Sunday, September 15, 2013

David Askevold's Projects Class

[David Askevold, ed]
Projects Class
Halifax, Canada: Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design,1969.
[12] pp., 12.5 x 18 cm., loose leaves in a rubber stamped envelope
Edition size unknown

David Askevold began teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design in 1968 and the following year developed the idea for the Projects Class. Originally hired to teach a Foundation year course in Sculpture, Askevold took advantage of the number of conceptually-based artists who had visited the school at that time, including James Lee Byars, Dan Graham, Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth. When he bumped into Weiner in New York City he pitched the idea of approaching artists to submit proposals for the students to manifest. Together they secured the involvement of many of the world's most innovative conceptual artists at the time: Robert Barry, Mel Bochner, Jan Dibbets, Graham, Sol Lewitt, N.E. Thing Co., Byars, Robert Smithson, Doug Huebler, Lucy Lippard, Kosuth, and Weiner himself.

Askevold said "My idea at the time, as an instructor of art, was to bring students closer to the sensibilities of practicing contemporary artists by engaging them directly with the work." He planned to serve mostly as a moderator, monitor, or "midwife" to the process. The original concept involved the artists visiting the school, but when that became too costly, his compromise was to operate through the mail and via the telephone.

Several of these artists also participated in the Art By Telephone project at the Chicago MOCA that same year. Art By Telephone followed a similar premise, in which the gallery staff realized the works from the artists’ instructions, with a nod to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s 1922 Telephone Paintings, which were made by a sign manufacturer according to specifications that the artist dictated over the phone.

The projects were submitted on typed or handwritten cards, and the students enacted the works in a collaborative manner. This exchange helped initiate a pedagogical shift, where the idea of teaching or engaging with a class could itself be viewed as a work of art.

Jan Dibbets’ asked the students to document the shadows of trees every ten minutes. Mel Bochner had them measure the classroom in height, length, volume, temperature, humidity, illumination, etc. He closed his text with the statement “It doesn’t matter to me what the specific details are, or how they are presented”.

Lucy Lippard, whose curatorial project Groups at the New York School of Visual Art earlier in the year was a precursor of sorts to Projects Class, contributed the following:

"A. A group of people (anywhere from five to fifteen) are photographed in the same place and approximately the same position in relation to each other every day at the same hour for two weeks. (No diversion from the conventional group photograph taken for school yearbooks, Knights of Columbus annual picnics, etc.) The people need not wear the same clothes or pose exactly the same way each day, but the immediate impression should be almost identical.

B. These photographs are developed and dated (a record about what one person is wearing each day, or something similar, should be kept each day so that the dates will be accurate.); each photograph is then described in writing, in detail, either by the person (or persons) who took the pictures or by someone who was not present at the picture taking. (Note which case was chosen.)

C. Put the photographs together with the texts in one of the following manners: 
1. Both pictures and texts in chronological order.
2. Pictures in chronological order, but texts scrambled (they are still dated though).
3. Texts in chronological order but pictures scrambled (and dated).
4. Scramble the whole thing in some totally random manner so that sometimes pictures are with their proper texts and sometimes not (still dated), and so that the time sequence is broken entirely: “illustration” and text diverge. If more than one person is doing the project, each one should take a different last step (and take his own photographs of different groups from the others)."

Robert Smithson’s Mud Flow called for “1000 tons of mud dumped from a dump truck over a rocky or stony cliff”. Robert Barry’s piece is known only to the students who conceived of it.

One of Askevold’s favorite proposals was Douglas Huebler’s Variable Piece #5, which asked that the students create a myth. They responded by creating another art school, the fictitious Haliburton. An ad in Artforum announced the institution, which was accepting students with “limited availability”. A dozen or so artists (who were not forewarned) were listed as teaching there. The only one they heard back from was Frank Stella, via his lawyer, who demanded they “take his name off this thing”.

The class ran from 1969 to 1972, when Askevold took a sabbatical to visit London, England. He arranged to have Graham, Byars, Dennis Oppenheim and Vito Acconci replace him, each for six weeks at a time.  The project helped to initiate a very extensive visiting artists program, which in turn put NSCAD on the map as a centre of innovative teaching practices and conceptual art in general.

Bruce Barber called NSCAD “one of the pre-eminent art schools in the world, arguably as important a centre in its own time as the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College had been for the fostering and dissemination of contemporary avant-garde activity” and Askevold's Projects Class is often identified as “the most innovative and interesting aspect of the NSCAD curriculum of the period,” (Gil McElroy, ARTSatlantic, Spring/Summer 1996).

The Art Metropole collection at the National Gallery of Canada houses both the original handwritten and typed cards and letters (see Robert Barry's, below) and the above multiple, which, increasingly rare, can be purchased for $500 at Printed Matter, here.

Further Reading:

Art Metropole : The Top 100 by Kitty Scott, Jonathan Shaughnessy, Peggy Gale, AA Bronson. Ottawa, Canada: National Gallery of Canada, 2006.

Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972 by Lucy Lippard.
London, UK: Studio Vista, 1973.

Materializing Six Years : Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art by Catherine Morris, Vincent Bonin, Julia Bryan-Wilson. Brooklyn / Cambridge, NY / MA : Brooklyn Museum / MIT Press, 2012, pp. 186-187.

Conceptual Art: The NSCAD Connection 1967-1973 edited by Dr. Bruce Barber. Halifax, Canada: Anna Leonowens Gallery, NSCAD University, 2001.

The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1968-1978 by Garry Neill Kennedy.
Cambridge, USA: MIT Press, 2012.

Teaching and Learning as Performing Arts by Robert Filliou. Cologne, Germany: König Books, 1970.

The Once and Future Art School by Gary Michael Dault. Toronto, Canada: Canadian Art Magazine, Winter 2008, pp. 83-86. Online here.

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