A brief history of the Group Project

In 2010 Michael Dutton and John Reardon began experimenting with a new pedagogy as part of an MA course in Art & Politics they were invited to set up at Goldsmiths College, London. With radically different research agendas yet with a shared interest in the juncture of art and politics they developed a practice-based course out of this encounter. Unlike a number of existing practice-based courses this was not simply designed around the idea of working with materials ‘other than text,’ as this type of work is so often characterized, but aimed at obliterating this distinction. They were interested in trying to produce knowledge that could be both thought and felt and as this work developed it devolved into a methodology consisting of five interrelated elements that the course and all work undertaken on this was obliged to address or resolve in some way and the ways these could be addressed or resolved is infinite. These five interrelated elements they describe as material, context, publics, duration and distribution. They are framed by two overarching concerns with process and affect which also run through and connect each of these five elements. It is this methodology that underpins all the practice-based work students engage in, encouraging a fluid encounter with the world, an encounter that does not treat it as a tabula rasa – an uninhabited world where ‘everything’ has to be invented again but as a world replete with people and things and with this approach perhaps the work becomes more about adaptation, movement, opportunism and being open to the serendipitous encounter or improvisational moment. It is, a method that extends beyond art and politics, beyond the university and beyond the site of any white cube space. It is work that embraces the street and takes the city as its classroom. The project work goes beyond the confines of either the discipline of art or politics to become, more generally, a way of seeing, doing and understanding the world around us. The methodology, then, isn’t just about art and politics, but about the interwoven nature of ways in which ideas and affective and cognitive knowledge can be encountered to produce another type of knowledge effect. It is about understanding ideas as fluid rather than solid, and about how this fluidity leads to a process-based approach to work and to ideas congealing around particular forms (sometimes very brief, sometimes very extended periods of time). This is why the work is framed by the two overarching concerns with process and affect. The Group project is designed around a brief aimed at exploring a set of practices that try to avoid overt engagement with either art or politics in the traditional sense (art and politics are treated here as a set of techniques). Students are hopefully drawn into new mental spaces through the methodology which encourages them to develop novel and original work. This is process-led collective work. A space where ideas devolve to form and where students can simultaneously reflect upon this.

The methodology 

Material By material we mean the kind of material, thing, action, performance or event will carry, embody, highlight, or allow for the kind of encounter that the overall work wants to produce? What kind of practical steps would be required to achieve this end and how many of these steps are currently known or even knowable? In other words, what bearing does the question of context have on this work?

Context Here, we ask where, why and how does a work ‘belong’ and what does it mean to ‘belong’? Do these questions shape or reshape what one “does”, or “makes” or where the work should be placed? Does it tell us how a work should be placed? In other words, the relationship between the “thing” that one wants to do, make, and/or perform and how it is thought of as belonging in the world. This focus on how a work might belong in the world also changes the “thing” itself so that it can belong yet it might also change the nature of the place where the work is made performed or exhibited.  Context also includes a demand that the work addresses how this sense of belonging, this coming together of material and context is evident to others. In raising the question of how a work might belong in a context raises the possibility of it operating in multiple contexts either simultaneously, or in sequence.  In other words, how is the question of duration understood in relation to the work produced?

Duration Is the work located at its site as a permanent or temporary fixture?  If it needs to be permanent, one needs to ask why it requires such permanency and it needs to address the kind of practical considerations that come with the work being a permanent fixture.  If the work is to be temporary, duration then includes questions of longevity in terms of both time and the material(s) used. In other words, is it something that can be installed for a given moment in one or more location? Is it a material that degrades, melts, disappears, evaporates, blows away and when this happens is the work thought to be completed? Does it have an afterlife and if so, for whom. This, in turn raises the question of distribution.

Distribution How is the work set up, framed, available for an encounter with people and things? In other words, what will be its primary encounter? How is it considered as something available to a viewer or a participant who is, as it were, at arms-length to the work and to the process? Are these different kinds of encounters with the work equally valid, equally engaged with the work in time and space? What kinds of questions does this raise about the so-called documentation of something and how do images and text regarding the work circulate? Where and to whom might these circulate and what does this circulation mean in terms of the work? Does this also bring us to our final and possibly most crucial question… who are the public(s)/audience that the work is being directed at.

Public(s) Where is the public(s) and or audience for your work? Are they identifiable as a group, community, organisation? Are they ‘anyone and everyone’? Are they the art world? Are they an audience engaged in something you have invited them to engage in? Will they have a prior knowledge of the work or warning that something you have made will be on show, that is to say, are they being invited to a formal exhibition or performance? Does the idea of a particular ‘public’ imply a particular apriori knowledge that is being brought to the work and a particular milieu within which it might circulate?

Running through and connecting these five elements, are the affective and process-based dimensions of the pedagogy that raise the possibility that ‘work’ is not necessarily materialized as a single, final product. Instead, it suggests that the final iteration of the work is often but a trace of a knowledge process that has been lived through and encountered not just cognitively, but also viscerally.  It suggests a multiplicity of readings of and publics for any given work and demands that the many things that went into the making of the work would be somehow traceable and visible in the work itself. In suggesting that knowledge can be a visceral encounter, this process shines a light on the affective dimensions of knowledge production. It suggests that in the making of work the affectivity becomes embedded within the work itself. If a work is to have an affective dimension, then the work, like the gift, must be the giving of ‘part of thyself.’ Students need to therefore own their work.  And to do that they need to bring their own skills, competencies and knowledge to this. They must ensure that this particular form of ownership is registered and communicated such that this affective element is not only registered in the work itself but in fact becomes ‘infectious.’[1] In other words, the work produced attempts in some ways if not to touch people to their very souls, then at least touch upon the senses.


[1] “The only gift is a portion of thyself” says Ralph Waldo Emerson and here, he is clearly speaking about Maurice Godelier has called Mauss’ 4th obligation of the gift. For details see Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Gifts” in Alan D. Schrift [Ed], (1997), The Logic of the Gift, Routledge, New York, 26 On the this fourth obligations see Godelier, Maurice (1999), The Enigma of the Gift, [trans. Nora Scott], The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 29-31 and finally, for Marcel Mauss’ own words, in which he insists it is giving part of oneself,  see Marcel Mauss (1990), The Gift, Routledge, London, 12.