worlds of the multinational corporation and global law firm and alters them within an artistic context, exploring ideas of autonomy, performativity, intimacy and dissent. In her talk she will present a number of recent works, including ‘Image Transfer’, her ongoing project which considers the ethical issues for institutions and artists in accepting corporate sponsorship, prizes and other forms of patronage. Intended as an institutionally critical work which employs a viral form, the project trains participants in the specialist research and analytical skills needed to locate and evaluate the often-hidden ‘background’ information on the activities of corporate sponsors. The workshop also considers such questions as what exactly are companies ‘buying’ when they sponsor an artist or an exhibition, and what ‘image’ do artists, and the arts in general, transfer on to sponsors?

Night School is an artist’s project by Anton Vidokle in the form of a temporary school. A yearlong program of monthly seminars and workshops, Night School draws upon a group of local and international artists, writers, and theorists to conceptualize and conduct the program.

Maria Lind was born in Stockholm in 1966. Since January 2008, Lind has been director of the graduate program, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. From 2005-2007, she was director of Iaspis (International Artist Studio Program in Sweden) in Stockholm. From 2002-2004, Lind was director of Kunstverein München where together with a curatorial team consisting (at different times) of Sören Grammel, Katharina Schlieben, Tessa Praun, Ana Paula Cohen, and Judith Schwarzbart, she ran a program that involved artists such as Deimantas Narkevicius, Oda Projesi, Bojan Sarcevic, Philippe Parreno, and Marion von Osten. The format of a retrospective, or survey, was explored in a one-year long retrospective with Christine Borland 2002-2003, which exhibited one work at a time, and a retrospective project by Rirkrit Tiravanija in the form of a seven-day workshop. The group project “Totally motivated: A sociocultural maneouvre” was a collaboration between five curators and ten artists looking at the relationship between ”amateur” and ”professional” art and culture. From 1997-2001 Lind was curator at Moderna Museet in Stockholm and, in 1998, co-curator of Manifesta 2, Europe’s biennale of contemporary art. Responsible for Moderna Museet Projekt, Lind worked with artists on a series of twenty-nine commissions that took place in a temporary project space, or within or beyond the Museum in Stockholm. There she also curated “What if: Art on the Verge of Architecture and Design,” filtered by Liam Gillick. Lind has contributed widely to magazines including Index (where she was on the editorial board), and to numerous catalogues and other publications. She is co-editor of the recent books Curating with Light Luggage and Collected Newsletter (Revolver Archiv für aktuelle Kunst), Taking the Matter into Common Hands: Collaborative Practices in Contemporary Art (Blackdog Publishing), as well as the report European Cultural Policies 2015. She has been teaching and lecturing at different art schools since the early 1990s, including the University Colleges of Fine Art in Umeå and Stockholm, the Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths College in London, Bard Center for Curatorial Studies in Annandale-on-Hudson, the Emily Carr Institute of Art in Vancouver, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo and Munich.

Since graduating with a Masters in Photography from the Royal College of Art, London in 1997 Carey Young has exhibited widely, most notably in solo shows at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (2005 and 2007), Index, Stockholm (2004), Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (2004) and John Hansard Gallery & tour (2001). Her work has appeared in group shows including A Short History of Performance Part II (Whitechapel Gallery, 2003), British Art Show 6 (BALTIC, Newcastle and tour, 2006), How to Improve the World, (Hayward Gallery, 2006), Moscow Biennale 2 (Moscow, 2007) and For Sale, (Cristina Guerra Gallery, Lisbon, 2007) curated by Jens Hoffman. Her works are held in the public collections of the Tate, Arts Council England and the
Centre Pompidou.

Tirdad Zolghadr is a freelance writer and curator based in Berlin. He has organized events in a wide range of venues, writes regularly for frieze magazine and other publications, and is editor-at-large for Cabinet magazine. Zolghadr is also a founding member of the Shahrzad Art & Design collective, has directed several documentary films, and has also published his first novel, Softcore, with Telegram Books London.

All events are free with Museum admission but tickets are required. Tickets can be reserved online or at the Museum one week before the seminar’s start; a limited number of tickets will be available one hour before each event’s start. Tickets are limited, distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis, and must be collected prior to the event’s start time. Unclaimed tickets will be released promptly at the event’s start time. Please check individual events below for tickets and more information.

For tickets see

Night School is part of the Museum as Hub, which is made possible by the Third Millennium Foundation.

With additional generous support from the Metlife Foundation

Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Endowment support is provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Skadden, Arps Education Programs Fund and the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Fund for Education Programs at the New Museum.

Generous support also provided by the Charlotte and Bill Ford Artist Talks Fund.

New Museum

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April 22, 2008

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