School’d: A Public Performance In A Not-So-Public Space by Kiersten Nash / Jun Mizumachi / Marina Lopez
Identify a public space
Environments are often designed as didactic entities with circumscribed utility. Their programs, scripts, and corresponding values pervade society—constructing physical and psychological barriers between mind and body; individual and society; production and consumption; past, present, and future. Consequently, human and non-human agents are relegated to the role of occupant in the name of efficiency, productivity, and, most recently, sustainability. We’re withdrawing into increasingly modulated spaces that limit our capacity to effectively engage with our surroundings—to critically confront the present. In other words, to think.
The New School University Center (TNSUC) is not immune to this reality. Perched on a parcel of Manhattan’s most prime real estate, this “brass bastion” presents undergraduates and graduates with a pedagogical paradox—go forth and change the world, but while you’re here don’t question nor dare adapt [y]our University. Fromm forewarned of the alienation inherent in the reification of the Ivory Tower (or any classroom for that matter, living room or State legislature) in which learning and the ‘learner’ are converted into commodities via the transfer of individual power “to a leader, state, society, organization…such that he’s in touch with his powers only by the worship of these institutions, leaders, personalities.” As currently configured, TNSUC offers little potential for imaginations to migrate into the terra incognita of sustainability. Instead, one of our most valuable resources, creativity, is co-opted by capital toward the [re]presentation and [re]production of the Empire States of […]
Given The New School University Center’s (TNSUC) proclivities toward the modulation of time, space, and being, the capacity to doubt must be cultivated. School’d is a public performance that explores the architectures of meaning, making, and memory or learning. By augmenting, amplifying, and activating these [in]visible infrastructures, this multi-media intervention invites individuals to contemplate the transformative capacities of design to radically alter the historiographies, geographies, and psychologies of our everyday.
In a word, to [un]learn. As David Foster Wallace distilled [un]learning “really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” To learn and [un]learn. To engage and [dis]engage. School’d is constructed upon an inverted analytic framework that regards solutions as problems—prefigurative, inflexible outcomes—and questions as solutions—opportunities for adaptation. In this context, doubt becomes a primary vector for interrogating the foundations and aesthetics of common sense and emancipating occupants (students, staff, and admin), i.e. potential designers, from the discipline of cultural [re]presentation and [re]production.
On (03) occasions throughout the first week of the 2014 fall semester, a chorus of (15) artists, acrobats, and activists will infiltrate the Ivory Tower to [re]frame TNSUC as an adaptive interface designed and performed in flux.
Upon traversing the threshold of 65 Fifth Ave, ‘occupants’ are greeted by a menacing melody ripped from the 50s program, Industry On Parade. Lingering in the lobby are (05) plain-clothed chorus members armed with portable speakers. ‘Occupants’ gather, the melody ends, and School’d begins.
In true FWTaylor fashion, the choir employ an arsenal of (48) audio tracks to lead ‘occupants’ through (05) floors of TNSUC. Along the way, individuals encounter: the voices of Hannah Arendt, Eric Fromm, and Claude Levi-Strauss mixed with passionate pleas from the student occupations and clips from the nightly news; (04) Individuals donning the dots and dashes of Dreyfuss’ human forms, aka Joe and Josephine, rehearsing the architectural program; and (06) individuals shrouded in silk [re]interpret the skin and skeleton of TNSUC’s structural system according to the rhythm, tempo, and frequency of the soundtrack.
In this context, School’d is advanced as a critical pedagogy for investigating, [dis]assembling, and [re]framing TNSUC’s political, social, and economic ecologies. Performative. Discursive. Phenomenological. This 20min intervention tunes up perceptual affordances, so that ‘occupants’ can tune out of habitual patterns, and tune in to a heightened environmental awareness. In a word, [un]learn.
For Kiersten Nash—an artist/activist who’s resided in NY for 24 out of her 37 years, called NYC home for the last 6, been employed as an environmental/exhibit designer for 10, and recently graduated from Parson’s Transdisciplinary Design MFA program—School’d is a project of “radical proximity” that works within a context to problematize political, social, and economic interdependencies from the inside, out.
Sound designer, Jun Mizumachi makes noise—a persuasive melody capable of infiltrating the everyday. For School-d, Jun [dis]assembled 48 site-specific audio files from Kiersten’s archive into a cacophony of culture.
Marina Lopez draws on her practice as a movement artist to choreograph spaces that provide opportunities to reflect on a diversity of social issues. For School’d, Marina collaborated with Kiersten to choreograph the choir’s movements to mirror the physical and physiological patterns embedded in the everyday performance of TNSUC.