Archiv Kultur und Soziale Bewegung

Kulturelles Kapital

Hamburg, September 2007

The archive hosted by the Autonomous Trimester event at the University of Fine Arts, September 21-25, 2007

Many German universities and higher education institutions started charging tuition fees in 2007, but student efforts nationwide to counter this measure with a boycott failed due to insufficient mobilization. “Everywhere? No! A small college in the north, the Hamburg University of Fine Arts (HfBK), has achieved a quorum, and is maintaining the boycott despite dismissal of 265 participating students,” in the words of an Indymedia activist reporting on location. This story of stalwart resistance and the “truly courageous ones” (quote from a University of Hamburg poster) has received much attention and coverage. The impression of a pocket of resistance remains undissipated, even now that it is slowly becoming necessary, in the wake of quorum success, to stake additional positions and consider additional steps. as now, with quorum success, it becomes urgent to take additional positions and and consider further steps. At the same time, repression has kicked in, with the pending dismissal of the unwilling, and increased pressure—from outside and from within.

The controversy over whether the 2007 Annual Show should be held or not showed that the art school students were hardly a homogenous group, and brought out the many, even contradictory, interests. But this didn’t mean protest was waning: if anything, the resistance was furthered in the course of the Summer Break, with an “Autonomous Trimester” proclaimed from September 19 through 30. The situation at the HfBK was receiving ongoing media interest, and serious attention and reflection from an art-interested public. In this period we also discussed the effects of the boycott and were unanimous in our wish to support the boycotting students.

We approached the Trimester organizers with an offer to build up our archive during their session and to organize at least two events. The archive contribution was to show clear support, but was also motivated by our own wish to learn more about the in-house situation. It seemed appropriate to consider the questions: how was it was that the HfBK got to the point where it could ‘afford’ to dismiss half of its students?… what long march did this institution take?… what forms of resistance are/ were there against this ‘return to norms’?

The first evening event titled The long norming of the HfBK, was a panel discussion involving current and former students from a span of four decades. Adopting the premise that student fees don’t just fall from the sky, we set out to render visible those changes that have affected study conditions over the years. This historical reconstruction of HfBK structures, as expressions of their social context, could hopefully serve as a basis for resistant cultural practices there. Our central questions were:
Why did you decide to study at the HfBK? Describe determining factors such as admissions, curriculum, school administration?
What was the HfBK’s and its students’ attitudes towards socio-political issues?
Skirting all nostalgia, the talk brought into focus an increasing trend towards academic control and rationalization in recent years. This stands in contrast to phenomena such as the school’s “opening up” after 1968 or the creation of autonomous spaces and structures in the ’80s. Essential points of the personal accounts were transcribed on a 5-meter long timeline sheet, thereby providing a complex picture of HfBK’s development. Audience members, too, used this opportunity to jot down comments.

This event was followed up by Rahel Puffert’s talk From the academy to the art school: the Russian avant-garde debate on the meaning and definition of art. She identified the notion of “art school” as a progressive achievement resting on a historical foundations. This look at early-twentieth century Russian avant-garde ideas shows us how art debates are inseparable from the creation of (new) institutional conditions. The interlinking of political engagement and artistic work triggered its echo in the venue itself, as talk quickly turned to perspectives on the current HfBK situation.
Previously implicit divergences came to bear as students explained their different approaches towards the boycott and the protests… and the reasons for these: different theoretical frameworks, experiences in politics, and length of study all played their part. Controversy also erupted when attempts were made to define what role artists (should) play in society.

A selection of our archive material and plots was freely accessible in the HfBK gallery during the whole course of our program (09/21/07 – 09/25/07).

The space was also used by others: Julia Bonn gave a (tongue-in-cheek) “talent workshop,” Michel Chevalier shed critical light on the art market, Meine Akademie showed videos, Jens Kastner gave two talks, and students held meetings and assemblies.

The student fees policy has obviously succeeded in mobilizing heterogeneous interests in opposition to it. The broader question remains open - how are education and life to be organized socially and collectively? Winter Semester has kicked off with Boycott 2.0 and most of last semesters’ boycotters gave in and registered again. And debate rages. And recent local elections have mixed up the cards. Stay posted for more.