Studio Roma is a transdisciplinary research program by the Istituto Svizzero di Roma, offering study grants to young artists and researchers, fellowship, international mobility support and visiting scholar, oriented to experiment new pedagogical practices in artistic and scientific production. Studio Roma is the metropolitan ‘artist’s studio’. A place of production, transformation and work to find out the role and potential of art and of different kinds of knowledge. A space between inside and outside, where research is not forced to achieve immediate results and experimentation is never tragic, but a prelude. With its laboratories and workshops, field research, events and common readings, Studio Roma combines and sustains the mutual interdependence of three forms of knowledge: science (epistéme), practice (pràxis) and production (poíesis). This approach offers a radical alternative to those based on a disciplinary perspective. Studio Roma accepts the challenge presented by knowledge itself, attempting an approach ‘by themes’. Every year a working theme will be selected with which to shape a transformative and generative knowledge beyond the specialization and the traditional procedures. This method is an attempt to elude any standard of research, to glimpse off-scale landscapes, hybrid assemblages of experiences, expertise and formalization of knowledges. A non-linear path that grasps the grammar of paradox and highlight at times decisive frictions, to explore an epistemology of multiple trajectories, to problematize the present instead of the repetition of easy answers.
The goal is to get beyond the narrow disciplinary divisions and the segmentation of academic knowledge that in the system of education separate those who know from those who do not (yet) know. Studio Roma wants to assert new qualitative and intensive hierarchies that are not the mere reproduction of what is already given; differential relationships, beyond the polarizations between art and science, education and research, formal and informal knowledge. This method triggers productive relations between different fields of application, laying the groundwork for a knowledge capable of having effects, implications and concrete openings. Studio Roma is also a digital platform, an archive, a multimedia library. It supports publications and in-depth analysis on the themes related to the new epistemic, methodological and assessment models of the social sciences, to deepen forms of transdisciplinary research and exploring original curricular paths.
The goal is to define a new meaning of excellence in the production of knowledge, seen as the capacity to connect highly distributive models of communication and intensive forms of cooperation.
Studio Roma is a territory that goes beyond the classic places of institutional education, the model for an transnational research institute of the arts, culture and the sciences.
The Studio Roma program is composed of certain classic activities borrowed from the academic context, and other decidedly experimental actions hailing from the world of art. This heterogeneous character, however, does not protect against the risk of repetition of already familiar formats, nor against the use of an immobile, rhetorical language. So it is far from banal to raise certain questions regarding the status of knowledge and art, as well as of the institutions that are supposed to convey them. How can we make a lecture by a university professor less conventional? How can we rethink formats that have become tired rituals? How can we make the results of a research seminar less predictable? How can we problematize the linear convergence towards the academic standard so in vogue today in art institutions?
Studio Roma investigates the role of artists in the relationship between art and education, marked by a growing correspondence between artistic production and the models and formats pertaining to the university. Such different elements that have been assimilated in a forced way could have the potential to unleash new relational combinations. Thus the emergency arises for an expansion of the field of research to include modes of investigation not yet fettered by definitive rules, not because they are without rigor, but because no method, in itself, can constitute the grid of an obligatory path. The handling of knowledge and proposition of original rankings imposes consideration of the disciplines as traces of investigation, always liminal, never definitive. The investigation on formats permits the freedom that is necessary for research: a freedom that can be used only if it is produced.
The formats of Studio Roma move along trails that do not exist on the grid of disciplined knowledge, but in what remains visible after the earthquake. They are the set of interactions that cannot be reduced to already known identities, the attempt to go beyond the bubble of academicism that seals realms of knowledge off from their application and limits their effects to a field that is as isolated as it is enforcedly coherent. The Studio Roma program tests a relationship between experience and praxis where the specificity of a given realm of knowledge coexists with its transversal character, where the production of knowledge is also immediately its necessary sharing. Questioning the formats and composing different activities means opening up the innermost part of an institution, making it instituent and variable.
The most radical and interesting innovations, also on an institutional level, take form in a composite, partial, decidedly non-linear framework. No one subject is sufficient, on its own, to be able to effectively rethink the forms of production of art and knowledge. Studio Roma explores a method of “research in common” based on speaking out, listening and discussion, questioning the practices of individual and collective players. An attempt to give form to the not yet and to try to imagine the unprecedented through a dense narrative, conveyed by dissonant voices and multiple positions, where the extensive level of the discussion intertwines with the intensive level of the institutional organization. The research projects constitute, on the one hand, the immediate activation of networks and institution building; on the other, they orient the same choices of the program in a public way, examining the problematic fields, putting the challenges into focus and formulating the institutional practices inside the whole of its working hypotheses.
The calls for papers The circulation of the space of debate and of speaking out, expressed by the Studio Roma Gazette, is joined by another device for activating fields of reflection and knowledge. The Calls for Papers are research projects commissioned by Studio Roma and aimed at scholars, artists, young researchers and non-academics, with the task of developing in an original way the themes pertinent to the program of Studio Roma, opening up unexplored horizons and suggestive perspectives. These research projects make it possible to widen the scope of certain problematic issues, putting pedagogical challenges into focus and, at the same time, orienting the decisions and institutional relations of the transdisciplinary program. Several themes, in a not exhaustive but propaedeutic list, are: the evaluation process in research and teaching on a European level; the notion of excellence and merit; investigation of the transdisciplinary method; the cultural and linguistic tradition; the concept of difference in the academic disciplines; the production of spatial and cognitive hierarchies in the circulation of knowledge; educational practices in academic, artistic and cultural institutions; the theme of e-learning and the interface in education; archives and research resources in the digital world; renewal in art schools; the growing academicism of the art system; the theme of the professionalization of the artist.
An open research process that rethinks the method, the institutional networks, the formats, and makes the audience a protagonist, requires a constellation of resources, all necessary and complementary. Studio Roma begins this experience with tools that help to spread its activities beyond the places in which they happen, and are also conceived as ways of testing the efficacy of the experimental projects themselves, which we would like to translate into a platform that combines the functions of a library, a museum, a university and a digital archive. The Library of the Istituto Svizzero and the website of Studio Roma are the main tools of education and information.
The website is not just a place to announce appointments and events, but also one of documentation and in-depth coverage of what is produced during the course of the year, extending the availability of resources in space and time to an audience that becomes more and more digital, as well as physical. A digital platform in four languages – Italian, French, German, English – which beyond its role as a provider of information also offers the materials created during the activities: interviews with the artists, researchers and participants; texts that contribute to assemble the dissonant elements of the research; photo galleries of places and debates; videos of contributions; visual materials around which to develop new aesthetic experiences; in-depth essays; texts of the readings in common; documentation of field research and artistic production. A necessary effort, we believe, to make the produced material not merely a storehouse of sources and studies, but instead a source of necessarily timely knowledge, with which to rethink the organization and application of knowledge both in physical places and in the virtual field.
The catalogue of the Library of the Istituto Svizzero continues to expand, not only through recurring acquisitions but also and above all thanks to the permeability between the programs of Studio Roma and its collection. Access to resources will be, in turn, part of the redefinition of the method and the disruption of disciplinary borderlines. The resources, therefore, are intended as tools that are useful for experimentation and, at the same time, are open to contamination and modification brought about by the results they produce, conserving the freedom and openness to change required by research to rethink the forms of accumulation, sedimentation and sharing of knowledge in the digital organization.
Studio Roma is aimed at a wide audience, though without reducing the scope of the activity, the precision in understanding the questions and the difficulties that are an intrinsic part of the research. Not only the classic protagonists of the world of culture – students, artists, researchers, professors – but also all those who love knowledge, though they are not specialists. The qualification itself – age, profession, interest, origin, social status – has to yield space at the very moment in which the research begins, renouncing the satisfying confidence of identity that all too often becomes deaf to emerging needs and variations of language, as realms of knowledge remain inseparably joined to the particular determinations of their origin. Instead, the audience of Studio Roma should be composed of multiple relational circles that intersect in variable ways, finding new points of convergence. We imagine these points as positions from which to set forth: to grasp the content of the research and to get glimpses of previously unforeseen scenarios, to experience the desire to know and to share, to formulate words never spoken before and to always learn other things. The audience of Studio Roma is not made up of consumers or users; it is mobile, always varied ground on which the research can move, an active, participating audience that also creates groups and relationships, triggering debates and frictions. Studio Roma grows amidst the audience, to feed on previously unknown synergies and capabilities.
Studio Roma sets out to rethink the geography of knowledge and art, taking the network and its variables as the prevalent method of relation, though attempting to also avoid any naive illusions in its regard. While web organization all too often coincides with ramified structures whose hierarchy cannot be changed, Studio Roma tends to become reticular itself, encouraging the creation of new territories of culture and information. On a decentralized level, beginning first of all from the realities of Switzerland, Studio Roma wants to activate ties with universities and art academies, foundations, advanced training schools and polytechnic institutes that invest resources in getting beyond excessive specialization and disciplinary subdivisions. On a distributed level, invitations will be extended to existing research platforms, prototypes and models to create potential institutional connections. Their flexible combinations will become its nodal points. Models formulated around the network form and its artistic practices can thus be introduced in the single institutions, multiplying the results of the educational system. The debates of the Gazette will thus make it possible to consolidate already launched relationships and to establish new ties on a European level. The circulation of the multilingual newspaper crosses areas of reflection that often do not communicate with one another, letting itself be contaminated by educational and artistic practices with which to create new territories of affinity. The institutions that federate with Studio Roma do not only exist in big cities, but also in border zones, in the non-marginal outskirts, in those cities that put specific identities into crisis, to weave a composite space of differences.
ARTISANS OF INSTITUTIONS
The Atelier of Studio Roma is where artists and researchers learn to be artisans, applying imagination in the use of working tools: the makers of a tactile knowledge produced through contact, brandishing instruments of guidance and precision.
What does it mean to put instruments to the test, if not to use them? A question that immediately opens up another: how to use them? To set any overtones of obviousness aside, the awkward and the confident are put together to ask each other about which tools to use, and about the possibility of their modification through the use itself: whether to adapt our posture to their form, or to grip them in an unforeseen, uncertain way, testing the point of application of force, trying out different positions. A working process that allows for mistakes, blind alleys, spinning of wheels. The tools tested are precisely what makes intuition something that can be constructed, leading to productive results. Maybe this is what Walter Gropius meant when he insisted on the need for crafts training for the students of the Bauhaus, to go against the academic grain: «no mechanical structures, but living, organic experiments. To attempt, to experiment, to design, to reject». Like Gropius, we know the power of imagination has a fertility that necessarily implies incompleteness and ambiguity, and that knowledge, like ability, is constructed in an irregular way, through continuous detours.
Studio Roma produces unstable experiences, proposing an attitude from which provisional solutions can arise. Taking charge of knowledge production means first of all learning to loosen one’s grip on a blind alley or a certainty, at least temporarily, to understand what we are dealing with and then grasp it again, from a new angle. The freedom to experiment weaves a sequence of openings and queries in a rhythm that returns time and time again. What is important is not to erect an edifice, but to use the ambiguity of a formative experience to make the framework of possible edifices visible, or of new possible problems closely linked to previously found solutions. In this laboratory of unconventional research that challenges the historic legacy of the classic divisions between arts and crafts, technique and science, being artisans means trying out a kind of cooperation based on engagement and intellectual promiscuity, where the collective and productive dimensions cannot be separated.
Getting down to concrete work, cooperation should not be confused with a generic human tendency to socialize: it materially blends the figure of the artisan into the productive process of combined, intertwined work.
A creative force par excellence, cooperation posits a systemic relationship of the dependency of each with respect to all. A productive force par excellence, it is a reality that exists only in relationship. Its space is never the sum of the individual contributions: from the start of the productive process there is a dimension that cannot be traced back to the arithmetical sum of individuals. An alternative to the dogma of individual competition, it is a place to experience an openly accessible excellence, a quality of knowledge produced in the exchange where equality of views is considered a threat rather than a unifying factor. It is precisely this deep lack of equality, where knowledges are exposed to the exploration of the other, that makes the research laboratory a guide for change. Thinking about cooperation should not make us lose sight of its complementary term – conflict – and its capacity to trigger change, innovation and transformation. Like cooperation, conflict takes the presence of others into account, but it does so by constructing an interdependency of a higher degree, capable of constantly altering the terms of interaction between the parties. At the same time, these experiences do not simply content themselves with being antagonistic to the academizing of the world of art or the university.
Through which institutions can we imagine the extension of formative practices, and at the same time the vertical relations in keeping with a non-finished, open character that prevents sudden closure of the process? Now that production has an institutional tone and institutions have a productive character, how can we conserve the opportunity to always be open to different solutions?
What matters to us is to outline institutions of change rather than to investigate institutional change: this means thinking about the timing of change and its conditions of possibility, beyond the qualities of the temporary or the lasting. A mutable continuity, a stubborn discontinuity of always new material processes, a rhythm capable of making knowledge into a tacit practice, and of making a working technique into a habitual praxis. Between habits and innovation, the organization of types of knowledge is the result of strategies prone to ongoing variation, of practices that cannot be reduced to administrative routine.
Making this logic of prevention of rapid closure into the guideline with which to rethink the relationship between knowledge and power means seizing the institutional moment that makes open spaces capable of remaining just that: paradoxical, contradictory and conflictual spaces. Organizing openness means, in fact, accepting the continual conflict between positions, models and partial rationales, without attempting to resolve it. A process always subject to renewal, in which to assemble partial types of expertise and abilities.
An institution capable of leaving the traces of its growth intact: like a rough draft in which the set of juxtaposed signs forecasts, in general terms, the whole of something that has not yet been definitively set in all its particulars. The non-finished quality of the sketch represents not so much the first step in the ideation of a work, as the vital vision capable of intuitively grasping its direction, allowing for a certain amount of incompleteness, intentionally leaving certain aspects in suspension. The sketching out of radically impotent institutions, capable of producing collective habits and reinforcing the need for change.
THE SHADOW LINE
The first edition of Studio Roma investigated the earthquake, especially its fault lines, contiguous and at the same time segmented, that follow the collapse into crisis. This year we investigate the formation of another type of line, that of separation and hierarchy, in its material and epistemic extensions and transformations.
Making the distinction between outside and inside has always been the act with which to mark the boundaries of empires, colonies, nations. From the Great Wall of China to Hadrian’s Wall, from the Bosphorus Strait to the raya of the 46th meridian, from the “great wall” of Patagonia to the fences of enclosures, the barbed wire of the prairies, the 21 leagues of Benadir, imagined borderlines have crossed the continents to invent communities and protect affiliations, lines of fortification drawn between dense populations, to enforce property rights and new orders of power.
Borderlines have always striped the canvas of the world to mark an immediate difference, a distinction between two contiguous and incompatible spaces. A line becomes a boundary to represent a dispute, announce an open conflict, or to demonstrate relationships of force between differing entities.
While the modern physical boundary was already complex in its extension and type, the present version – globalized and altered in the crisis – embodies a true exercise of differentiation that penetrates inside the host territory itself. A heterogeneous instrument that crosses territories to intercept the surplus value produced by the cooperative form put to work, ordered inside hierarchies – defined from the top down – according to lines of gender, race and class, with the aim of governance.
The borderline, rather than operating as a simple blockage of flows, functions by structuring them, managing them in time and space. Besides the simple territorial distinction between states, that has been totally eroded by now, today it is impossible to identify and understand frictions in terms of bilateral relations, setting artificial identities at odds. At the same time, even along the same metropolitan or transnational borderline, there is no homogeneous development at each of its points, so its perception and its effects are always different, or even contradictory, for those who live on one side of the border or the other.
The world – sky, earth and sea – has been filled with many new lines, border zones, boundaries of currency, archipelagoes and corridors of mobility, militarized enclaves and special areas, transboundary regions: the borderline, with its function of protection, differentiation and regulation, has disrupted the geography of the atlases that were supposed to provide us with a definitive spatial formulation. All the forms assumed by the exercise of the border are gathered up against the shadow line that exists between the no-longer of the present and the not-yet of space, that shadow line in which the transition in progress lies. This does not necessarily happen due to drastic ruptures or disruptive subversions. Precisely for this reason, it is even more necessary to grasp the changes and ambiguities of space to be able to draw – at least roughly – the map of our movements, in order to investigate the context in which a method is being produced and honed. Though merely indicative and temporary, the map has to come to terms with the order of both material and immaterial borderlines. Bodies themselves are crossed by borders, rankings that wrest away or multiply conditions of belonging. The boundary, in its multiplication and polysemy, becomes an interstitial and hybrid space with respect to the rigid identities of nationalities. Fixed conditions of belonging are swept away to open things up to contradictions, ambivalence, the conflictual character of borderlands that operate as a paradigm of crossing, circulation, material mingling and resistance. The investigative method of Studio Roma is deeply immersed in this ambiguity. At the same time, we use the many-faceted nature of the shadow line without overlooking the context of its surfacing. Imagined and fortified boundaries have been imposed to defend slave trade and to block lines of mobility, to control the productive capacity of bodies and to divide them in keeping with the classic dichotomies of colonization, a true vocabulary of opposites that during the modern era in the West has been augmented through appropriations, the imposition of exploitation of resources, their commodification and the representation of otherness. The turbulent paths created by migration and the new centrality taken on by the non-marginal peripheries speak of a shift of the center of gravity and the mutability of relationships of domination. In a moment of proliferation of boundaries it no longer makes sense to decide which side is weak and which is strong; instead, we can try to intercept the capacity to break up hierarchies and to open new crossings, to increase the trails that form the routes of mobility, to identify the traps of the representations and imaginary that mark the body on the first fortification of a long voyage over borderlines. Therefore it is worth jotting down the coordinates in our logbook, so as not to get lost along one of the most ancient borderlines of representation and one of the most recent non-national institutions. Meriç, the river that flows from Edirne to the sea of Samothrace, now marks the boundary between Greece and Turkey, between the European Union and what lies outside it, between citizens and “illegals”, between…
KNOWLEDGE IN THE MIDDLE-SOUTH
The research of Studio Roma is circumstantial and in common, remaining within conditions, as part of a situation, connected to a context. The knowledge thus produced allows us to be intercepted in turn by the practices of others, to be involved in the discussions and works of others. Its mise en scène relies on social underpinnings: it is directly dependent on instruments, materials and actions. It is inseparable from the environment in which it happens: space, in fact, is the materiality of shared time, the crystallized time of cooperation. The background thus comes into the foreground where the processes of choosing and using tools are located, and as a weave of relationships; in other words, the public without which knowledge simply cannot come into being.
In this way, Studio Roma proposes a situated perspective, allowing us to get beyond the distinction between production of knowledge and lived experience. A dual link develops along the borderline between art and science: between knowledge and practice, practice and context.
At the same time, the research of Studio Roma is not neutral. It is a partiality capable of challenging the vantage point and hierarchies implied in questioning. It proposes a viewpoint from which to position the multiplicity of biographical and cultural dimensions, from which to observe asymmetries, avoiding the danger of romanticizing the other, or of appropriating the vision and words of those who are not in a position of strength. Instead, the idea is to understand the angle of the asymmetries and each specific position. A partial vantage point in all its forms, never finished or whole, never original, always imperfectly constructed and pieced together, and therefore capable of joining up with another viewpoint, to see together without pretending to be the other. In short, a partiality that is not an end in itself but is aimed at creating unexpected connections and openings. All this is made possible by a positioning: being partial, not universal, is the condition for the production of knowledge. A spatial and partial connection for a research based on translation.
Studio Roma positions itself in the Middle-South, a middle ground of translation where North and South face off in opposition. Translation, far from being a process that seeks an equality of counterparts, far from producing equivalency, is an act of projection and negotiation that establishes a relationship in the space of immeasurability.
As the artist Miltos Manetas writes: «In the western part of the North a new Middle-South is coming into existence. The new Middle-South is already visible in territories in transformation like Greece, and Italy from Rome downward». The Middle-South is where the vectors that weave global power undergo an expansion, which happens on different levels of scale where all are involved, in different ways. The North is rooted in the Middle-South through strategies of expropriation and appropriation, but its presence and its operation are not once and for all, not omnipresent in every place. At the same time, in the Middle-South there are perspectives that subvert the existing relationships of scale, constantly creating practices of resistance against the neoliberal order, experimenting with forms of solidarity, mutualism and production based on use. In short, the Middle-South is the space of shared use of expertise and experiences, which escape from dependency or constraint with respect to the epistemic order of the North. Europe, then, instead of being the sum of its nation-state parts or the division between distinct areas of hegemony, is a jagged space where South and North are continuously overlapping, struggling and coexisting inside each other. Here, the processes of selection connected with knowledge and geographical origin produce perhaps even harsher and more effective hierarchies than those that came before, giving rise to systematic geo-institutional discrepancies. In this context, the growing importance of the Mediterranean is crossed by the new central role of the eastern border towards Mesopotamia, where Italy, Greece and Turkey, in particular, become the pivot on which to construct a space of translation. Studio Roma wants to monitor the trails of conflictual experiences and movements that exist in this Middle-South, where independent transformations are continuously challenged in disputed European space. Studio Roma is therefore a force field positioned not in a fixed location, but amidst tensions, resonances, transformations, resistances and complicities. Everything is evident but also elusive, impenetrable yet ready for exploration, foreign and familiar at the same time: this ambiguity is the space where the translator is positioned, ready to be fully impacted by difference.