A sense of possibility
The world outside is increasingly exerting influence on curricula and tries to pull them in a direction where students are trained to become “perfect workers”. But if you are satisfied with the existing world outside and its probable future, then why do you attend a university? You might be better off getting a job and being part of that outside world. If you harbour doubts about the existing world and have ideas for a possible future, the university is the right place for you to become smarter in your efforts towards a better world. Studying space&designstrategies is about a possible future; this is what Kunstuniversität Linz offers space for. In “The Man Without Qualities“, Robert Musil describes it as follows, “But if there is a sense of reality, and no one will doubt that it has its justification for existing, then there must also be something we can call a sense of possibility [...]" “So the sense of possibility could be defined outright as the ability to conceive of everything there might be just as well, and to attach no more importance to what is than to what is not. [...]”
Improvisation Mode 2
When teaching at a visionary educational institution such as Kunstuniversität Linz, the educational aim can be nothing but a search for a possible future – not understood as science fiction or as a blueprint for a better world, but as a flexible design process. Our world, which will soon be inhabited by 9 billion people, mostly specialised individuals, often living in crowded mega-cities, calls for flexible processes in whose context the individual’s personal sense of responsibility is playing an increasingly important role – not only to survive at the fringes of society, but also to earn respect in its midst, as respect is no longer automatically tied to social status. As post-modernism has taught us, truth does not exist; worldwide access to often contradictory information, mainly in the fields of sustainability and the environment, is another clear example of this. We are thus condemned to a process of incessant doubting, changing and improving. For this reason, my teaching is based on improvisation. This serves to explore both reality and possibility.
This process starts with the teaching space, where alienating elements break up formality. Space must be permeated by possibilities that invite or even force anticipation. It is the goal of this improvisational approach to teaching to engage in the production of urban reality, to switch to Improvisation Mode 2 and to become oneself a producer of space by placing previously learnt rules and actions within an anticipatory context. This does not mean to forgo planning, but rather to try to overwrite it – a permanent experiment, a continuous navigation exercise that is sometimes more and sometimes less crisis-resilient.
In 1955, Helmuth Gsöllpointner founded the School for Metal Sculpture as part of the training workshop of VOEST Alpine AG in Linz, whose head he remained until 1985. From 1973, he was in charge of the Metal Master Class at the University of Art and Design in Linz. From 1977 to 1981, he served as the rector of the University of Art and Design (today’s Kunstuniversität Linz); he was made professor emeritus in 2001.
“No matter where – be it as a teacher or as the head of a group that you’re chairing – there must always be one person who lights a fire in people and makes sure that it will keep on burning. For me, lighting a fire has always been the most important thing.” (Helmuth Gsöllpointner in an interview with Gabriele Kepplinger, 15 December 2001)
When Helmuth Gsöllpointner retired from his position as head of the Metal Master Class in 2001, architect Elsa Prochazka took over this curriculum and transformed it into space&designstrategies.
Headed by indie urban planner Ton Matton, space&designSTRATEGIES edition3* was launched in 2014.
* Referencing an idea expressed by Michel Foucault, we would like to emphasise that, at closer examination, any more highly differentiated definition always also calls for sovereignty in the definition process and for the power of shaping and exerting influence, both of which we renounce for the benefit of a space that opens up possibilities. We will therefore merely remark that, with space and design as key elements of the programme, the focus of the 3rd edition is on the STRATEGIC.
The most important prerequisite for any strategy is a goal, so that one knows what to strive for. This is not so much an answer to a question voiced by a client, but above all a question directed at oneself. In this way, the curriculum acquires a political aspect. The time spent studying space&designstrategies serves for you to find out how you think, what you mean and who you are. Therefore the curriculum reconnects directly with the traditional art instruction from which it originated. The theoretical analyses and confrontations at the root of any strategy are translated into pragmatic action. What works becomes truth.
In colloquial language, the term “pragmatism” (derived from the Greek word πρᾶγμα – pragma – “deed”, “matter”) denotes a form of behaviour that is informed by known practical considerations, thus placing practical action above theoretical reason. In a pragmatist system, the truth of a theory is measured by its practical outcomes; thus pragmatic action is not tied to immutable principles. In the philosophical discourse, pragmatism as a late 19th-century movement mainly aimed at a radical renewal of liberal democracy.
Mind and body
Traditionally, all bachelor students are trained at the metal workshops of Voestalpine AG. The closeness to the metal workshop provides us with a solid foundation, since a mix of mind and body is very important for us. The content of the works created is based on intellectual prerequisites that are given shape through the use of the body. Relativisation and reflection, too, are important for both body and mind. And what would be better suited to provide this than good food that nourishes bodies and spirits?
As always, eating together is at the centre of this unconventional series of talks. Eating together with others is of great importance in the space&designstrategies programme. Preparing food together not only creates a bond between students and teachers, but also harbours the possibility of letting guest lecturers become hosts. It is the duty of every host to create ideal preconditions for conversation by providing good food. Thus participants trade the video projector for a stove and cooking spoons. The dining table becomes the projection screen on which the work is not only presented, but at the same time eaten and then digested while sipping wine or coffee. The look over the shoulder into the pot is at the same time a peek into the working style of the cooks.
In the context of space&designstrategies, improvisation engenders form. As a result, a certain degree of improvisational skills proves useful here. Contrary to e.g. traditional spatial planning, where organisation is the goal, the primary goal of space&designstrategies is to “boycott” and disrupt what is planned in order to take participants out of their comfort zone. As in music, improvisational capabilities require mastery of the subject or instrument to be able to find the freedom to improvise and depart from previously learnt rules. Improvisation in space&designstrategies is hence a strategic principle.
To act as designers in political space, we pragmatically use and remix the tools and forms of expression of the professions of art, architecture and design, all of which aim at giving shape to objects or spaces. A certain love of beauty in every detail, too, is not unfamiliar to us. Giving shape to and choosing materials for objects as well as construction and precise implementation are prerequisites for workshop activities.
Since it is housed at the Institute of Space and Design alongside industrial designers, architects, fashion technologists and urbanists, one might assume that space&designstrategies teaches interior design. But that would be a mistake. Rather, it is about public space, about socio-critical discussions and confrontations stemming from doubt. A person can employ design strategically only if that person has already acquired a clear understanding of his or her positions and goals. This makes the act of designing a political one. With this approach, space&designstrategies is situated somewhere between artistic actionism, object design, space design, urban planning and society shape.