Joseph Kohlmaier

Studio 21: Reading the library (and nothing but the library)

Selecting books from Mortiz Küng’s Curating the Library. Joseph Kohlmaier and Esther Venrooij, Luca School of Arts, Ghent, March 2016

Studio Brief

"…Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged."
From Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto, 1855

This year, Studio 21 will stage an unusual experiment. It will move, unpack, catalogue, and perform readings from one private library; and make this library, without exception, the single resource for all the research and writing in the studio.

The library consists of approximately 1,500 books collected over a period of twenty years. It runs a considerable gamut of subjects, from philosophy to art theory, monographs, a large collection of architecture books, music theory, poetry, history and sociology, including many unusual and rare out-of-print titles in different languages on subjects as varied as cooking, the occult, public art or the interpretation of dreams. The library will be brought to The Cass, and stay there for the duration of the year. After the initial cataloguing of the library, a series of readings will take place as part of The Cass Culture open events programme – some staged and curated in the studio by students, others by invited guests and tutors – which will unlock the contents of the library and present texts in new and changing combinations according to the choices and selection of the readers.

The project is an exercise in concentration, coincidence and limitation. It wants to push back the endless world of online resources and databases, and the availability of millions of titles in the corridors of London’s libraries, and put in its place a domain with absolute limits, which forces the writers to do ‘more with less’. Students who arrive in this studio with a research idea are likely to develop completely unexpected lines of inquiry according to what the library has to offer – through a process of reading together and discovering new ideas, moving from book to book following ‘the law of the friendly neighbour’.

Reading the library (and nothing but the library) takes cues from Joseph Kohlmaier’s recent work with students of the ‘Poetry and Architecture’ module at the Warburg Institute, and an invitation to read Moritz Küng’s library at Sint-Luca Fine Art, Ghent, in March 2017. From 2003–09, Küng invited more than 110 artists, curators, and writers to de Singel, Antwerp, to present and donate copies of their favourite books. More than 1,500 titles were collected which are now stored in a custom-made container designed by Richard Venlet alongside an installation by Jan de Vylder. In 20017, the library was hosted at Sint-Luca Fine Arts in Ghent as part of a similar year-long public event series based on appropriating and reading Küng’s library.

The library used for this project is the private collection of the studio tutor, Joseph Kohlmaier, who is the Head of Critical and Contextual Studies (CSS) at The Cass. Joseph has a background in architectural history and theory, and a practice in graphic design, writing, fine art and music/performance. He is founding director of graphic design studio Polimekanos, and artistic director of Musarc, one of London’s most progressive choral collectives. Joseph also runs Field Studies, an international Easter workshop that explores sound and performance in the context of the city.

Since its formation three years ago, Studio 21 has adopted the notion of ‘performance as education’. In contrast to a traditional dissertation studio which investigates a given topic or theme, Studio 21 sees itself as a project and sets up an environment in which the periphery and support structures of learning and knowledge itself take precedence over specific research questions. Not what is taught, but how it is taught matters. The studio also adopts London as a seminar room, and sets up collaborations with other institutions such as the Warburg Library, and alternative teaching, learning and curatorial programmes. It supports students by framing individual topics within a network of people and situations beyond the studio that make their research relevant, and allows them to test out ideas.

Summer preparation

Outline of the first seven weeks of study

Weeks 1-7: During the first seven weeks of study we explore a number of early modern thinkers whose work has led to a critical transformation in the way we think about art and the creative process, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Paul Valéry, Henri Bergson and Jonathan Dewey.

We discuss a broad range of artists, composers and architects whose practice bridges poetry, ritual, performance, activism and intervention, for example Joseph Beuys, Gordon Matta-Clark, John Cage, Christopher Alexander, Stephen Willats, and Peter Kubelka who famously taught a masterclass on ‘film and cooking as an art form’ at the Städelschule, Frankfurt, between 1978 and 2000. We will cook and eat together too, undertake a number of walks and visits and explore collaborative practices in research and (creative) writing. Each week we will have a visitor or a guest to guide us on a walk, come to an archive with us or lead a workshop.

Reading list

  1. Clastres, Pierre, Chronicle of the Guyaki Indians [1972] (London: Faber and Faber, 1998)
  2. Valéry, Paul, 'The course in poetics: First lesson’ [1937], in: Ghiselin, Brewster ed., The creative process (New York: New American Library, 1958 [1955]), pp.92-106
  3. Uexkuell, Jakob, ‘A stroll through the worlds of animals and men’ [1934], in: Schiller, Claire H. ed., Instinctive behaviour (London: Methuen, 1957), pp. 5-80
  4. Barthes, Roland, Mythologies [1957] (London: Vintage Classics, 2009)
  5. Dominique Laporte, The history of shit [1978] (Cambridge, Mass. Flusser, Vilem, Vampyrotheutis infernalis [1987] (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2012)


Tutor Joseph Kohlmaier

Tutor Biography

Joseph Kohlmaier

Senior Lecturer

Joseph Kohlmaier is a Senior Lecturer in the History and Theory of Architecture.

Dissertation Studios

Studio 1: Another India

Harriet McKay

Studio 1: Another India will examine, reflect upon and critique the historic use of "exotic" motifs in design.

Studio 2: Contemporary Ecology

Nabil Ahmed

In Studio 2 we will explore environmental topics through the lens of art, architecture, spatial practice, media and design disciplines.

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry

Christina Paine

Studio 3: Music is the Weapon: Performance, Culture and the Music Industry is an exploration of race, gender, class and more in music.

Studio 4: Not allowed

Emma Davenport

Studio 4: What Not to Wear? will investigate the roles that dress and fashion play in our workplaces.

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories

Ektoras Arkomanis

Studio 5: Imperfect Theories allows you to critically examine any work that can be seen as theory or presents an interesting relationship with theory.

Studio 6: Curating as a Spatial Practice: From the Wunderkammer to Installation art

Nico de Oliveira

Studio 6: This dissertation studio is designed to help students who are interested in curating as a broad subject, as well as those who wish to contextualise their own practice within the scope of displaying art.

Studio 7: Souvenir

Dr Lesley Stevenson

Studio 7: This studio is concerned with those objects that are lent a particular enchantment because of their relationship with the past.

Studio 8: Post – card

Edwina Attlee

Studio 8 will look at one element of that system – the picture postcard – from a number of different perspectives.

Studio 9: ‘The Form of the Text’

Danielle Hewitt

Studio 9: Together we will explore the space of criticism; acknowledging our point of encounter with objects, places, sites and processes and the relationship between text, writer and reader.

Studio 10: Constellating

Sinead Evans

As creative practitioners we digest and produce images every day – as citizens of the digital age we consume between hundreds and thousands of images each day. This dissertation studio will slim down your daily diet to one image.

Studio 11: Science Fiction Futurity

Luke Jones

Speculative descriptions of the future reveal a magnified — or distorted — reflection of the fears and desires of the present.

Studio 12: Alternative Fashioned Modernities

Lezley George

Much is happening in the world today that foregrounds questions pertinent to our identities in a globalised world.

Studio 13: Desire, Trauma, History

Jonathan Whitehall

How does the relationship of memory to fantasy affect history? What are the links between desire, sexuality and trauma? How are these relationships played out or negotiated in visual and written practice? These questions will form the beginning of our enquiries into artworks, films and literature.

Studio 14: Design and Nature: Forms of an Entanglement

Gabriele Oropallo

We will look at how the idea of nature has been constructed over time and place, and study its impact on design practice in an age marked by the sustainability imperative.

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas

Lewis Jones

Studio 15: Music, Technology and Ideas encourages you to explore how and why we make music, including its origin, relationship to technology and more.

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling

Jon Baldwin

Studio 16: Narrative and Storytelling will see you produce storygraphs, storyboards and various forms of narrative analysis in the seminars.

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences

Jeremy Collins

Studio 17: Knowing Audiences will encourage you to study an audience group using qualitative research methods in your investigations.

Studio 18: Time and the Image

David Howells

This workshop will address some perennial problems of writing in the field of visual culture.

Studio 19: Material in Motion

Heidi Yeo

Studio 19: This studio will explore a reading of objects focusing on the interplay between materials, the objects they form and their context.

Studio 20: The Liminal

Andrew Hewish

This Dissertation Studio examines instances of the liminal as they occur in critical theory and culture, and is open to any topic and students from all disciplines.

Studio 21: Reading the library (and nothing but the library)

Joseph Kohlmaier

This year, Studio 21 will stage an unusual experiment. It will move, unpack, catalogue, and perform readings from one private library; and make this library, without exception, the single resource for all the research and writing in the studio.

Studio 22: Meaningful work

Paul Harper

Studio 22: Meaningful work explores the value of making and the idea of craft as meaningful work.

Studio 23: A Common Thread

Gina Pierce

Studio 23: In A Common Thread, we unpick and examine the importance of textiles and how they underpin culture, industry, and global connections.

Cass Studios archive by year