The Co-Work Space for Potential Dropouts is a debt- and grade-free experiment in education. It questions the traditional model of academia and proposes a future of informal education, using the co-work space in a new way. Artist Avi Varma notes that, in 2016, over 500 co-working sites sprang to life in Shanghai and Beijing, each geared toward bolstering a stagnating industrial workforce and revitalizing it through emphasis on startups and innovation. However, in Varma’s view, the results only sustained capitalist practices already in place. What if, the artist asks, co-working spaces were redirected to speculative projects that envision a radically different future?
The Co-Work Space for Potential Dropouts is an investigation into what philosopher Timothy Morton calls “ambient poetics,” incorporating physical, social and aesthetic environments in the gallery space. It addresses issues of art and politics, including advertising and global warming. The project re-creates a co-work space complete with the familiar accoutrements of a start-up company: desks, WiFi, a library and refreshments. It includes a fictional course catalogue, a website, a promotional video advertising the space, an audio loop incorporating ocean sounds and tones of sine waves, and wall signage including political slogans and quotes that inspired the exhibition. Visitors are invited to sit comfortably, relax and bask in the ocean sounds as they peruse the catalogue, which includes descriptions of 35 courses submitted by well-known artists, theorists, cultural critics, activists, curators and academics from around the world. They range from the serious to the tongue-in-cheek; examples include:
· “Conflict Shorelines,” a study of the entanglement between political conflicts and climate change, from international architects Eyal Weizman and Paulo Tavares and Princeton professor Eduardo Cadava;
- “School for Young Shamans,” inspired by faerie circles, group therapy, quilting bees and other spiritual, psychological and social forms, from artist/curator AA Bronson, founder of the Institute for Art, Religion and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, N.Y.; and
- “Ecologies of Excess: A pavilion for the ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Excess of All Nations,’” set in the year 2110, from Eva Franch i Gilabert, chief curator and executive director of Storefront for Art and Architecture, N.Y.
Other topics include drone warfare, energy production, algorithmic poetry, memes, planetary art, sovereignty, corruption, think tanks and much more. Most of the course descriptions include actual reference articles and books that will be available in the exhibit’s library.
Curator Sofia Bastidas said the artists were eager to participate in the experimental project, one that is unique in the organizers’ experience. “We invited them to offer innovative ideas for students to explore – speculative courses that would move students away from the narrow, normative confines of ‘common sense’ and into a terrain of unknown futures and utopian possibility,” she said. “Most of the courses stem from real problems facing the world today, and could actually be applied in education.”
“The Co-Work Space for Potential Dropouts expands upon movements of the avant-garde such as Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism, the objets trouvé of Marcel Duchamp, and the ‘non-sites’ of Robert Smithson, yet inserts them into corporate, tech start-up social forms,” said Bastidas. “It has the explicit aim of expanding ideas of what is possible and commonsensical in art and politics.”
Images: Mo Munley
Avi Varma (b. Dallas, 1983) received his B.A. in romantic poetry from Amherst College and his M.A. in art history and experimental film from the European Graduate School, where he studied with Judith Butler, Avital Ronnel, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou and Giorgio Agamben. From 2010 to 2014 he was a disciple, in the traditional guru-shishya relationship, of musician La Monte Young and light-artist Marian Zazeela (whose Dream House was one of the original Dia Art Foundation site-specific works) at the Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music, where he studied art, composition and North Indian classical vocal music.