– Spring/Summer 2016

Anarchism, Education and Compromise: Voices from Montevideo

Anne Szefer Karlsen

Documentation of ‘Venta Popular’ (‘Popular Sale’), 1964, which involved the production of objects for a regular public market in Montevideo as part of the Instituto Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (IENBA) ‘Extensión’ programme

One typically enters the contemporary art school – or, at least, those that are part of a formal educational institution – via a reception area with a receptionist or guard, reporting oneself as a visitor or swiping a student/staff card. Students enter these institutional spaces to be conditioned into subjects that contribute to one or many different communities upon exiting. Art schools today are increasingly governed by their administrators (certainly in Europe, following the Bologna Process); many are guided by the idea that their graduates should become neoliberal entrepreneurs, and some have other, equally reactionary ideas of what an artist is and should do. Oftentimes all of these attitudes mix together, creating complex subjectivation processes for the art student.

On Monday afternoons, from 6 p.m. onwards, the auditorium at Instituto Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (IENBA) in Montevideo, Uruguay is unlocked to let in a crowd of primer año (first-year) students, who queue through the school’s typically ordinary reception area, spilling out onto the street. The large, steep auditorium, La Bombonera, is one of the most characteristic spaces of IENBA. It was built in 1985 by students and staff as part of the reopening

  1. Teacher Gonzalo Vicci Gianotti claims that the closing of IENBA was because of a ‘conflict with the University, because of a situation with the Communist Party that tried to influence the internal elections of IENBA’. I have chosen to reference/foreground the source that experienced the events, but have conflicting information about the events of the closing of the IENBA. Following the dictatorship, art and psychology were apparently the two most popular subjects at the university.

  2. These interviews were mainly conducted between 10 and 21 August 2015, on a research trip supported by Bergen City’s Theory Development Grant and the Bergen Academy of Art and Design. Some interviews were conducted in Spanish with simultaneous translation. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations and information about the school’s history are taken from these interviews.

  3. Indeed, considering the anarchist ideology underpinning many of the operations and teachings of the institution, there is a particularly problematic aspect to narrating its history. Here, history belongs to each participant in the common endeavour that is IENBA, rather than to select voices heard through a few documents.

  4. I am not discussing independent initiatives or alternative education structures in this text.

  5. Professor Javier Alonso notes, as did several other interviewees, that ‘this school has its origin in the 1950s, and takes up what Uruguay understood as modernity through the trips that artists made to Europe’.

  6. In general, I use IENBA to refer to the school.

  7. Luis Camnitzer was among the first staff at ENBA after the reform. There are some discrepancies in the interview material regarding the exact date of the reform, suggesting that the study plan was passed in 1959 but implemented from 1960.

  8. As related by Camnitzer, as well as other interviewees.

  9. Samuel Sztern: ‘Freedom is something that needs to be learned. It’s not that the docents abandon the authoritarian parameters and we are all free. Freedom is responsibility and a lot of other things. It takes some time for a student who comes accustomed to authoritarian practices to develop a non-authoritarian behaviour. So the first year in the school has this role: to de-structure the relation between students and professor. We refuse … for the classroom to be cleaned by the staff because the first act of responsibility from the students should be to be in charge of their own mess. Which means that most of the time, we do the cleaning. But still. They start to understand this. Some of them say that they clean only if someone sends them. Or in other words, they need someone telling them what to do.’

  10. Gonzalo Vicci Gianotti: ‘During the first three years there is a focus on phenomena of perception and art history. In active teaching this is about interest centres, first experienced by the interest of students, and then there is a group analysis of the experience. The Renaissance is an interest centre, for example Teaching of the Renaissance is being organised this way, at least when I did it: there is a stage at the front of the auditorium, the professors would be wearing costumes, the live model lit by candle light, mulled wine is served. The students come and don’t know what they are going to see, so they come into the experience with mulled wine and a pot of stew, and they have to draw the model. Next day, they analyse what happens during this experience of the previous day, what happened to the student, what were the outcomes.’

  11. G. Vicci Gianotti: ‘One of the critiques against the school is that the school works just a little with Latin American art, and even less with non-Western art. It is chronological history. In [the second year you are exposed to] Dadaism, Futurism – until the twentieth century. Pop art would be the last.’ Lucía Epíscopo also notes that students cannot access the workshops in the school for independent work or training during the second and third year of study.

  12. G. Vicci Gianotti connects this to recent structural developments within the school whereby there now is an option to treat the three years within an atelier as a BA as long as the student follows a media-specific specialisation – ‘at least one attempt at integrating the school in an international context’. Professor Javier Alonso describes how it was difficult for students who were applying for graduate studies abroad before the BA was established: ‘We had to invent all this documentation to prove what they had done at the school.’

  13. Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, London: Calder & Boyars Ltd, 1971, p.32.

  14. Adrian Piper, ‘Power Relations Within Existing Art Institutions’, in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (ed.), Institutional Critique: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009, p.259.

  15. Andrea Fraser, ‘The Personal and Political Revisited’, in Sidsel Meineche Hansen and Tom Vandeputte (ed.), Politics of Study, London and Odense: Open Editions and Funen Art Academy, 2015, p.70.

  16. Lucía Epíscopo: ‘In the first year you have 500 students, more or less. Only 250 students continue to the second and third year. In total there must be something like 1000 students in the fourth to sixth grades.’