Verena Kittel, Annette Jael Lehmann and Anna-Lena Werner, the team of Black Mountain Research, on their personal approach to Black Mountain College, to its current relevance and to the collaborative project.
1. WHAT IS BLACK MOUNTAIN RESEARCH?
Verena Kittel: Black Mountain Research is a cooperative project between Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin and Dahlem Humanities Center, jointly exploring the educational model of Black Mountain College, testing its applicability to current art and education practices.
Anna-Lena Werner: It involves scholars, students, curators and artists in a dialogue-based research project over three years, accompanying the exhibition “Black Mountain. Ein interdisziplinäres Experiment 1933-1957” at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin with seminars, research, conferences and our joint website black-mountain-research.com.
Annette Jael Lehmann: At this point, it is something that can rather be described, experienced and done instead of clearly defined. It collects a wide range of approaches to study, learn, re-experience, perform and explore Black Mountain as a venue for research-based practices resulting in performative assemblages that challenge our experience of art, cultural heritage and science. Among many other loose threads of reflection, it has challenges in the depth and richness of the subject of Black Mountain itself.
2. WHAT MEANS BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE TO YOU?
AJL: From a historical point of view Black Mountain was an unprecedented model for interdisciplinary educational practices and functioned as an important precursor for the most important neo-avantgardistic movements in the arts of the 20th century and beyond. Moreover, it challenged the traditional goals of pedagogy by emphasizing the relevance of educating the whole person, achieving a balance between emotion and intellect, the collective and the individual. It was, however, by no means an ideal place primed for today’s nostalgic projections, but rather a precarious undertaking in one of the most horrific periods of European history.
VK: To me Black Mountain College means to experience interdisciplinarity. The college created a framework, in which testing oneself, facing new and unknown situations was not only possible, but even fostered. It is this openness towards unknown situations, experiencing interdisciplinarity in an experimental way, which inspires me not only within my working method as a researcher, but also within general working and living situations.
ALW: I think of the college especially as a place for interdisciplinary collaboration – radical in its liberal teaching practices, the time it offered to its students and its isolated location in nature. I don’t consider it a literal utopia, but rather an inspiration for current research practices in general, for working in groups and for my own approach to new subjects.
3. HOW COULD BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE BE PRODUCTIVE FOR CURRENT ACADEMIC PRACTICES?
ALW: From the many aspects that are relevant for today’s educational systems offered by the historical model of Black Mountain, I think that placing an emphasis on time, and its deliberate delay for the sake of channeling the focus on creativity and quality, is crucial for all research-based practices and creative processes.
VK: Besides the factor of time, Anna-Lena was mentioning, I think, it is Black Mountain’s interdisciplinary approach, as well as the role of practical experience that should be given stronger support in academic education systems.
AJL: By transferring a statement of Josef Albers as a necessary condition of teaching and learning into today’s pedagogy: “Art is concerned with the how, not the what.”
4. HOW DO YOU EXPERIENCE THE COLLABORATION WITH THE MUSEUM?
VK: Through the intensive exchange with the curators of the museums and several visits at the construction site of the installment of the Black Mountain exhibition, I had the great chance to get a deep insight into the different steps of the development of the exhibition. The collaboration with the museum enabled therefore an extremely valuable experience of different approaches to the Black Mountain College at the same time: a research-based approach, occurring during my work with Black Mountain Research, approaching the Black Mountain College with respect to exhibiting it and an artistic approach by means of the art student’s performances taking place within the exhibition.
ALW: It is great to work with such experienced and professional curators like Gabriele Knapstein, Matilda Felix and Eugen Blume, who are not only informed but also extremely curious about the subjects of their exhibitions. I am positive that we all benefit immensely from listening and speaking to each other, taking the time to trust each other and to create in-depth dialogues throughout the project.
AJL: I honestly and deeply admire the work of the curators and the museum staff on and behind the scenes. I get an enormous boost of motivation for my own work in academia and I am able to explore new possibilities for collaboratively bringing theory and practice together. Blume, Knapstein and Felix constantly offer new occasions to involve my students and our team as participant observers and intellectual contributors in the process of making the exhibition in various stages. We all jointly cultivate a sustainable dialogue in seminars and symposia, and through writing for the blog. Nothing can be more valuable in collaborations than this exchange based on mutual respect and trust. Of course there are always unexpected challenges popping up and new possibilities for the direction of my own teaching processes and work practices. In other words: I constantly have to change my mind. I am surprised by the powerful effects of this dialogue and the working together, resulting in real transformations in research, especially of my own practice and experience of sharing knowledge.
5. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE DIGITAL RESEARCH PLATFORM?
ALW: As a project that seeks to create dialogues and collaborative research practices, the blog is a perfect digital publishing tool that enables us to write, learn and communicate, providing an open-source information tool and archive that everyone interested can access and use.
VK: Furthermore, as the blog seeks to involve students, professors, curators, artists and everyone else interested as contributors on equal shares, it allows collaboration on an equal footing reflecting the hierarchy-free cooperation between students and teachers at Black Mountain College.
6. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE THE FUTURE POTENTIAL OF BLACK MOUNTAIN RESEARCH?
ALW: I hope that our ongoing research-project is the beginning of a larger exchange for more collaborative, experimental and interdisciplinary projects between the university, the museum and potentially other cultural institutions.
VK: It would be extremely beneficial for our education as young scholars, curators and researchers, creating a synergy between the university, the art institution and society.
AJL: I totally agree.