We agreed to ‘meet’ on Skype at 14:00 (GMT) on Thursday 21.01.2010 to continue our discussion, started in September, and before that by email. By we, I mean myself, Anna Engberg-Pedersen and Christina Werner. Anna and Christina are both based on the Institute for Spatial Experimentation [Institut für Raumexperimente (IfREX)] in Berlin, itself an on-going experimentation in pedagogy. Unfortunately the Skype connection was unstable and Anna and Christina ended up calling me on my home phone (I was in my flat). It was much better audio quality but meant that I was unable to record both sides of the conversation. Anna asked how my work was going and wanted to know about my time in Montreal. I explained as best I could what I had been up to, outlining the people I had been working with and the spaces I had been moving in. Although Anna had not heard of the SenseLab or the TML, she was well aware of Brian Massumi and Erin Manning and told me she had very much enjoyed reading Brian’s (2002) book Parables for the Virtual.
Christina then came on the phone – I was on loud-speaker their end – and asked me about my interests, but said that first, she would tell me how the previous semester had been. Christina and Eric Ellingsen take care of the running of the school and their work oscillates between the studio (Olafur’s) and the school. The winter semester (2009/2010) was very busy for them, and the twenty students or so were involved in class discussions (some with Olafur), reading groups (organised and led by Christina and Eric) as well as workshops with invited guests. There are also public lectures and meetings which follow a more classical (or orthodox) form. The time with Christina and Eric aims to cover what they describe as the ‘standard stuff’, which seemed to suggest reading which would help situate the more experimental sessions. One example of these sessions was to create a book on-the-fly; the students had three days to design and make a book comprised of lots of different parts. This can be seen as part of the Institute’s attempt to challenge and actively work against so-called ‘ready-made’ knowledge.
The Institut für Raumexperimente is in itself an experiment. To me, the experiment as a mode of inquiry is necessary if we are to insist on a constant, probing and generous interaction with reality. Or to put it differently: by engaging in experimentation, we can challenge the norms by which we live and thus produce reality.1
It was now my turn to explain so I sketched out my research questions and interests, notably: the historio-philsophical lineage of their experiment(s), the architecture of space and how it might facilitate experimentation (as well as what kinds of experiments) and an exploration of what is at stake (in effect, asking what purpose the Institute/school serves). All really relevant questions, I was told, and Christina and Anna were keen to detail some of the facets of the Institute. Firstly, whilst it is an Institute it occupies a strange position in relation to the College of Fine Arts at the Berlin University of the Arts [Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK)] and operates outside of the institutional framework of the university, although its public lectures are open to all of its members. Secondly, the IfREX provides hybrid space which at once offers close ties to a practising artist’s studio (downstairs) as well as a place to do research. The students are invited to lunch in the studio twice a week – where they are able to make links to all kinds of people – and are provided with an accessible place, with room to work. Thirdly, there is no syllabus as such; instead there are themes. The IfREX is concerned with trying to make connections: it works to push us to think differently. So whilst the semesters are unplanned, there is room to respond to invited speakers and other visiting academics or artists. Trajectories are constructed, connections are seized upon and there is a tendency to experiment with ideas. Indeed, the teaching is an experiment in itself which is a five-year research project. The IfREX is an educational platform, a space where people are trying to learn how to learn, an experimentation with experimentation.
The Institut für Raumexperimente is a research experiment attached as a satellite to the College of Fine Arts at the Berlin University of the Arts. Its purpose is to experiment with new approaches to teaching art in the university setting. The programme focuses on spatial practices and problems in the fine arts and their intersection with architecture as well as their relationship to the humanities and natural sciences. By way of workshops, experiments, different exhibition formats, publications, and symposia, participants are encouraged to interact across disciplinary boundaries and to productively engage with the intersections between art and scholarship.
When asked what I would like, or hoped, to do in terms of fieldwork, I replied that I would be guided by them although I would very much appreciate the chance to visit the Institute and to meet the people who worked there. Christina said that they had been discussing beforehand what they could offer me, and made two different propositions. The first is to apply for a short-term grant for postgraduate study which would last six months, or one semester (April-September). This position is offered to those who are either (a) involved in further education more advanced than the students at the School or those who are (b) not artists, in order to make different sorts of connections. The role is fairly open-ended, with the award-holder expected to be there full-time, attend all events and be able to mediate the content, to provide another perspective. The deadline: 15th February 2010. The second option would be more non-committal and would allow for me to be in Berlin for a month or so, where I would be able to sit in on all the events that I would like. The IfREX is keen to cultivate a feeling of hospitality as well as make links across and beyond disciplines. The next semester’s theme will be landscape architecture, with an interest in architecture and sound. Sounds good!
At Institut für Raumexperimente, time and space are considered inseparable even at a methodological level. Space cannot be externalised; it isn’t representational and nor are the experiments with which we work. To work spatially does not necessarily entail the creation of representational distance, and we can precisely avoid this distance, essentially static and unproductive, by insisting that time is a constituent of space. Or as a friend has said: space is ‘a constantly mutating simultaneity of stories-so-far’.