Magazine article Art Monthly

Rebel without Recourse

Magazine article Art Monthly

Rebel without Recourse

Article excerpt

Writing in the publication Chelsea Arts UK, published in 2005 to coincide with Chelsea School of Art and Design's relocation to London's Millbank, the college head, Roger Wilson, observes that it is 'a curious thing' to be organising the many complexities of this difficult move while having 'simultaneously to plan for subversion and creative transgression, as essential to the fabric of the college as the roof over our heads'. It is indeed curious that Wilson can so easily align the history and continuation of one of London's most renowned art schools with transgression and dissent. Wouldn't one expect someone in Wilson's position to be advocating not the disruption of accumulated values but rather the continuation over time of those things--those traditions--that have made the institution that is Chelsea worthy of appreciation and respect? There is', notes Edward Shils, 'an inherently normative element in any tradition of belief which is represented for acceptance; it is presented with the intention of producing affirmation and acceptance' (Tradition, 1981). Wilson's ramming together of continuity and subversion goes against the grain of plausibility: either the art school holds to a select body of values and strives to transmit these to its students or it is perversely keen to ratify the refusal of such norms as are asserted within its walls. Operating in such a manner would be an act of disaffirmation, a pulling to pieces of its own ethical and institutional conceits.

Yet Wilson is not alone in trotting out such contradictions. They also operate within Dave Beech's 'Institutionalisation for All' AM294), in which Beech proposes that Institutionalisation occurs when the social system gets a grip on art, threatening art's autonomy, independence and dissent'. 'We do not need to avoid institutionalisation', he concludes; 'we need fuller, wider, and more diverse forms of institutionalisation.'

Though Beech advocates challenging institutions such as museums and art schools from within as well as inventing new, genuinely alternative structures, the most difficult question is something upon which he does not touch: how can one institutionalise something that is by its very nature against institutions, practices, for example, which consciously and unreservedly challenge established--and establishment--positions and beliefs? Institutions are, practically by definition, exclusive and excluding, not open to invasion by what are deemed to be inappropriate or unruly entities or ideas.

'The first condition of art's independence is', Beech remarks, '... its contestation of the cultural field, either by setting up alternative spaces or by occupying existing spaces differently.' Yet in the current, increasingly corporate climate the prospects for setting up genuinely alternative operations are pretty small. The limited existence of those 'alternatives' for which Beech claims institutional status hardly suggest that a radical attack upon Capitalism is in full swing: the Info Centre, Variant magazine, Bank space and Art & Language may all have held (or still hold) potentially radical intentions but to compare them with full-blown institutional structures such as museums and universities is as laughable as it is misleading. Variant is run by, at the latest count, only three people (but with, it is true, excellent intentions); Info Centre and Bank space no longer exist, and A&L, though certainly now firmly established, is not a club one might join. …

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