Pedagogy of the Cipher
Let’s start with some guiding lines, illuminating and mysterious:
Desire ignores exchange, it only knows the robbery and the gift.
(Deleuze & Guattari)
My anarchy subterraneously obeys a law where I deal clandestinely with astronomy, mathematics, and mechanics.
It says here, "Play a vibration in the rhythm of the universe." So he said, "What is all that mystic stuff here?" And I said, "I mean, have you never had dreams where you fly from star to star?"
There, you have started the study already. The above lines are portals into a specific universe of concerns, values, sensations, perceptions. They turn things upside down, which is a necessary step because the world is already upside down. Most likely you don’t understand what they mean, but you feel an impulse, a little wind, which raises curiosity and amazement within you. This is the beginning of a thaumaturgical pedagogy. If these quotations were to become concrete matter they would be a lodestone: a type of iron which when hit by lightning becomes a magnet. Indeed, lodestone was the very first geomagnetic compass. Lightning, magnet, compass - all we need for travel and thinking.
Step Not Beyond (estb. 2016) is the name of a small school and of a philosophical disposition: go toward the limit of your thought, experience, work, but not beyond it. Be a tightrope walker, an acrobat who lightly treads across the abyss that is internal and external, creative and political.
Through a series of courses and practices the SNB engages a single comprehensive question without disciplinary borders (relevant to children, astrobiologists, and artists alike): "What is the Creative Act?"
Creativity is a response to (existential, aesthetic, political) knots. Yet knots are practical too, as every sailor knows. Even the great funambulist (Philippe Petit) uses them to cross the Seas of Air. This school is like a rope - knotted from ideas, encounters, activities - that students have to tangle and disentangle. We learn from the fingers in "Cat's Cradle" and from the jumping in "Double Dutch" games: kinetic solutions to string problems. From there, we extend into string theory. And then back to the wisdom of insects and arachnids.
The school is inspired by the beautiful endeavor Fernand Deligny ran in southern France in the 1970s; by Lucretius’ immense poem De Rerum Natura composed in the first century BC; by the great sorcerers from small-scale societies in Latin America that taught us how to make ropes from sounds; by the authors and political revolutionaries from all parts of the world, known and unknown, that suffered deeply for their work. In other words, the SNB school has enormously diverse influences which nevertheless align in their sensitivities toward the world: no matter how small or local, the world always becomes cosmic too. And what exactly is the relation between the an artist's work and the cosmos? A hundred years ago Paul Klee raised this question, many others followed. Hence, this school is both more broad and more narrow than other schools, closer to an ancient society of artisans than to the contemporary academy.
The boring word “school” is both simple (everyone knows what it means) and complex (with multiple meanings): it can refer to a building where education happens, or to a group of individuals that share a particular style, or else to a type of training. But it is also used to describe a group of fish zigzagging harmoniously through the water. This last example is of particular interest for our configuration of art-ecology-politics. For everyone knows that the most insignificant example, seemingly the most distant, is also the most significant, the most energetic and fruitful.
There are no prerequisites for the participants. The only constraint is that of limited space; it’s like going to the movies, you either get the ticket or not (if you’re skilled and daring, perhaps you can sneak in even when the room is full and the show has started). Moreover, the school is, on the one hand, completely international (or post-national) inviting participants from all corners of the world, and on the other, highly regionalized, providing young and old islanders with an unusual pedagogical experience.
SNB provides no formal degrees or certificates. It is a training ground for rigorous alignment of elements within and outside of yourself. In sailing we learn how to align sail with the wind so as to move across the Sea; we learn how to be a part of the natural force itself (a true sensation of magic). Similarly, SNB is the wind that moves the sails toward future aesthetics and politics.
How are things, from art objects to political institutions, brought into existence? What do desire, sensation, power have to do with it? In order to answer this we need to engage the essential enigma that lies at the core of art: creative gesture. Moreover, this aesthetic question extends into politics (i.e. the creation of communities) and even ecology (i.e. nature is essentially creative). Our goal will be to define the common nucleus, the vital point of creativity, which is embedded in the art-ecology-politics constellation.
Furthermore, ideas, when they are unforeseen and rare, produce a specific ecosystem within the individual, a precise ecology of thought, just as there is a planetary ecology of life and a political ecology of the State. The SNB provides a space where these ecosystems can be harnessed and where they can intermingle. Needless to say, building an ecosystem is about health; about growing old and young at the same time; about looking for a new earth. A space where thought and act are the same; where theory and lived experience come together in a palpable way; where gesture and substance are one.
Locations, Online & On-the-Island
The courses are offered:
a) Online at different times of the year, coming and going like the waves. The virtual classroom with live interaction between lecturer and students though video, audio, and chat presentations.
b) On-the-Adriatic-island during Summer months.
You can chose one or the other, or both. While on-the-island locations are highly specific sites, the practice of bioregionalism can be applied to any micro-climate in the world. These applications are another pedagogical aim of the project.
The instructor is Dejan Lukic: institutionally trained as an anthropologist (PhD, Columbia University, 2007), self-trained as a philosopher (with help from the Institute of Philosophy, University of Leuven), working as a teacher and writer of art & politics at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He also conducts philoso-therapy.
Others attached to the running of the school are: Emily Taw in Berlin, Will Scarlett and Cigdem Asatekin in New York, Aleksandar Norsic in Croatia, and Joshua McCarty in transit.
What is the Creative Act?
(Or, The Sea)
OCTOBER 6 - OCTOBER 27, 2017
Video-conferences from New York City
4 two-hour meetings on Fridays at 1pm EDT (7pm CET)
Earth as art. What is the creative act, in both art and nature? Is it beyond good and evil, or does it have secret ethics?
We dive into the main theme which holds it all together, just as it at the same time puts all in flux. The Sea: taciturn, surging, immanent, open, smooth, with different degrees of depth. (Should we not be like this too?) Water, salt minerals, rocks that surround it, all affect our skin and the layers of our thought in turn. The sea is physical (a space of swimming, diving, sailing), metaphysical (a source of inspiration from fairytales to the bible), biochemical (the origin of earthly life), and political (a site of travel, immigration, colonization).
This short class series is a relaxing intensification of your personal interests, meant to generate thalassic thought and luminous expression in whatever medium. The only expectation is curiosity in the weekly themes. Short readings will ground concepts under discussion (pdfs will be provided in a shared Google folder; email for the preliminary reading list). Weekly written responses to the readings are encouraged in order to develop your writerly voice.
The figures and concepts that will guide our explorations are:
October 6. Movement: Winds - Stowaways - Occupations
October 13. Cosmopolitics: Archipelagoes - Liquid Deserts - Enemies
October 20. Immanence: Lovers - Abandonment - Freedom
October 27. Beauty: Evil - Camouflage - Octopi
What is the Creative Act? (2)
THE SEA, retreat
(as a verb meaning "to withdraw," "to ebb," "to pull a U-y," "to recede"... to what end? clearly, to harness forces in a sanctuary so as to advance again...)
Retreat is a form of movement that serves as a necessary step to establish a proper rhythm of life: the ebb and flow. We thus retreat into a Summer school, like a troop. Since this particular one occurs on an island, surrounded by the Adriatic sea which dominates not only the horizon but also the entire micro-climate, its flora and fauna, our philosophical and physical engagement will be tied to its potent atmospheric presence.
Studying on an island is central to the above-mentioned conceptual investigations since an island is a place where everything slows down and where we can hear ourselves think. A place from which we can assess the enormous turmoils on our planet with a necessary distance, before we jump back into their foils.
An island is a place where both nature and politics are tangible: surrounded by the crystal blue Sea, populated with rare plant and animal species, each bears traces of its Communist past (being part of ex-Yugoslavia), Habsburg history (being part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and even of the earlier cultures of the Venetian Republic and ancient Roman Empire. Hence, the creative configuration of art-ecology-politics will be theoretically investigated and experientially engaged as soon as we leave the classroom. In fact, the classroom itself will become the outside and vice versa.
We will follow a syllabus, an outline of works by artists, anthropologists, philosophers, writers, evolutionary biologists, and composers, all of which have been intensified by the Sea - a natural and thinking force. Some of the authors we will engage are Reinaldo Arenas, Clarice Lispector, Vilem Flusser, Diderot, Tomasi di Lampedusa, Yukio Mishima, Theophrastus, Curzio Malaparte, Ladislav Klima, Rudolf Steiner, Gyorgy Ligeti, Alejandra Pizarnik, Paul Scheerbart, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Lygia Clark... You don't have to be familiar with any of them; the retreat will be your introduction. The important aspect of these "obscure" authors, outside of the mainstream, is that they redefine our relations to the world by introducing unpredictable variables into our life-worlds.
Furthermore, an auxiliary line of inquiry will be the following: what does it mean to become a secret, to be transparent and impenetrable like the Sea? This complex question has political, aesthetic, and personal ramifications. It is encoded here:
Some people can talk, hide nothing, not lie; they are secret by transparency, as impenetrable as water, in truth incomprehensible. Whereas the others have a secret that is always breached, even though they surround it with a thick wall or elevate it to an infinite form. -Deleuze & Guattari (1980)
Sometimes composers tap into these lines too and make them audible:
In addition, after these notes, can we agree with the vibration of the words below which posit algae as a principle of perfection?
I now no longer like anything but what is amorphous, soft, lukewarm, damp. The monstrous vegetation of the algae, of hair soaked in sea salt and the salt of sweat.
-Michel Leiris (1950)
This retreat is a small-scale operation with patient attention to every detail. For only in fragile conditions, with rarified ingredients, can wide-ranging, impactful results and experiences occur.
The contents of the readings, the surrounding ecosystem, and the history of the island will frame our daily sessions:
- 3 hours lecture/workshop based on the readings
- Walking, swimming/diving, foraging, kayaking
- Movement exercises corresponding to some characteristics of the flora and fauna of the island
When taken together, these intellectual-kinetic modalities constitute "spiritual exercises", as they used to be called centuries ago. In addition to mastering concepts that are at the core of "life", you'll learn about specific plants, animals, and insects in your temporary habitat. Following your instinct, you'll choose one to become intimately connected with: a totem animal that will be your guide (through inhabiting its characteristics, not symbolism), even after you leave the island. It's a matter of receiving some extra power.
Each year there's a guest-instructor: a professional diver, local fisherman, performance artist, biodynamic gardener, marine biologist, etc. These daily exercises are fused with the ideas explored in class workshops.
You will produce a series of multiples - as reactions to discussed themes and experiences of the week - that may include texts (as writers), sounds (as composers), drawings, images, videos (as artists), dishes (as chefs), performances (as dancers), design proposals (as architects), or concepts (as philosophers). If none of these suits you, you can learn how to swim butterfly or how to do a high-dive with somersault (but you have to learn it well). Furthermore, you can continue your work after you return from the island and keep up a correspondence with the instructor and classmates.
Aligned with the designated concepts and with the island landscape, daily meals will be constructed by Vitalist Cuisine, headed by Joshua McCarty. Bio-dynamic wines from local vineyards will be selected in the same vein, following the same pulsation, by Alex Norsic. Food and drink will thus be an important part of the overall nourishment which ties the physical and metaphysical dimensions together.
The fee is $2000 and it includes:
- Course fee
- A shared room (double occupancy) in Stanzia Castellani for two weeks in June, 2018 (exact dates TBA)
- All meals
Maximum number of participants is 12. There is no formal application; just send an email with your interests. Be genuine. If you took the "pre-school" online series, you'll have a priority here.
A detailed list of readings and activities will be distributed few weeks before the beginning of the retreat.
Finally, themes and materials change each year (like sea-foam or like vaporized clouds). If your attendance went exceptionally well and you wish to return in the following Summer, your fee will be waived.