By Dr. James Newitt
In late June 2017, 10 undergraduate students from the Tasmanian College of the Arts (TCotA), University of Tasmania, along with myself and colleague Lucy Bleach will undertake a 3–week international field trip covering 4 cities to experience a once-in-ten-year alignment of Documenta 14 and the Münster Skulptur Projekte. The schedule will enable students to engage with the Documenta exhibition in both Kassel (Germany) and Athens (Greece), and the Skulptur Projekte in Münster (Germany). The study trip culminates with a week in Lisbon (Portugal), where TCotA students will engage with students from the Maumaus Independent Study Program, to critically reflect on the curatorial premise and this year’s two-city unfolding of Documenta 14, through an intensive seminar at the Goethe Institute Lisbon.
The international study program has been developed as part of the award unit ‘Current Practice: Outgoing’. The ‘Outgoing’ study trip sits within a broader Current Practice framework, reflecting on notions of current as time and movement. Current Practice will incorporate several new award units and will focus our international activities and opportunities through a lens that is simultaneously ‘incoming’ and ‘outgoing’, to meaningfully connect our students with leading international contemporary art practice. The Current Practice: Outgoing international study program is supported by our successful application to the Department of Education and Training’s Study Overseas Short Term Mobility Program, thus providing each student with a $2000 subsidy for travel expenses.
The Current Practice Framework emerged at TCotA over the last two years to expand our international engagement through diverse events, experiences and opportunities including an international Artist in Residence program (AiR International), building on our successful local Artist in Residence program, where leading Tasmanian practitioners are invited into the school for one semester. The TCotA AiR programs support and extend professional practice across the School’s studio teaching, providing a rich environment for international and local artists to develop specific projects, whilst affording unique learning opportunities for students outside of their formal learning programs, via a series of presentations, workshops, demonstrations, one-on-one discussions and group critiques. The AiRs have been a crucial element in the school’s evolving culture, offering students the possibility to engage with established artists, connecting them more directly with international contemporary practice.
Over the last three years TCotA, often in partnership with leading Tasmanian cultural institutions such as the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), has hosted a series of keynote lectures and master-classes by major international figures. Guest speakers have included: Vito Acconci, who presented a public lecture in 2014; Alfredo Jaar who presented the public lecture It is Difficult, 2015; James Turrell who engaged with students during the final installation stages of his work Amarna, at MONA, 2015; Jürgen Bock (director Maumaus Independent Study Program Lisbon), who presented the public lecture Work, Desire, Culture, and held a week-long master class for undergraduate students, 2015. Jane Rendell, Professor of Architecture and Art at the Bartlett, University College London, was a TCotA ‘Thinker in Residence’, 2015, and delivered the Site Writing seminar, 2016; and also in 2016 cultural theorist and social scientist Bruno Latour presented the public lecture Reset Modernity.
Through our ongoing connection with local institutions such as MONA, TMAG, Detached and Contemporary Art Tasmania, we remain open to responding to opportunity for international engagement as they may arise. As well as consciously maintaining an open and flexible program, particularly in relation to international engagement, we recognise the importance of sustained and meaningful relationships within our international collaborators. Over the coming years we will expand our network of contributing artists, friends and colleagues to offer our students significant insights, exposure and experience. This relationship building includes extending our ongoing connection with the Maumaus Independent Study Program, which I first encountered as a Samstag Scholar and participant of the program in 2012-13. By continuing to work with Jürgen Bock and Maumaus, we are able to connect the TCotA’s pedagogical model with a significantly different structure and mode of operation - a small, independent, almost wholly international program that offers no formal certificate or acknowledgement of participation to its students. Working with Jürgen has helped us examine some of the strengths and limitations in our own program, and to think about the nature of autonomy and criticality within a University art school. Our relationship with Jürgen and Maumaus has helped us to dream at a scale that is small and intimate, as well as big and ambitious, in relation to the conceptualisation of future programs and degree structures. This year as we rollout the new TCotA 4 year BFA degree with embedded Honours and work through the challenges and opportunities of a major structural shift in our program delivery, there is no better time to keep our international collaborators close, while actively seeking ongoing opportunities for our students to observe and engage with current art practice in all its manifestations, and to nurture a structure that allows for the incoming and outgoing of ideas to and from the world’s Southern–most art school.
James Newitt is an artist and lecturer at the Tasmanian College of the Arts. His research explores the spaces between individual and collective identity, memory and history, fact and fiction through personal, observational and performative approaches. James has exhibited extensively in group and solo exhibitions throughout Australia and Europe. He has undertaken international studio residencies supported by the Australia Council for the Arts and in 2012 was awarded the prestigious Samstag Scholarship to participate in the Maumaus Independent Study Program in Lisbon. James has been a visiting professor at the City University of New York and the Tromsø Art Academy, University of Tromsø, Norway. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal and Hobart, Tasmania.
Thanks to Lucy Bleach for her contribution to this article.