Studio 2: Active Material (VIVA ART)

Studio brief

In the coming year this studio intends to focus on live-ness, affect, and what might be considered to be the performative elements of art practice. We are familiar with the idea of artists and audiences having or lacking agency, but what does it mean for an artwork to have agency?

After the proliferation of user-centered design and content, interactive media, an increasing presence of ‘speed’ in contemporary life, the desire for artwork to be active, to be live and responsive is greater than ever.

Alongside brief seminars that introduce specific artists practices, theoretical texts and seminal exhibitions, we will be dedicating more time to short workshops that seek to actively explore ideas through direct engagement with material, space and people. These workshops will require students to produce work spontaneously and in response to a specific context. We are especially concerned with art that wants to be Doing Something, rather than simply reporting on or describing reality. Bruno Latour invites us to consider non-human objects as ‘Actants’, i.e. as able to ‘Act’.

Through making artwork (in studio and public sites), through discussion surrounding artwork (tutorials, seminars, workshops and lectures), through regular field trips, and through a collective studio exhibition at Supplement Gallery in Bethnal Green, this studio will look at contemporary understandings of the terms materiality, live-ness, action and affect we will consider how the definitions of these words may have changed over time.

As artists, when are we being active, and when are we being inactive? Furthermore, might an artwork be considered to be active or inactive? This studio is concerned with the questioning the ways in which our work might affect the world around us - what are the consequences of our actions as artists?

Dematerialisation, as a result and as a process, was a hotly debated topic in the late 60’s when its onset was driven by the refusal of an aesthetic cannon and an increasingly dominant and conservative market, and disintegration of traditional ‘matter’ was in part motivated by a democratising principle. At the same time actions and processes became more important than the objects that resulted from those processes; and conceptual artist Douglas Huebler said ‘The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more’. In our current time of ‘austerity measures’, apparently resulting from widespread economic crisis, and partly due to growing ethical/ecological consciousness, many artists are again interested in focussing upon making work that has a transient quality, even using their own body as ‘material’ or as an object or membrane. In this context actions and events might present a mode of practice that’s more appropriate to our time. Recently young Finnish artist Pilvi Takala accepted a 9-5 office job in order to enact a controversial performance which involved her ‘doing nothing’, all day; her colleagues were furious!

Meanwhile in direct response to the rise of the virtual, as well as automated and ‘hands-off’ production, artists have again turned to ‘folk’ and the hand-made, and craft is again seen as having critical and political potential. Just as this studio is about looking at art that is non-object, transient, and ‘almost not there at all’, we are equally interested in hands-on dirty making and the types of investigation, open speculation, fumbling around for the unknown, and importantly, surprise, that are to be found in process art. We are interested in seeing how material directs us as artists, just as much as how artists and viewers might direct or influence that material. Philosopher Jacques Ranciere said that the medium of artwork has never been the material or object itself but is rather defined by the ‘sensorium’, i.e. everything surrounding the appearance and conception of the work.

This studio is not medium-specific; we are interested in all areas of practice from performance to web-based, audio art to painting and drawing, public and site-specific art and all forms of film/video work. The studio sees open and supportive exchange within the group as essential. Therefore curating each other’s work, and presenting each other’s work is an important aspect of the studio’s collective practice. Collaborative work is encouraged, and outward orientation is seen as vital to figuring out how to negotiate one’s place in the world of cultural production beyond art school.

While this studio offers a frame of reference, we intend to take the lead from the participating student’s practices, and therefore count upon the student’s active involvement in shaping the studio’s content and pedagogy.

Artists to look at:

Nasan Tur, Allan Kaprow, Mladen Stilinović (please see:, Valie Export, Adrian Piper, Hans Haacke, Michaela Miese, Katrina Palmer, Cally Spooner, Brian Griffiths, Douglas Heubler, Maaike Schoorel, Daniel Buren, Blinky Palermo, Lawrence Weiner, Raymond Johnson, Koen Van de Broek, Tomo Savic-Gecan, Bethan Huws, Dan Perjovschi, Roman Ondak, Tino Sehgal, Isabelle Cornaro, Pilvi Takala, Marie Cool, Marie Lund

Image by Ciara-Phillips


Course Fine Art BA (Hons)
Tutor Ben Cain
Marie Lund
Francesco Pedraglio
Where Central House 2nd Floor Studios
When Mondays and Thursday