Editorial: Art & Pedagogy, Syphon 3.2

Given that our encounters with pedagogy exist most explicitly within academic institutions, it is easy to overlook the many moments in which we take part in informal forms of learning. Whether through solitary research and reflection or through casual exchanges that prove insightful or informative, over time these moments add up. That they are so often disregarded or diminished is, however, no accident. This lack of recognition is the product of a specific value system that undermines vernacular knowledge and elevates the institution. This process, in turn, subdivides forms of learning further into disparate disciplines, continuing to ascribe varying degrees of importance to one field over another. 

In opposition to this stratification, the current issue of Syphon explores learning that occurs outside of institutions. The features discuss projects ranging from artist-initiated programs to socially-engaged residencies, but all share a common interest in communal approaches to teaching and learning. Since its inception, the modern classroom served as a “pedagogical machine” with order and discipline inscribed in the very architecture,[1] in turn becoming “not just a place of learning but an institution where we are taught our places within a hierarchical system of class, gender and race relations.”[2] At their best, academic institutions can critique this system and illuminate a myriad of alternative ways of organizing society, but this is unfortunately often not the case.

This issue’s contributions by Jeanne Randolph and Cliff Eyland most directly contest this ‘pedagogical machine.’ Randolph and Eyland are two artists and writers who founded the Your Own Grad School program that has taken place at Modern Fuel three years in a row, with the fourth iteration scheduled for this Fall. Randolph brings attention to the corporatization of our increasingly neoliberal public education, asking that those who are interested in advanced arts education reflect more deeply on their motivations and expectations, while Eyland outlines an alternative graduate school model that would abandon grades for a more nuanced and insightful evaluation, one that responds to the specific needs and interests of those who are involved. If in Eyland’s model everyone ‘fails,’ then what does that say of the systematization and standardization of success?

Rather than work with a standard, one-size-fits-all model, community-based projects like the Neighbourhood Spaces residency series in Windsor or Toronto’s Anarchist Free School explore radically different ways of exchanging knowledge. Nadja Pelkey, who served as Neighbourhood Spaces’ Program Coordinator, discusses the educational structures that emerged in many of the residencies, considering how artists become integrated or involved in the groups that they worked with. Reflecting on the origin and development of the Anarchist Free School, artist Luis Jacob’s installation Anarchist Free School Minutes (1999) explores the school’s democratic organization and the community that emerged through this process.[3]

With a similar dialogue-based artist project, Golboo Amani’s School of Bartered Knowledge (2013-ongoing) involves more direct exchanges of knowledge and information. In this project, individuals are invited to participate and share any knowledge or information that they deem to be of value or interest. Though these initial exchanges are fleeting, Amani asks participants to record some of the exchange on index cards that in turn catalogue the development of the project. We are excited to feature a selection of these cards in this issue’s centrefold.

In these and other projects included in this issue the hierarchy within conventional learning processes is itself subverted, where horizontal groups collaboratively decide what to address and how the process should unfold. Those taking part gain greater agency in the process, in contrast to the ‘pedagogical machine.’ These alternative approaches to pedagogy impact not only the educational process itself, but influence our awareness of how society more broadly can be organized, as well as the values and culture that influence this mode of organization. As Jeanne Randolph argues, we need to reconsider the effects and outcomes of engaging with our increasingly neoliberal educational system, while acknowledging the value of alternative forms of learning and knowing.

Michael DiRisio is the Artistic Director of Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre and Editor of Syphon. 


1. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (New York: Vintage Books, 1979) 172. See especially Part III, Section 2 “The means of correct training”.

2. Griselda Pollock, “Art, Art School, Culture: Individualism after the Death of the Artist,” Block No. 11 (Winter 1985/96); reprinted in The Block Reader (London: Routledge, 1996) 54.

3. The Agnes Etherington Art Centre recently acquired Jacob’s installation, and we are grateful for their support in reprinting some of the minutes in this issue.


Citation: Editorial, Syphon Issue 3.2 (Spring 2016), Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.

Return to Syphon 3.2