Creation Myth

By Marina Vishmidt, 28 July 2010

This March at Central Saint Martins, teachers and students from a seminal '60s/'70s experiment in art education gathered to reconsider the past in the light of today's crisis-ridden academy. Aiming to produce autonomous subjects, the ‘A' Course's extreme re-educative methods contrast starkly with contemporary models of co-opted participation whilst also pre-empting the individualised autonomy and alientation of noughties studenthood. Report by Marina Vishmidt


Debates around the political currency of education in the art field have gained some considerable prominence recently. The ebullience of the ‘pedagogical turn' counts certain milestones such as A.C.A.D.E.M.Y. at the Van Abbemuseum and elsewhere in 2006, nightschool at the New Museum in 2008, or the place of ‘aesthetic education' at the curatorial core of 2007's Documenta, and has now expanded to a number of dedicated readers (Curating and the Educational Turn, 2010) and events (Deschooling Society at the Serpentine and Hayward galleries, Manufacturing Today in Trondheim, Home Works in Beirut, all earlier this year, are just a few). There have also been a number of self-organised initiatives of collective learning that shuttle between politicised art and activist cultures like 16Beaver or the late Copenhagen Free University. Finally, 2006's unrealised Manifesta 6 which was supposed to take the form of a transient ‘art school' was perhaps both the the formative trauma and the genesis for a whole plethora of artistic and curatorial projects that take ‘education' as their touchstone. Education as a condenser of many impulses and many doubts around the presumed political in art practice in the last decade has become so central that the history of the present, in current art, can only be written through reference to the role of ‘education' or the ‘educational'. ‘Education' also often operates through a focus on the ‘infrastructural' as the mode of learning-through-production, over the theoretical or creative aspects of artistic agency as it has habitually been understood. This also resonates strongly with social networking and free software discourses, and is probably exemplified by one of the most well-known initiatives to emerge from the doomed Cyprus ‘art school' biennial, the expanded design and publishing project Dexter Sinister.

Image: The original 'A' Course studio space that doubled as the symposium space for The 'A' Course - An Inquiry

Education, as a process of collective subjectivation through learning, became very interesting as a byword for both the pastoral and the participatory qualities of art that wanted a way out of instrumentality without losing social relevance. The humanist open-endedness found in the radical as well as the liberal ideals of education fits well with the nostalgia for modernist autonomy defining the state of play in art production, curation and all the intermediate forms which traverse them. But the educational impulse also promotes a state of play which resists sacrificing the credibility, and the possibilities, of the last several decades of ‘social practices'. The promise of indeterminacy, or even of self-determination, entailed in any educational process is alluring, although beset by the pitfalls of valorising education when the way it is experienced by most people - as industrial and inimical to any non-goal oriented experimentation - tends to nullify political militancy, artistic inquiry or any risk-taking behaviour not mandated by an employer or workfare programme. Beyond economic imperatives, the unhappiness of the encounter between ‘education' as an emancipatory trope and ‘really existing education' can also be seen in the negation of indeterminacy by the class divisions which art institutions and educational institutions live off of in every sense.

A public reflection on the contradictions of art education recently took place in the Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design (CSM). The two-day forum The ‘A' Course - An Inquiry, was held 26-27 March in the original studio where the course took place, in 1969-73, in the St. Martin's Sculpture Department (course director Peter Kardia left to take up a post at the Royal College of Art in 1973). Organised by the 10th Floor, and bringing together for the first time the three surviving founder members of the ‘A' Course, it centred on the question of what it might mean to produce a subject in an expanded field, whether this subject is disciplinary (sculpture) or social (an art student, a political subject).1 This event will be explored in some detail below, after a preliminary sketch of some background co-ordinates which will help to situate certain key problematics for (art) education today.

The actual and impending rollout of the Bologna Process in Europe made it known that education, as a condenser or displacement of radical politics within the framework of art studies, would be wrenched out of that forgiving testbed by real menaces to the unconditioned Bildung of an earlier phase of capitalist logic. Bologna's neoliberal harmonisation of education in Europe brings to a close the nation-state settlement of the past two centuries which, accelerated by Cold War competition in the 20th century, promulgated a disinterested, university-as-Enlightenment-citadel of national culture approach to higher education in the public interest (albeit one often in bed with state, corporate and military agendas, especially in the US, to speak only of the Western capitalist bloc). Art schools operated at a qualified distance from the university and from government oversight, since what they were teaching was not deemed to be of economical importance. With deindustrialisation and neoliberal governance making their uneven impact over the past 20 years, creativity was cast as economic saviour and suddenly it became very urgent indeed to quantify and transfer the ‘knowledge' art education was ostensibly producing, especially as the professionalisation and academicisation of art education had transformed the field considerably already in some places. The Kantian alibi of ‘purposeless purpose' could no longer serve as a cloak of invisibility once creativity was poised as the dynamic force snatching nations from the jaws of cultural and economic malaise. In Europe, the Bologna Process was simply a codification of the tendencies to ‘differential inclusion', portable standards, profit-orientation and managerial hypertrophy which had, to different extents, already made inroads among most European universities - most dramatically in Britain, which had been falling into line with the majority of its recommendations ‘organically' since the reforms of the '70s and '80s and New Labour's introduction of student fees (except in Scotland).2

Last year's long-term occupation of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, along with parallel unrest at other Austrian, German, Spanish, Croatian and Danish universities, as well as the ‘Anomalous Wave' in Italy, all recognise the Bologna Process to be a grave threat to education as a public good, but also as a specific iteration of a degradation of social conditions unleashed by capitalist crisis across the board. In all these instances, education becomes not only an allegory for political subjectivation, but a material relation/site where the contradictions of productive forces defined increasingly as social and knowledge-based, with relations of production defined in increasingly stratified, commercial terms comes to a head.3 ‘The production of man by man' (Marx) represented by the university makes it the definitive laboratory of forms of exploitation linked to individual and collective desires for autonomy. Now, however, the de-valorisation gripping universities after decades of debt-financing makes the existing and residual expression of those forms unprofitable. This means the rapid, usually brutal obsolescence of the margins of error those forms of exploitation have yielded and been organised through in most of Europe, such as no-fees degrees, stable contracts for teaching and other staff and a modicum of decentralised, ‘guild' governance and sociality. Autonomy must be circumscribed here, as elsewhere, into either a subject for study or a successful navigation of increasingly dire institutional conditions, paired with the prospect of ‘exodus'.

In this sense at least, the critique of what's happening to education has to immediately be a critique of what's happening in society in general under the dangerous and decomposing rule of the value-form, or it shouldn't be at all. Thus the differences in the education struggles in the UK and in the EU Bologna-zone come to reflect the divergences in the material and ideological parameters that shape them: in Europe, a traditional humanist distaste for technocratic standardisation breeds a political-economic and utopian critique of the academy which finds it to be a symptomatic multiplier of neoliberal assets; whereas the chilly pragmatist climate of austerity-era Britain gives rise to anti-cuts campaigns and education activism which seems, for the time being, to remain wedded to a reactive and defensive posture borne of the extremity of the threat, and the dominance of an economistic (some might say masochistic) metric in the public consensus.4 That consensus, however weakly maintained, can only be weakly refuted with normative ‘intrinsic worth' objections in the absence of a counter-logic and a counter-politics setting the terms for struggles that would concretely spring a leak in it. While incisive critiques of the ‘obscure disaster' in UK higher education from the likes of Mark Fisher, Massimo de Angelis and David Harvie, and Stefano Harney do circulate widely, the practical critiques which would materialise in novel, broad-based and non-bureaucratic forms of political re-composition in which the subjects of the university recognise their interests have yet to emerge, apart from the occupations, mobilisations and reading groups which have characterised refusals of the neoliberal overhauls at Middlesex and Sussex universities. The material conditions for deploying humanism even as the germ of much more radical approaches against the ‘rationalisation' in higher education seem very distant for the UK; the difference between the outlook for the UK student struggles and those in Europe, and even the US, could scarcely be more succinctly summed up than by noting the slight semantic difference between the fact that universities there fall under departments of Education and ours under the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.5 It's one thing to bemoan the governance of universities in Britain, another to realise that universities as discrete entities have been excised from this governance's cognitive threshold.

But then the interesting question reverts once again back to art education, and the ‘educational' in art. However much a humanities education in general could be posited as programmatically fostering critical subjects, albeit ones increasingly interpellated as consumers, it is in art education that autonomy - from intellectual autonomy, to autonomy as market agent and operator - emerges as the marker of the developed creative subject. This subjects's aptitude for commodifying, or at least reifying, that autonomy in objects or activities discernible as art hinges on the affect, as much as the reflexive critique, of autonomy. This autonomy is in every case experienced relationally to the systems of control and divisions of labour that constitute the ‘field'. It can only become visible on those terms, even in opposition to them. It then may be that it is art education - as well as the many art and para-art avenues of discourse and validation - which registers most strongly that the critical subject is also the docile subject, and that this superposition (an albatross around the neck of radical desires in art since Adorno at least) is not just a source of productive tension but an almost limitless reservoir of bad faith.6 It can be argued that some variation on the docile subject is always the desired outcome of institutional rationality, but what that signifies is historically and politically mutable. In times when deinstitutionalisation may be experienced as the very real threat of institutions to their subjects as they accede to ever more vicious monetarist central command, the desire for the institution can take on a double character. The deinstitutionalising institution feeds on its subjects' desires for a collective (if atomised) space of semi-refuge and on their desire to be autonomous subjects acting freely outside it at the same time. Also, the desire for what remains of the institution, intensified in a general climate of uncertainty, may be the biggest obstacle to facing the institution's contradictions and institutionalising ‘otherwise'.

On the ‘art' side of art education, the process is also axiomatically determined by the form taken by the non-art of the time (labour, dominant types of economic exchange, production, exploitation, property). In a historical era when art no longer has to take any definite form, art education becomes generically about the production of dispositions and habituations - the production of pliant capitalist lifeforms in their pure state. This ‘pure state' has been glossed by many commentators as the ‘artistic subject' prototyping monadic, bare labour-life, entrepreneurial flexibility, ‘creative class' rapacity, etc.. But is this ‘pure state' a convenient fiction, laying itself open to charges of sociological formalism, positivism and the curtailed political vision that's dogged all and any diagnoses of the ‘artistic critique' (Boltanski and Chiapello ) since its heyday in the ‘art as precarious labour' debates of mid-decade, testifying to the undeadness of Bourdieu-style institutional critique in the realm of cultural sociology? The industry that has arisen around these claims in the academy by and large evidences a singular blindspot that allows it to make only an ideology critique of the distinction between art and capitalist work. This understanding misses how current capital is eroding both work and art, and the class relations within and between them, objectively; nor does it grasp the absolutely social character of the ‘artistic critique' which can follow from this.

Image: Panel participants, from left, Anthony Davies, Gareth Jones, Joy Sleeman, Peter Kardia and Garth Evans

As the model of art pedagogy acceding to institutionalisation in any era reflects the extant models of governance and economy, even in inversion, the kinds of subjects presupposed and produced are caught in a shifting spectrum of ‘autonomy' and ‘docility'. Autonomy becomes the docility of acquiring autonomy through structures of control, whereas the docility of doing nothing can seem like the greatest defiance of all. The inculcation of possessive individualism emerges as one threadbare ideology, to be defied by a quirky and entrepreneurial collectivity in a recycling of critical models that grows ever more reticular and abstruse, lacking a political opening outside the institution - the institution that resides in everyone whom objective conditions have driven into its structural bounds. The student encouraged to boost her relational capital through critical practice and recuperate research points for the institution is being asked to perform a type of autonomy which is comparable to, yet unlike, the enterprising students of the ‘A' Course in 1970 who noted their objections to having their work assessed by presenting a few live chickens wandering around the studio as a final project.

The ‘A' Course was an undergraduate course initiated in the Sculpture Department by radical educator Peter Kardia in conjunction with artists and educators Peter Harvey, Garth Evans and Gareth Jones.7 Guided by shared interests in linguistics, information theory and behavioural psychology, as well as the then-emerging minimalist and conceptual sculpture practices, he worked with the group of similarly inclined artist-tutors (one of them, Garth Evans, did an early placement with APG) to devise a course that would intervene directly in the habits, competences and previous training of students so that they would let go of their ‘conceptual indexing' and have the chance to encounter all the ‘materials' of their practice - physical and social - in an unmediated and authentic way.

The course was structured around projects that came with sets of instructions, and dispensed with all evaluation or guidance as tutors mainly fulfilled a warden function, taking attendance and ensuring the rules were being adhered to. The first such project was the Locked Room - on their first day in the course students were handed identical packages containing styrofoam blocks, told they could not speak to one another or use materials other than the ones at hand, and ushered through a door that was locked behind them. The Locked Room then became a synecdoche for the theory of the whole course: a regimented space or ‘closed system' which sought to isolate students from ‘extraneous' influences, break them down, then build them up again into confident, autonomous, critical-thinking individuals. The Locked Room Course was in fact Kardia's preferred title for the course which was historicised as the ‘A' Course, so called to distinguish it from the ‘B' Course that disgruntled Saint Martin's sculpture faculty insisted on implementing so they wouldn't have to teach the students coming out of the locked room. The split was also, however, to a large degree the result of those students' rejection of the regular Sculpture course and a demand to continue with the kind of structure they had experienced in the first year - what became the ‘A' course had originally only been envisioned as lasting for the first year of studies.

'A' Course, 'Sitting Project' 1971. Photo courtesy of Peter Venn

Image: 'A' Course, 'Sitting Project' 1971. Photo courtesy of Peter Venn

An Inquiry brought former tutors, students and contemporaries of the ‘A' Course into an unlocked room with current CSM staff, students and interested parties to reflect on what transpired in the course, and through that, the relationship between freedom and constraint in radical pedagogy, the erratic correspondences between emancipatory learning and emancipatory politics, and, in the last panel, the the state of art education in the managerialist nirvana of today, on the eve of CSM's move to consolidate all its schools and sites under one roof in King's Cross. Far from a sedate art historical exercise, the ‘inquiry' at times frequently evoked condign forms like the judicial trial, a truth and reconciliation commission, a town meeting and a group therapy session.

Another layer of reconstruction came with the screening of The Locked Room, a film made by ‘A' Course tutors (Evans, Jones and Harvey) a year after the course had finished, which tried to depict what happened that first day in the locked room; it had been made in response to what was considered an unsatisfactory portrayal of the course in an earlier BBC

documentary, A Question of Feeling (c.1973), and worked with outtakes from that film. Measured presentations from course tutors Garth Evans, Gareth Jones and Kardia were complemented and disrupted by impassioned interventions from ‘A' Course alumni (including Kardia's wife, Caroline Kardia), contemporaries, and current CSM students and faculty, who also did quite a lot of debating amongst themselves. The subjectivation processes of art education bulked large in all their bloody splendour, as did the alterity of the early '70s, ideologically and practically, seen by the swampy glow of today's bureaucratic miasma. There was definitely a sense that the event struck many of its participants as an arena to settle evergreen scores, stage symbolic battles and challenge the truisms that dominate the current version of the past as well as the present. It was mentioned that concerns the course was impacting the sanity of students were grave enough for ILEA psychologists to be called in to observe what was going on. While they gave the course a clean bill of health at the time, the atmosphere at the event left little doubt that some psychic damage takes longer to emerge. More seriously, it was clear that when current students described the hyper-rationalised, consumerist and drastically under-resourced art educational model which they had to negotiate, they were talking about an experiment which not only could never dream of endowing them with the level of agency that the ‘A' Course did but one that would likely produce far more dispiriting results.8

Ably and purposefully moderated by event organiser Anthony Davies for the greater span of proceedings (with Adrian Rifkin taking over in the last, ‘contemporary' panel), for expediency's sake the ‘A' Course discussion could be articulated along three main trajectories: the paradox of autonomy; social and political context; and the present, though all these were tightly imbricated for the entirety of the event.

'A'  Course, 'Sitting Project' 1971. Photo courtesy of Peter Venn

'A' Course, 'Sitting Project' 1971. Photo courtesy of Peter Venn

The Phenomenology of No


No to spectacle

No to virtuosity [...]

No to the heroic

No to the anti-heroic [...]

No to eccentricity

No to moving or being moved.


- Yvonne Rainer, NO Manifesto, 1965


1) The content of the ‘A' Course cannot be verbally prescribed.

2) The ‘A' Course will not proceed from the conception that sculpture can result from a dependence on historical precedent.

3) The ‘A' Course will not disregard the actual academic roles of the participants.

4) The ‘A' Course will not proceed from the Staff's evaluation of the student's achievements.

5) The ‘A' Course will not proceed from an existing conception of the social role of the artist.

6) The ‘A' Course will not proceed from the verbally articulated intentions of the students.

7) The ‘A' Course will not proceed from the concept that individual identity is totally determined by a summary of past behaviour.

8) The 'A' Course will not proceed under the illusion that its parameters

are determined exclusively by the participants

- The 8 Rules of the ‘A' Course


In the first loose trajectory, the curious knot of compliance and dissent that characterised the ‘A' Course's methodology was recapitulated from many angles. In an era where not only art objects and art practices were ‘dematerialising', but the structures of subjectivity were also identified as infinitely plastic and programmable, all was ‘information' and all could be stripped down and modified.9 Kardia, Evans, Jones (and their colleague Peter Harvey, since deceased), were fascinated with ‘primary experience', much as the artworld of the time was transfixed by Conceptualism and Minimalism's ‘primary structures', and how to produce the conditions for it in their students. They believed strongly in a ‘practice of doubt' which would be effectuated through the abolition of mainstays of art education like feedback on the work and informal teacher-student socialising. To realise the emancipatory goals of freeing students from their preconceptions about art practice, art instruction and the social role of the artist, it was necessary to install authoritarian structures such as vertical communication (students were only allowed to address short practical requests to the tutors during working hours in the studio and were not allowed to speak to each other), strict attendance and working times, and specific material (and, later, conceptual) parameters for production. It was believed that it was only within strict constraints that genuine independence and autonomy could be cultivated, by strategically sealing students off from ‘the outside world', whether that was variously understood as the school, the art market, or the socio-political turbulence of the era. The initial restrictive scenario was mitigated by the overall freedom students experienced as they advanced in the course, chiefly freedom from assessment - which some former students correctly identified as the most ‘political' aspect of the course design. Resistance was expected, but very little was actually encountered: Jones and Evans conjectured that this was down to the intensive and immersive nature of the course once it was underway, and to the rigour and care that must have been evident to the student test-subjects. The ‘test-subject' dimension materialised often during the event, with Gareth Jones theatrically repeating the phrase ‘we observed' in his account of the Locked Room (and the theatrical aspect of the ‘A' Course methodology, its echoes in game theory no less than in the performative practices of the time, was also a recurrent theme), and the protocol of tutors silently observing the students' activities. A split seemed to emerge between former students who remembered the ‘A' Course as a collective experiment and those who felt they had been the objects of an experiment, though ambivalence also registered in all but the most polarised of those voices.

The dialectics between perfect liberty and coercion seemed intrinsic to the experience of the course and the thinking behind it, and this was picked up often in the presentations and remarks. Comparisons to Stanley Milgram's torture experiments and to actual torture abounded, and there was a recollection of students trying to breach the windows in the Locked Room. One audience comment alluded to the disorientation produced in students by the Locked Room project as not unlike rigid institutional spaces like the military or prison: an evacuated space with few referents which can either strengthen characters or break them down, creating docile subjects of authority that find their freedom in obedience. The same speaker pointed out that the ‘practice of doubt' assumed a sovereign subject who had the privilege of letting go of his certainties, like the subject of Cartesian doubt; and the feminist implications of this were brought into focus by another audience member who pointed out that female art students of the time would have been conditioned into self-doubt throughout their education and social life and didn't have a stable subject position to be ‘broken down', a point which of course could be extended to non-white and immigrant minorities in elite art education at the time. She also emphasised other pedagogical alternatives coming out of the art schools in the late '60s and early '70s that, in contrast to the ‘A' Course, viewed non-hierarchical social interaction as a radical form of learning, part of practice in the expanded field. Instances of this were Art and Language's course in Coventry or Judy Chicago's course in Fresno, where the students and instructors lived communally as well. However, it was acknowledged that, qua Foucault, speech has since then become compulsory; communication is now an integral part of the disciplinary apparatus of art education, not to mention the online social networks which form a greater and greater part of the lifeworld of students; a fact which is integrated, rather than problematised, in the lesson plans of current tutors.


Image: Participants in Womanhouse, 1972, a women-only art installation and performance organised by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, co-founders of the California Institute of the Arts' Feminist Art Program

Much of the consistently animated debate was taken up with trying to connect the phenomenon of the ‘A' Course with the politics of the time, such as the student occupations, no less than with today's prevailing trends. The tutors did their best to deflect this debate back to the specific valences of the ‘A' Course , with qualified success. Time and again the focus drifted back to the perceived authoritarianism of the course, and there were provocative responses from the tutors, Kardia and former students. Evans pointed out that the ‘A' Course was about constructive constraint rather than compulsion: ‘there was never "you must", only "you may not".' Kardia reminisced about his methods being jokingly compared to Stalin's, before an ex-student spoke up to compare his methods with the CIA's in Chile and accuse him of being an intelligence agent for the British state, implying that his mission was to contain dissent in the art schools. This highly incendiary note was swiftly muffled by a deft non-response from Kardia and the bewilderment of the rest of the assembled group. The same ex-student, who had left the ‘A' Course as a militant community video-maker, made a number of salient observations over the two days, such as the fact that the tabula rasa objectives of the course clashed with the strong system put in place to realise them and that this prompted scepticism and alienation among the students. Other former students spoke about the nurturing climate of the course, that it was a space for reflection rather than a bubble and, addressing the earlier comment about gendering the practice of doubt, that its overt and codified rules were in some ways a step up for female art students used to the implicit condescension and opaque power games of the art instruction they had experienced up until then.

The strong thesis, and one which hovered indistinctly but decisively over the whole event, was the extent to which the ‘A' Course's methodology of deconstructive individualism ended up seeding - even if from the present vantage seeming to counter - the affective architecture of the present, with its focus on self-realisation through compliance and fanaticism for rule-following behaviour. On the one hand, it would seem invidious, and possibly not a little formalistic, to see any analogy between the authoritarian tendencies of the ‘A' Course, and the vacuous authoritarianism pervading the management of (not just) art and higher education today. One lay down arbitrary constraints whose ends were anti-institutional and anti-professional; the other lays down arbitrary constraints which have the full power of the institution and the professional world to lend them both spurious rationality and immediate effect, as recently witnessed in the debacle around the closing of Middlesex's Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy. Yet there might be a more subtle similarity in the way of cementing the hypothesis that the ruse of history turns oppositional pedagogy into a precursor to neoliberal domination. In both the ‘A' Course and in the ‘human capital' precepts that guide the ‘delivery' of education today, there is an eradication of antagonism. Freedom is premised on identification with authority, and incompatible interests are structurally suppressed. Oppression and constraint are represented as crucial to the subject's development, negative outcomes are matters of personal and never systemic responsibility, and the rules of the game are fixed in such a way to optimise any opposition to them. The parallel is even more suggestive given the investment in behavioural psychology common to both management theory and Peter Kardia's pedagogical research, and that both could be shown to be obsessed with fostering a ‘creativity' that neutralises refusal by soliciting the desires of subjects and creating institutional ‘spaces' for them. However, both the credibility and the limitations of this analogy were illustrated in what was probably the second most notorious and the final ‘project' of the ‘A' Course, the Mask or Hood Project. As it functioned via the element of surprise, this project took place only once.

The ‘Mask Project' was devised in response to the institutional requirement that the ‘A' Course students receive a final assessment. This seemed to fly in the face of the whole philosophy and process of the course and caused a lot of disaffection among the tutors and students alike, as shown by the earlier-cited chicken incursion. The final project was then going to be a performative negation of the evaluative act: it would be a ritual performed on the boundary between the art school and the outside world, and act as an exorcism of both. The tutors donned paper bags with holes cut out to enable speech and vision and went at appointed times to students' separate work areas, who had the option of not letting them enter. Once in the student's workspace, the ‘hooded' tutors, disguising their voices, would take turns lambasting the student and their work for about half an hour, alternating with patronising professional advice. This abusive episode was supposed to be a mimicry of the hostile world that awaited the student outside the confines of the ‘A' Course, a hyperbolic dramatisation of the wilful and arrogant traits of ‘conventional' art teaching, and a way of distancing the tutors from the externally imposed assessment that they found so repugnant to what they and the students had developed together over the three years.

This deeply ambiguous gesture, where the emblems of interrogation and torture were most powerfully echoed, also had a precedent: in the Advanced Course Kardia had taught prior to the ‘A' Course. In 1966, a group piece entitled You Will, You Are, You Have was initiated by artist Barry Martin, a student in the course at the time. The work entailed 25 students stripping down to their underwear and wearing bags over their heads as they explored an environment designed to maximise tactile experience, which inevitably included each other's bodies as well as a naked female artist's model. In both, the depersonalising affect of identity concealment served to unleash libidinal impulses which were both destructive and exploratory, and consequently had a troubled relationship with an educational context. The Mask Project clearly paraded the latent elements of authoritarianism in the ‘A' Course, while displacing them onto an ‘alien' pedagogical structure. It was thus manipulative, but also incredibly theatrical, and most students recall finding it all rather comical. The ambiguity of its relevance for the present as an example of dissolving conflict through a vertical relation to authority in a context supposed to be busy cultivating autonomy can be said to reside in both a harmless staging of that conflict and the self-annihilating triviality of the authority thus staged. While the elements of diffusion and opacity of responsibility are the quintessential techniques of control in the present-day educational institution, there is no space for the rejection of that authority in favour of something more self-determined while still benefiting from its resources, as there was in the ‘A' Course - today, assessment is everywhere and everyone. Assessment is made to be part of the integrated circuit of autonomy through the notion of reflexivity, the way practices are constantly induced to be self-reflexive and self-assessing in relation to other practices, institutional demands, and publics. This forms the very ground of the ‘criticality as added value' situation operative today. There is another way of looking at the emergence of reflexivity as standard operating procedure, posited by former 'A' Course student Stephen Sprung at another public event some months later, describing Cinema Action's trajectory in the 1970s: reflexivity can move from a process unfolding in a social space to a process immanent to the artwork or practice itself, and indeed the status of a work as art can hinge on the internality of this reflexivity, its ‘muteness'. However, the functionality of that apparatus is very much predicated on the split subject of autonomy achieved by means of docility; the collective subject that submits to power because she considers both power and submission irrelevant to her reality, but whose reality is wholly traversed by that power.

In this sense the doubling operation of the Mask Project, its instrumentalised self-loathing, is very much at the root of this situation. The ‘paradox of autonomy' is succinctly framed in Gregory Bateson's ‘About Games and Being Serious' in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (and of course Bateson was a pivotal figure in the ‘humanisation' of cybernetics, which is about the paradox of autonomy through and through):

I could tell you the rules, and we could, if we wanted to, stop playing and discuss the rules. And then we could start a new game with the new rules. But what rules would hold us in between the two games? While we were discussing the rules?'10


The rejection of one set of rules relies upon another set, critical subjects presume their own self-consistency as subjects that critique, and so on recursively. This self-consistency is then projected onto the institution, which becomes a neutral container or the ‘rules that hold us' for the rehearsal of critical content that discusses the rules. Its actors thus make a bargain that swaps genuinely reflexive praxis for the maintenance of the ‘safe space' of the institution in an uncaring world, be it the experimental course, the university, the art academy, the ‘post-academic' research institute, or the progressive museum.

Another consequence of the paradox of autonomy is that constraint is as indissociable from play as normative goals are from social conflict. Any political innovation, such as that required to overturn or even palliate the march of austerity through universities and all the excrescences of the value-form as mimetically administrated there up till now, will have to confront the arbitrariness of force, the habits of submission and the desire for the institution, rather than disavowing them. Disavowal is only what keeps the whole thing going.


How Do You Keep the Outside World Out? How Do You Leave the Locked Room?

Another formidable set of questions that emerged was around ‘context', specifically the political context of the times. This was signalled at first by the seeming disjunction between the radical goals of the subtractive process initiated by the ‘A' Course's convenors and the disengagement of its participants from the student movements of the era, like the Hornsey and LSE occupations. What seemed to be at stake here were disparate notions of the political entertained by different parties to the suit, with each side eager to cast the version held by the others as an attenuated one. It was suggested that although Saint Martins students, on and off the ‘A' Course, might not have been militant on their own terrain, they did get involved in other battles of the time, with Vietnam, labour and Covent Garden anti-gentrification struggles as examples. The possibility was brought forward at several points that the insularity of the ‘A' Course, its deprecation of language and signification in favour of ‘primary experience', inevitably led to quietism. Even more subversively (or anti-subversively, as the case may be), it was suggested that the link between radical pedagogy - a measure of freedom within the institution - and the neutralisation of political activity was direct and deliberate on the part of the course organisers.11The immanence of participation to control is, of course, the very fulcrum of the cybernetic ‘human use of human beings', and Peter Kardia had an abiding interest in cybernetics and human behaviour as a feedback system which he shared not only with like-minded colleagues such as Roy Ascott but with much of the progressive Zeitgeist at the time.12

Image: Callibrator for Selecting Human Characteristics, 1963, a student's project forming part of the Behavioural Project on Roy Ascott's Groundcourse, Ealing Art College

But yet more fundamental was how the notion of ‘context' operated in the ‘A' Course. The framing of context in the discussion proved already to be controversial, with the former tutors from the course objecting to the generalisations and ‘historical fantasies' they felt were being unfairly back-projected upon what they had tried to accomplish. A telling phrase used by Garth Evans was ‘we did not argue about the importance of context, we argued about the place of it'. For them, the magnitude of the task of overhauling received ideas about art, self and education in a three-year course was already consummately political, whatever consequences this might have outside the studio. Securing the conditions for self-determined activity, both psychically and institutionally, was what they saw as their remit and their ultimate goal. The door was locked to ‘keep out extraneous people and issues', chiefly the rest of the institution. But was it also locking in? Again, the debate seemed to hinge on incommensurable concepts of freedom - even as the locked door was portrayed as the material condition of freedom within a turbulent, confusing and invasive social milieu, Kardia responded to accusations of being a spook with the phlegmatic admission ‘there's no such thing as a free space', indicating that the design of the experiment on this front would always be porous.

A lively anatomy of ‘context' was likewise performed in the unpicking of what the signification of ‘material' and ‘materials' was in the rubric of the ‘A' Course (the Locked Room Project was officially known as the Materials Project and the former tutors tried to stick to this designation). An intriguing confluence between the different vectors represented by the Artist Placement Group and the ‘A' Course suggested itself here, as each was working with a vastly more expansive reading of what constituted the materials of artistic activity around the same time, as Barbara Steveni noted from the audience. Although APG pursued this in the literally expanded field by inserting artists into organisational and community sites, and the ‘A' Course stayed largely in the confines of the art academy, both were preoccupied with pulling institutions into the orbit of art practice and further, dissolving art practice as such (though, paradoxically in both cases, in order to save it at a ‘higher' level) and the division of labour it presupposed on a wider horizon of disciplinary crisis and social change.

A number of the projects in the second and third years of the ‘A' Course could also be said to impair the specificity of the artist's social role, as well as pursuing the ‘instructional' genre of conceptual art that was big at the time: the Instructions by Post Project consisted of instructions anonymously mailed to the students; the Report Project reversed this, with students sending instructions or meeting locations for an unknown event to staff; the Student Agent Project saw each student partnered with another student whom the student would represent in all their dealings with the outside world; the Transformation Project was meant to record transformations in the material state of equal sums of money distributed to each student (via activity or objects), and the Employment Project simply required students to get a job or set up some other kind of money making venture, the proceeds of which were supposed to be pooled in the course. The latter two projects in particular seemed to harbour a mordant implication that art school graduates were very likely to end up compelled to do things for money other than making art, and that this eventuality would be borne the more lightly on their young shoulders to the extent it could be successfully passed off as a piece of conceptual art.13 In light of the extensive analysis lately undertaken on the synchronous ascendancy of the ‘service sector' and the ‘aesthetic of administration', the ‘A' Course ‘work-readiness' projects do seem emblematic, even if from another perspective it could be argued that such ‘invisible' practices were as much about mediation, reification and, finally, the investigation into ‘materials' as they were about the slippage between the art and the labour market. This predicament has of course remained with us, in its perverted and spectacular form, as ‘relational aesthetics' or art critic Stephen Wright's ‘practices with a low co-efficient of artistic visibility', which might be referring to practices no-one recognises as art except for curators.

The former ‘A' Course instructors, however, contended that the projects were, again, about the permeability of borders between the inside and outside of the institution. This seemed to return the discussion back to the question of context, one which would remain ineluctably vexed. Gareth Jones, for his part, recalling the sociolinguistics of Basil Bernstein which had been influential for his teaching, cautioned about confusing ‘intrinsic meanings' (derived by the ones who were ‘there') with ‘extrinsic' ones (interpretations by those who weren't) in the effort to reconstruct a legacy for the experiment. Peter Kardia remained convinced that engendering creative behaviour in the context of art education was more politically effective than bringing political issues into the discussions taking place in the course (with the distinction between them remaining necessarily opaque, in this schematic Adornian view). This could be phrased differently as the reliable distinction/red herring between educating politically and political education. This stance would, in the final part of the day, be deployed to interrogate the premises of contemporary education at CSM, when platitudes about ‘living in a time of proliferation' and ‘adjusting to how students communicate now' bodied forth from current faculty. Kardia responded essentially to say the educator's job is to work against the grain of what exists rather than accepting it and turning it into a module. It would have been easy enough to mark this divergence as a political one - but it seemed to be rooted just as much in a distinct epistemological, not to say ethical, gap.

Manage the Change that You Want to See, or, A Bucket-less Hole

The attempt to trace the ‘structures of feeling' of the ‘A' Course disclosed how aptly its pedagogical risk-taking both indicated the bewilderment about the purpose of art education in a climate of social unrest and prototyped the next decades' claims of educational innovation in a climate of social defeat. Key to this was inventing ways of grappling with alienation in the educational context which threaded in between the reconstruction of a critical modernist subject and de-subjectivation. What could only function as a deliberate and self-conscious strategy then, arguably evolved into the default management model of art education in our period, with the caveat that the critical, modernist subject has been firmly jettisoned on behalf of the dispersive cultural producer. It then needs to be added that the ‘A' Course subject, though at first fragmented and destabilised, made malleable by arbitrary rules, was supposed to emerge whole at the end of the three years, tough-minded and unimpressed by the woolly mendacity of the institutions and markets of art. They were supposed to reject the existing mechanisms for art making and validation, and really ‘think differently', carving out spaces for themselves in a way that could be seen to prefigure the entrepreneurial subjectivity that optimised non-conformism into business innovation, or, the ‘flexible personality' (Brian Holmes) devoted to ‘opportunism' (Paolo Virno) as a form of life.


Although there were entrepreneurs who emerged from the ‘A' Course, the neoliberal institutional subjectivity of art education today is something other than this (even if the individualist focus of the ‘A' Course already did much to sever individual radicalism from social radicalism). Identification with authority is no longer part of a game played out on a test site deep in the bowels of the doting art academy, it's the only game in town, inscribed as it is into every cog and gear of the institution's relationship to, and reproduction by, its subjects. It is most keenly in art education that objective alienation is subjectively experienced as autonomy. So, the progressive side of alienation for Marx, the negation that becomes a spur for rupture with the present state of things, here becomes the surest means of supporting that state. Individualised rebellion is obligatory, socialised rebellion is proscribed - by institutional systems, but also by larger systems, such as student debt. If students can ever be said to constitute a class, this is a class that is structurally enjoined to remain ‘in-itself'. As a current CSM Fine Art student said in the discussion, the ‘A' Course bred detachment while the current institution creates alienation. The remaining few hours of presentations and discussion revolved around the extent to which this alienation was wholly demoralising or if it did indeed have the catalytic qualities Marx ascribed to it. The students were pointedly a lot less sanguine about the latter than their teachers, who tried to put a bright face on the impoverishment that prevailed by heralding it as an opportunity for self-organised creativity. This idea of crisis-fuelled authenticity is of course routinely used to embellish the acquiescence in austerity sweeping over UK cultural institutions - like the meltdown of the ICA being re-branded as a return to the plucky spirit of the Independent Group - and indeed forms the central alibi of the coalition government's platform of public-sector blood-letting. It has of course also been noticeable for a couple of years already as the feeble Schadenfreude making its way through art criticism under the name ‘recessionary aesthetics'.

Other touchstones in the final discussion included the highly bureaucratised art education system in the UK juxtaposed with the ‘masterclass' or ‘atelier' model still dominant in German-speaking countries. An unhelpful polarity between the ‘managerialism' of the former and the ‘elitism' of the latter rallied interlocutors into ever more defensive wagon-circling.14 There was a general agreement, however, that the ‘holes' in the ‘bucket' of art education, in the marvellous idiom used by another former CSM student to point to the space required both for alienation and for critical reflection, were getting relentlessly sealed up by the centralised managerial model; or, the ‘pores of the working day' closing up in the real subsumption of factory labour under its specifically capitalist forms of labour process and labour mechanisation, as Marx would have put it. This similarity between academic and other forms of labour extraction, though readily perceived by both the older generation of students and faculty and the current students present, was strenuously denied by the current CSM faculty, who, as discussed earlier, stood up for the current paradigm under the watchful eyes of their Dean, with fluctuating enthusiasm. Unsurprisingly perhaps, both staff and administrators trumpeted the mercantile gamut of choices that constituted the ‘educational offering' as profoundly liberating for the subjects of education, and a massive victory over the dour elitism that held sway in the pre-massification, and pre-Thatcher, era that hosted the ‘A' Course. The influx of monied international students since the 1970s (whose UKBA-mandated absence is creating such a distressing hole in university finances of late) was hailed as a post-colonial victory for inclusion, in an almost parodic flaunting of the classic blind spots, e.g. to class, of official multiculturalism. But beyond tendentious claims of this type, there was an incessant appeal to the ‘realities of the situation' as justification for not confronting these realities. A symptomatic instance was when a current student raised the point that CSM departments with closer ties to industry, such as fashion, gain the lion's share of the resources in the college; the response of a head administrator was that was just how it had to be when the college received less than half of its revenue from government funding. The implication was ‘You have made a bad choice to be an art student and not a fashion/jewellery/graphic design student. Sorry.'

Image: 'A' Course tutors, from left, Gareth Jones, Garth Evans and Peter Kardia

The final phase of the ‘A' Course - An Inquiry thus collected all the antinomies of subjectivation/subjection latent in the foregoing two days into one fractious present moment. The discussion was at once incredibly affective (raised voices and tears were among the overt aspects of this) and utterly thwarted, chiefly by the ‘elite' vs ‘industrialised' polarity cited above. What seemed unmistakable here was the wrenching appreciation, and total disavowal, once again, of the role of alienation - what it is, where it's gone, and why it has to keep summoning back the spectre of education into the art world, until it is confronted by its intolerable double: art education. It was plain that all the up-to-date neoliberal mechanisms of control and asset-stripping (up to and including centralising all activities under one roof in the new CSM's art education factory in King's Cross) are dedicated exhaustively to cancelling any spaces where the identification with authority could slacken for a minute; a superstitious drive that sees the body of the ‘despot' - the institution - as the source of all the productive power of the collective, to mutilate Marx's already sketchy ideas on the ‘Asiatic mode of production'.15 When there is no space for antagonism, no holes in the bucket, the alienation of the dominated is folded back into the available modes of cynicism or a consuming passion for the slightly better. Alienation is sustained as both disavowal of and identification with authority, which is also the affect of a pre-emptive disenchantment with collective solutions, and a refusal to admit failure (of imagination, of analysis) when those collective solutions are attempted, such as the education-saving campaigns going on now, not to say much of leftist politics in the UK. At the same time, it has to be persistently affirmed that the processes of subjectivation that happen in those campaigns, especially in direct actions like occupations, are irreducible to any campaign demand or outcome, and will go on mutating and expanding in coming ruptures.

The challenge could be so much broader even ‘just' in university struggles, given the singularity of the rebuttal they could pose not just to the effects, not just to the concrete inequities, but to the specific variant of capitalist logic that aims to lay waste to the universities. Peter Osborne, at the Who's Afraid of Philosophy? event staged amidst the Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign, trenchantly spoke of the absolutist grip of quantification on universities which means they have to reject humanities in general, not just philosophy, given that the ‘results' of those disciplines evade the metrics which are in place to make sure nothing evades them, and whatever does cannot be suffered to live. It's not a logic of rationalisation which we can all decry in the name of ‘real thought', no more than we can up the ‘real economy'; it's a logic of elimination, laying the groundwork for a new production line of vocationalised Unterstudenten, and it is integral, just like the logic of financialisation to which it's subsidiary.16 Refusing ‘measurement', in this sense, would be anti-political in the current ethos of the campaigns; it would be taken as ontological, abstract. But it would be the first step of reconstituting social relations on other grounds, of extending the struggle, and of having the kind of effect that the policy of combating effects will never have any hope of attaining. This refusal has to be principally as well as practically affirmative in its negation: in direct action, in communication, it has to depart from the ‘inconsistency' of the present through a practice of freedom, which doesn't just react to the current regime but makes it irrelevant. What this means is acting in a way that departs from the existing terms of justice, but then proposes another standard for justice: ‘[it is] in light of the revolutionary political project that the system reveals itself as unjust.' 17 The resurrection of the episode of the Locked Room returns us to the problematic of subtraction, and what kind of political subjectivity and political desires it incites - is engaged withdrawal really possible or are immanence and immersion the inescapable conditions for the evacuation of managerial nihilism (no aspersion on philosophical nihilists intended, btw)? Is it still possible to deploy the lure of autonomy in anti-systemic struggles once autonomy has not only been discredited in political theory, but capitalised by art education and all the formulae of ‘creativity'?


Perhaps this autonomy could be more precisely articulated along the lines currently informing the thinking in the ‘occupationist' student movements: the refusal of measure could be seen as the emergence of political subjectivity from the ‘void of the situation' in Badiou's terms; as a practical negation produced dialectically from within and against its conditions in this historical phase of capitalist logic, qua Hegel; or the insistence on the ‘breakdown of the relationship' between students and institutions which prompts the immediate negation of the value-form when resources are seized and and distributed freely here and now, as ‘communisation' theories would suggest.18 Yet, as it is often claimed by those inside and outside the movements, the challenge to the social abstractions of capital frequently itself takes on an abstract or hermetic character, particularly attendant on limited impact or inability to expand. What would it take, then, to ground these refusals at both a higher level of abstraction (direct critique of the value-form via its main vectors of authoritarian management and acephalous financialisation) and in a concreteness of tactics which could propose another version of education in the midst of its self-destruction, as well as branching out beyond it? It seems inarguable that what is more at stake than a defense of the university as currently constituted is the affirmation of a space of collective thinking. But for that affirmation to grow beyond the space seized through brief occupations, it requires institutions as well as a wider social contestation. The rote exercises of education-saving campaigns face a perplexity, perhaps the same perplexity as current labour struggles: the university can neither be defended nor abandoned.

Withdrawal from the dominated life of productive alienation in the ‘A' Course had radical intentions, and if its ethics of subtraction could be socialised, the desire for the institution that can so completely substitute for the desire to be free of capitalist social relations (better university than exploitation at work and in the family, or in the dole office) could be recognised for what it really is and converted into what it could be: an affirmation against lethal measure, a refusal to prop up the institutions that parasitically unlive all around us. The role of the ‘educational' in art practice is another side of the same phenomenon as the ‘creative' in economic policy. But actual art education remains at an impasse - will it find a robust self-definition, or will it be overcome by the inertia of Bologna, by the PhD programmes and the mooted funding streams? If the testimony of current CSM students was evidence, art education can never be totally rationalised; it can only be degraded. It is also the nexus of self-expression as identification with authority. This inchoate, fabled site of institutional desire might be a place to start practising some practical negations.

Marina Vishmidt <maviss AT> is a writer based in London concentrating on art and work. Currently conducting PhD research at Queen Mary, University of London on 'Speculation as a Mode of Production in Art and Capital', recent research posts include a critic's residency at the FRAC Lorraine and a fellowship at the Jan van Eyck Academie. She received her MA at the Middlesex Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy in 2004. She has co-edited Uncorporate Identity (2010) with Metahaven, and Media Mutandis: Art, Technologies and Politics (2006). She has written for artists' publications including Ruth Buchanan, Chris Evans and Olivia Plender, and is a frequent contributor to catalogues, edited collections and journals such as Mute, Afterall, Texte zur Kunst, and Reartikulacija. She also takes part in the collective projects Cinenova (feminist film and video distributor) and Signal: Noise (considering the impact of feedback and systems theory on contemporary culture and politics).


1 10th Floor is a Central Saint Martin's-based group consisting of writer, organiser and former CSM student Anthony Davies (who was taught by Peter Kardia), current CSM students from across the Fine Art Department, and Rozsa Farkas, Tom Clark, Adam Gallagher, Lennart Pasch and Nikhil Vettukattil. They undertook a period of archival research and discussion about radical politics in and out of the university then and now, and worked together to organise the event, as well as conducting a number of interviews and assembling the ‘A' Course archive from materials dispersed throughout the college and in various private collections.

2 See ‘Learning to Breathe Protest' and ‘We Have Decided Not to Die' in Variant Issue 37, pp. 30-36, for critiques of the Bologna Process and narratives of occupation and movement by students from Berlin, Munich, Vienna, London and California; online at and The Bologna Process in black and white at

3 Stewart Martin, ‘The Pedagogy of Human Capital', in Mute Vol 2, #8, Spring 2008, The present essay is greatly indebted to Martin's discussion of the issues, and is content to fall far beneath its standard.

4 See, for example, ‘Cultural Capital: a Manifesto for the Future: Investing in Culture will Build Britain's Social and Economic Recovery'

5 Although there are reported prospects of universities returning to the remit of the Department of Education under the ConDem junta, they remain under Business, Innovation and Skills for now

6 On the other hand, attempts to discursively perform such encounters, like the ones enacted in many of the earlier-cited ‘academy' projects, can find themselves swamped by the bad faith of institutional power, hearing only its own aporetic echo of complicity. Tom Holert, a critic who has been researching and publishing on the ‘educational turn' extensively in the past couple of years, and who was one of the faculty participating in the ‘free curriculum' organised at the occupied Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, proposes that rather than this ‘turn' being used as ‘an occasion for confessing one's own entanglement in educational processes and institutional politics [...] vis-à-vis the disciplining forces that govern the institution of art', it should be noted that the current educational turns are part of a much larger policy drive to maximise 'human capital', and that this can provide a lever for students, activists and institutional actors to widen the gap between sanctioned collaboration and forms of collective action which 'angrily and inappropriately appropriate . . .empowerment through education'. Holert goes on to say that ‘While Tate Modern and similar sites of public-corporate cultural neo-education are buying advice from managerial consulting firms to improve their economical performance, the more ‘alternative' urge to transform traditional institutions of archive and display, of education and interpretation into networked spaces of knowledge production and the distributed academy of ‘Lifelong Learning' follows a comparable logic, a subjectivizing logic of capitalizing on the command/desire to push the limits of each individual's cultural competence'. (posted to the NEW-MEDIA-CURATING email list 24 May 2010). Hence, art institutions are no longer in the old Bourdieuian business of developing distinction through class-guided ‘cultural capital'; their remit now is much more about cathecting dormant ‘human capital' to the ruling ideas of participation, collaboration and adaptation as they traverse workplace and artplace. For a show-stoppingly ingenuous account of the personal, economic and neurological benefits of gallery education programming, see Anna Cutler, ‘What Is To Be Done, Sandra? Learning in Cultural Institutions of the Twenty-First Century' in Tate Papers, Issue 13, Spring 2010. Cutler is the Tate's Director of Learning.

7 There is hardly anything in the public domain which gives a comprehensive account of the ‘A' Course and places it within contemporary or historical debates, thus The ‘A' Course - An Inquiry event served as a path-breaking attempt to do exactly this. The published narratives that do exist are fragmentary, highly contentious or very difficult to access. One such narrative available to the author at the time of writing was Hester R. Wesley's ‘The Intellectual Metronome: Peter Kardia at St Martin's', in From Floor to Sky: The Experience of the Art School Studio, A&C Black, London 2010. One marked feature of this account, is the degree of close reliance on testimony from Kardia and an elision of the contribution of other practitioners and students to the ‘A' Course and its theorisation. (Kardia was the only full-time member of staff on the 'A' Course and was also responsible for its articulation and development at an administrative level). The outcome of this reliance on Kardia's testimony tends to be one of situating the ‘A' Course solely in his biographical trajectory rather than enunciating its resonances in the present.

Wesley refers to Kardia's interest in the debates about what constituted ‘production' in art at the time and his interest in the production of subjectivity which intersected for him (as they would for the ‘A' course tutors) in his art teaching prior to the ‘A' Course: ‘For Kardia, the studio became a kind of seminar room, where the sculptural debate broadened to include sources previously regarded as post facto; discussion groups became mandatory and philosophy required reading. Here, the confluence of new theoretical ideas about the status of the art object encouraged students to abandon the studio as a site of production altogether....Kardia deliberately destabilised his students' notions of the world and, in this way, actively encouraged them to assume responsibility for their own subjectivity and creative interpretation.'

8 In what may have been an ironic nod to 'elf ‘n' safety, the Daily Mail's running joke about the nanny state but no less a statement about the parameters of ‘radical pedagogy' today, the Dean of CSM brightly affirmed that the ‘A' Course would never be permitted today owing to to the health and safety policies now in place. Another high-level administrator in the audience later felt duty-bound to point out that there certainly was a place for ‘radical pedagogy' in the CSM curriculum - she was sure it was an option in the prospectus. These were two instances of the extreme complacency with which the CSM staff, assembled on the panel and speaking from the audience in the final part of the event, by and large passed judgment on the particular breed of vicious neoliberal authoritarianism flourishing in the education system as the best of all possible worlds and the direct legacy of the aspirations of the radical student movements: ‘down with elitism! Up with the RAE!' The manner of expressing their accord with the current dispensation often recalled the Freudian armature of disavowal that Žižek recollects in Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle: I never borrowed your kettle, I returned your kettle, it was already broken when you lent it to me. This was especially true of one tutor who at one point was able to simultaneously defend the proposition that faculty like him made sure that bucketloads of assessment criteria were not hobbling the students' education, and that faculty were bowing to the wishes of the students to be constantly assessed.

9 See ‘Century of the Self' part 3, for the argument that the implosion of large-scale collective movements for social change in the West in the early 1970s coincided with a turn ‘inwards' to esoteric forms of therapy, spiritualism and ‘lifestyle politics'. The discussion of Esalen (the ‘Human Potential Movement') is quite striking, although it had been operating since 1961 and was in fact prominent in the counterculture during its ‘politicised' phase, which somewhat undermines Curtis's thesis but partially supports it as many of its major adherents were figures of exactly the de-politicisation he diagnoses, e.g. Timothy Leary. The ‘Century of the Self' series, along with the rest of Adam Curtis' films, can be viewed at

10 Gregory Bateson,Metalogues: About Games and Being Serious' in Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology, Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2000 (1972), p 19; reprinted from ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol IX, 1953.

11 Hester Wesley's text on Peter Kardia's teaching methods would seem to bear that out, emphasising that the rigorous and experimental pedagogy promulgated by him and subsequently by the 'A' Course tutor group kept the students too engaged to protest, and led them to channel their hostility to the institution in more 'productive channels'. At the same time, according to Wesley, Kardia believed, ‘to engender a shift from commodity to authentic production, then the practitioner must necessarily become an active producer; he or she must reclaim the right to intervene within the political decision-making process by engaging in a critique of the institution.'

12 Compare this statement about Ascott and Kardia's proximate approaches to education, with a characteristic pop-cybernetics text from 1970, Gene Youngblood's Expanded Cinema. For Ascott and Kardia, the interaction between humans and environment was conceived initially in terms of behaviourism: ‘Ascott's inclusion of behaviourist models was designed to make the students aware that they were only partially responsible for their identity, and, in turn, their ideas. Furthermore, the related exercises demanded the students pay attention to the contingencies of their specific environment, which in turn gave them greater reason to work to transform that environment.[...] Kardia elevated behaviourism to be a designated study area within the remit of Objective Studies [...]. Frequently progress in study involves the questioning of institutional definitions of the boundaries of a subject. Behavioural studies are concerned with the procedure of redefinition.' (Ibid., p. 15), and then, ‘We're now moving into the Cybernetic Age in which man learns that to control his environment he must cooperate with it; he not only participates but actually recreates his environment both physical and metaphysical, and in turn is conditioned by it.' (Youngblood, p. 55). Note that in the latter instance the inseparability of co-operation from control obviates the possibility of any break which might exceed a mental ‘redefinition', while in Ascott's view, the feedback between subject and environment included the possibility of change. This indicates the divergent paths cybernetics would take in the era, figured as both an ultimate vector of control (RAND Corporation, game theory, Dr Strangelove) and a vector for liberation. Many genealogies of cybernetics in these terms have been written. One might then historically gauge cybernetics as the ‘spontaneous philosophy' of social theorists that did not want to let go of a vision of totality but tried to take stock of the failure of the project of critique, whether conducted in the key of Enlightenment rationality or critical political economy, to undermine its own conditions of possibility: capital and the state.

13 Consider Chris Evans' ongoing work Cop Talk: ‘Only a small proportion of art students realize a career in the arts, while at the same time few artists are likely to pursue a career within the police force. From the idea that a police force should ideally be a reflection of society, and the observation that people from the art world are underrepresented within that force, Evans invites representatives from national police forces across the world to give recruitment presentations at art academies.'

14 Nobody mentioned, just as an example, a third model - the largely self-organised, multi-year classes/collectives which are the norm in much of the Scandinavian art academy.

15 There's a precise formulation of this relation by Jason Read: ‘The more capitalism puts to work the collective and social powers of labor in the form of science, knowledge, and machinery, the more capital itself appears to be productive. This then constitutes the link between capitalism and ancient despotism. [...] We could say that this incalculable surplus of collectivity constitutes a kind of hyper-exploitation, but that would presuppose a collectivity existing prior to exploitation. In the formation of capital the collective itself is constituted in the act of exploitation.' In, ‘A Fugitive Thread: The Production of Subjectivity in Marx', Pli, 13, 2002, pp 125-146; pp 135-136

16 For a repository of analysis and documents situating the current re-structuring of universities in established New Labour policy rather than the exigencies of the ‘crisis' ('crisis' being deployed only as legitimation/nightstick for already-planned cuts) as well as the codified management principles behind the shocking tactics used in suppression of the Sussex and Middlesex occupations, see See also the blueprint, the Lambert Review of Business-University Collaboration, at Finally, see Tiqqun's ‘The Cybernetic Hypothesis' for a discussion of management in terms of cybernetic regulation and capture of informational flows, eliminating all that does not function within its natural laws. This is seen as the defining feature of capitalist rationality in the present, though the emergence of cybernetics predated the eclipse of what they call the ‘liberal capitalism' which it has gone on to replace. ‘Cybernetics is the project of recreating the world within an infinite feedback loop involving these two moments: representation separating, communication connecting, the first bringing death, the second mimicking life.' Also, ‘Capitalism thus becomes unquestionable, insofar as it is presented as a simple means - the best possible means - of producing social self-regulation.' In Tiqqun #2,

17 The Manifesto of the Malgré Tout Collective (written in 1995) puts it this way: ‘... the free, just and rational rules of the market, the laws of supply and demand, have their origin in an injustice, an alienation and an absurdity that are unintelligible to the system, and which are, consequently, perfectly legal and consensual, even in the eyes of a large number of workers and trade unionists. This is why the point is not so much that injustice sparks up rebellion, but rather that rebellion forces the inconsistency of the system: it's in light of the revolutionary political project that the system reveals itself as unjust.'

18 With reference to the Badiou axiom, Slovenian philosopher Rado Riha develops it lucidly in his essay ‘The Semblant and the Act': ‘An act does not only mark a radical break with the Other, it also depends on what follows it. In fact, an act is worthy of the name only insofar as it introduces a new sequence, a new series. [...] What I would like to add is only that [this] theorisation of the act [...] is already inscribed within the horizon announced by Marx when he maintained that one can understand one's situation only on the condition of changing it, or, which amounts to the same, on the condition of producing those properties of the situation which did not exist prior to this production itself. [...] In short, the task of the act is to render visible in the production of consequences that which cannot be seen, the very interruption on which a new sequence is grounded.' ‘The Semblant and the Act', paper presented at the Politics and Thought conference, Jan van Eyck Academie, 27-28 September, 2008.