postgraduate program, workshop
A Good Workshop
Conversation with Krõõt Juurak
A Good Workshop
At the end of the every block the curator writes a documentation of what happened in the block. The reason to do it, is to pass on pass on some information to the other curators and also to develop on and add to the archive of methodologies at work at a.pass.
I will be writing this report as I am the designated block curator. It would be great to have a conversation about the work(shop) that you proposed. I suggested this interview format so that you don’t have to write a report. I have the Intuition that reporting would be strange in connection with your workshop and your work in general.
The last time we talked it felt to me that the way you propose things and the way the workshop was proposed it cannot be grasped with conventional questions of “what did you do?” and other questions that point to to productivity. Productivity is so ingrained in the language which we use to describe proposals that it makes it hard to talk about proposals which challenge that concept.
I am curious how you think about this? Is there a language problem?
Yes, there is definitely a language problem, I agree.
First of all I didn’t want to write the report about the workshop for several reasons… I don’t want to be the ultimate authority on what we did and what that meant or what anyone learnt or did not learn. The workshop was proposed in such a way that it is not clear what the profits are and what the productivity of it is. I don’t want to be the one who has the last word because this is counterproductive to the other participants of the workshop.
Actually because I wasn’t even taking this workshop I have the least idea about what we did or what it was good for. I would say that’s the reason why I find it so strange and difficult to write reports. It feels like I’m patronizing the participants‘ experience.
I know the feeling very well. When I propose a collective space in my own work it’s also impossible for me to say afterwards what actually happened. I know what happened from my perspective, but then I was just one of the people who occupied that space. Producing environments in which you then yourself enter as a participant doesn’t really go well along with conventional concepts of what work is or what education should look like.
And on the other hand — which is at first glance a little bit contradictory — I love the conventional way of educating, I like the formal structure of a school, where one person is the “teacher” and the others are “students”.
As a role play, I think it’s brilliant. It is not an environment where everything is everything.
I have a rather difficult educational past. I struggled through primary and highschool, barely making it, but as I am getting older, I am almost 40 now, educational experiences have been getting better and better. And perhaps in developing these workshops I have been dealing with those educational “traumas”. Most people come with some kind of baggage from their experiences in educational institutions and I am interested in how these experiences are still shaping the way we function whenever faced with a “school-like” structure.
And secondly, since I have always hated school, workshops, any kind of educational experiences (I don’t even have a driving license), I tried to do something that a person like myself could handle. I guess that’s why this workshop is anti-productivity and anti-information. The proposal could also be: wasting time together and/or separately.
And one fun fact: statistically speaking the main reason people take workshops is to meet other people. I think that is a fair reason. Often you don’t go there to learn a new skill but rather just to see who else is there. It is hard to meet people nowadays. As a workshop leader I try to keep this in mind, and try to make sure it isn’t about me.
I think we have very similar reasons for why we do the work the way we do the work. For me the hardest part is to navigate the persona of the initiator. I like that you described the teacher/student relationship as a kind of a role play. It’s good to try and keep it a role play because this relationship constantly wants to become a reality. It’s very hard to get out of the costume.
We’re so trained in believing these roles, we start to take them seriously.
I always try to keep in mind that in taking workshops people learn about giving workshops. And when you are giving one you learn about how to take one. I do not have a lot of faith in explanatory learning, we are animals and learn from example, unwittingly.
In this workshop at a.pass, did you feel like the participants were aware of that roleplay? Did they get out of their roles?
Perhaps the idea was rather to get into their roles, I would think that most of them became aware of the part they played, absolutely.
For example, I kept postponing this interview with you, and after the second postponement I stated that I have really good excuses. That moment I became aware of my recurring role as the artist-teacher resisting report-writing. It is tricky because we are not in a workshop and this is not as safe as a workshop would be. It is relatively safe because we are friends, but we are in a professional environment. It is more risky to come up with really good (fake) excuses.
In the workshop I really try to create a ground where excuses and this cliche known as “bad student behavior”becomes a practice. An artist’s practice.
So many of our artist practices are based on the so-called protestant ethic, where you have to be a good person with good wishes and of course good products. It is all based on a moral premise. Obviously turning that around isn’t going to change it, but I think at least you can have a break from having to be so damn serious about being good all the time.
I struggle with that myself: Trying to keep up the play. I thought it would it would be a good idea to be an artist so I could decide for myself what work was and what life was. And at some point you notice that you take less risks because your income depends on it. And then what you do doesn’t appeal to you anymore and probably it will not be appealing to anyone else either. So it is a closed circle or a downward spiral: when our livelihood depends on it, we start to fear and fear eats fun. I think workshops are great format to make a space for fun, for boredom and for doing nothing.
There’s a counter-institutional resistance in both of our proposals, a space to fail and miss the institutional brief.
And at the same time it is a narrow pathway how to do that properly, an other brief. I keep asking myself how to not to please the institution by critique-ing it in this way.
It is a matter of constant evaluation for me of what actually makes a good proposal? What am I satisfied with, what is the institution satisfied with, what are the participants satisfied with? Thinking like this I find myself mostly fighting against passing on the institutional pressure and established ideas (which we all have, all who take part in a workshop) of what a “good workshop is” .
It is slightly more complex than being anti-institutional. But not very complex. In fact it is just about making a space within the space or using it for your own advantage and finding out the problems as they arise and trying not to worry about anything else.
A.pass is a special case: we welcome the institutional educational experiment. These are our questions as artists and educators. To a certain degree we are on a similar side of things. We are also bored with the conventional ideas of passing down knowledge. But I’m wondering how much is for you at risk in other institutions? Do you calibrate your proposals depending on where you go, or do you even radicalise them if it is a more conventional context?
I don’t know if this is good or bad but I do the same thing every time. Let’s say a very similar workshop works for nine-year-olds, too. Perhaps it is a very childish workshop and I wonder if it is more unusual for a.pass, Impulstanz or for real children.
I think you deploy a Trojan horse. You have a surface layer, a structural layer in this workshop which is able to attach itself to the institution. But within that structure it feels to me like there’s a space for absurdity and boredom and a collapse of reasoning.
Right. Let’s say, if you ask me what we did, I could tell you exactly: we had a nap every day of 20 minutes, we wrote in our diaries, we sang karaoke, we had a silent meeting… We knew exactly what we were doing at any given moment but for a person randomly walking in, it would not have looked like we were doing anything. For sure it did not look like we were working.
There’s again something language-related that makes structural questions invalid here. I appreciate very much how your work can invalidated certain questions by answering them: they can be answered but they don’t describe at all what was actually going on in your workshop in terms of …. not necessarily in terms of the process, because the process is easy to describe. But in terms of what it means, or what it actually produces, or what it triggers, or what kind of community it develops, or how practices resonated with each other.
There’s a kind of a failure of of the institutional perspective which you trigger, precisely because you can answer to it. “Yeah, yeah, we did this, we did this”. But it doesn’t help to understand it.
Actually it is not quite accurate to say it was all anti-productivity: we had also had a couple of lectures, we discussed political performativity and artist solidarity. I try to combine as wide range of activities as I can. And since I am constantly doubting my own abilities, self-sabotage as a method is an important tool for me. Self-sabotage is a very common method especially in the creative field and I think we don’t cherish it enough. It takes such a large almost elephant-size part of our lives, I want to know more about it.
In this workshop I gave the participants the simple task to write a motivation letter, formulated as “What/why you want to get out of this workshop?” And I formulated the task in such a way that I didn’t notice it could be misunderstood. But when I read the letters everybody was writing on why they wanted to get out of the workshop. And I was genuinely confused and worried. Do they really want to get out of the workshop? And then I looked at what I had written and understood that I had unwittingly sabotaged myself.
And then in one these letter somebody called this workshop a “procrastination conspiracy”.
I find interesting is that you identify self-sabotage as a useful methodology to pass on. So far I have only applied it to myself. In the collective gathering workshop I talk about “authority suicide”: how to fail organize when you are proposing something? My initial response would always be to panic and to solve a situation when people don’t know what’s the plan is, when there is a feeling that people are lost. I have gradually developed a higher tolerance and now try to fail to do that or to do it badly or to accept not to know how to go on, in order to finally collapse this persona of the “responsible-when-it-fails” as the last piece of institutional structure.
But I never I never tried passing on this strategy as a skill. I think because there is still the expectation of organising differently, of self-organisation after the collapse.
So, if I’m imagining what you do: is it a workshop or a project where it is difficult to say who’s in charge or when it starts and when it ends?
Yes, thats the attempt.
I admire people who are able to do this kind of free structure. Every time before a workshopI I think I should try that and I kind of coward out and still go with a very strict structure instead. Maybe some day. But I really admire when there is this kind of a situation where you are not sure if it is meant to be that way, is it really planned to be disorganized or has everything gone out of hand. It’s risky.
It is risky. It is one of those things outside of language. You can’t really address it, because the only way to address it is to re-establish some kind of authority over it, to turn it into an institutional method yet again. So what you can do is to go for awkward silences and dance around it hoping that either it is a true failure and something else will come out of it, or that at least there’s a kind of a meta-failure and people kind of are in on the joke. That people understand it that it is an unspoken, unspeakable thing that has to happen.
It’s complicated, I don’t really know. I’m talking like it is a whole method but actually I’m always just trying to stretch that space. I try to realise when authority comes in, what are the performances of it and either not do them or wait as long as possible to do them.
It would be a paradox if it would become a whole method.
What we say about a.pass as a structure is that it is engaging in the paradox of creating an open space. I think somehow your work(shop) deals with that as well. We do it from different sides: through over-emphasising structure or through building down structure. But the goals are quite similar. I think a.pass keeps failing in that, because at the same time there is always the question of “Are we doing our job well?” Is there “progress”, etc? There has to be a reason to engage in this communal project/institution, you want to end up somewhere in your work you would not be able to get to by yourself.
But I’m still wondering, if we take your method seriously, if there should be some kind of a radical letting go of certain goals in this environment. Sometimes I still feel like we think to “educational”.
Maybe it’s because I’m doing psychoanalysis at the moment that I think this is also a psychological method. You become aware of your habits and then it’s not about changing them, but about playing them. Performing them and enjoying it. Don’t struggle. Or struggle but have have a good time struggling!
We could have keep having this abstract idea of open space, but it’s not open and it’s not space. It is rather our filters define how we understand something.
I think the playful perspective helps me. When I’m explaining these thoughts to you, I see myself from the outside getting stuck in language loops. My wish would be to get out of them. No to just keep explaining and subverting structures, but to step out of it, to step somewhere else
Here I feel the limits of a specific institutional language or culture to express spaces and proposals which are really beside them. There are some things which a particular language or particular culture of discourse cannot reach. Maybe as we said, it can only be done in a sort of unspoken way, unspoken in the sense of not using that language.
That thought is really fascinating for me because the way I usually proceed is through over-explaining and I catch myself in this conversation that this might be a trap. I have been polishing the language of my proposals, trying to subvert them within the proposal for quite some time now. Almost like trying to build a bridge from one language space to another. It’s just that sometimes I get so busy building this bridge that I don’t have time for the actual work of inhabiting that space. Or rejecting the space, like the way you reject the idea of educational reporting.
Thank you for this conversation, dear Krõõt!