ps/o6.g. militantresearch&artpracticechicago
ps/o6 public education | school of echoes | pedagogy of the ear

Ultra-red | Militant Research & Art Practice

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Graduate Seminar Performance Critique: Spring 2008, Mondays 6pm to 9pm

Michigan Building
2M Performance Studio
112 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60603

In one of performance studies' founding moments Richard Schechner encountered Victor Turner at the University of Chicago during Turner's decade-long tenure at the school beginning in 1967. In 1977, Schechner published Essays on Performance Theory drawing heavily on Turner's ethnographic research into ritual and liminality. Eventually, Schechner would come to write the introduction to Turner's The Anthropology of Performance (1987). This class asks the question, what if the discourse of performance studies took as its conceptual basis different ethnographic models from that of Turner's? For example, what theories and practices of performance can we imagine where the object of inquiry is also the subject? This formulation is central to three radical research models each of which developed in the context of revolutionary political movements: Militant Inquiry articulated by the Italian workerist movement, Popular Education from Latin America, and the Participatory Action Research movement that has grown out of a number of postcolonial contexts.

Recent interest in research and pedagogy as a frame for curating and art making suggests a turn in contemporary art that already anticipates just such a shift. The focus on aesthetic knowledge and its institutional contexts (museums, schools, publications, etc.) has informed specific art practices as well as major exhibitions, including Manifesta 6, Utopia Station, Academy at von Abbemuseum, and others. Concurrently, discussions among certain artists demonstrate a growing interest in inquiry-based practice as a framework for political-engagement. The artist as research militant (in critique of earlier notions of "artist as ethnographer") opens up a range of options for artists looking for ways to contribute to social movements beyond image-making. Contemporary groups like Colectivo Situaciones in Buenos Aires have advocated a practice that performs a similar function to the worker's inquiry of Marx's time: researching a site in ways that contribute to political struggles. Such an art practice suggests a kind of knowledge production within the aesthetic that remains outside conventional forms of activism.

For this course, students develop the tools to conceptualize their own work and the work of other artists from an inquiry-based framework. The course combines readings from art criticism, political philosophy, social research, and activism with a critical appraisal of artists whose practice can be considered inquiry-based. Utilizing the tools from these readings, students will critically reflect on their own practice leading toward the articulation of a different conceptual framework for performance and art practice. An existing relationship to a political organization, social movement, and activist group, while encouraged, is not necessary for participation in the class.



  • Week 2 Primary Text
    • Walter Benjamin, "The Author as Producer" (1934), in Reflections, tr. Edmund Jephcott (NY: Schocken Books, 1978): 220 - 238.

  • Week 3 Critical Interpretation: The Limits of Institutional Critique
    • Hal Foster, "The Artist as Ethnographer," in The Return of the Real (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996): 170 - 203.

  • Week 4 Contemporary Reappraisal
    • Okwui Enwezor, "The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes," Collectivism After Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination After 1945, ed. Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007): 223 - 251.

    Each individual student prepares a three-page manifesto for fourth week. The manifesto must reference the readings by Benjamin, Foster and Enwezor as well as mention Marx's definition of praxis. This manifesto lays the groundwork of how the student envisions social research as part of art practice. The manifesto can take any written form and may engage the student's own art practice. This assignment establishes the terms of investigation for the duration of the course.


  • Week 5 Primary Text
    • Antonio Gramsci, "Intellectuals and Education," in The Antonio Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935, ed David Forgacs (NY: New York University Press, 1988): 300 - 324.

  • Week 6 Critical Interpretation in Italy's Workerist Movement
    • Guido Borio, Francesca Pozzi, and Gigi Roggero, "Conricerca as Political Action," Utopian Pedagogy: Radical Experiments Against Neoliberal Globalization, ed. Mark Coté, Richard J.F. Day, and Greig de Peuter (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007): 163 - 185.
    • Antonio Negri, "Logic and Theory of Inquiry: Militant Praxis as Subject and Episteme," Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations Collective Theorization, ed. Stevphen Shukaitis and David Graeber (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2007): 62 - 72.

  • Week 7 Contemporary Reappraisal in Post-Crisis Argentina
    • Colectivo Situaciones, "On the Researcher-Militant," Utopian Pedagogy, ed. Coté, et al. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007): 186 - 200.
    • ----, "Something More on Research Militancy: Footnotes on Procedures and (In)Decisions," Constituent Imagination, ed. Shukaitis and Graeber (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2007): 73 - 93.


  • Week 9 Critical Interpretation: Popular Education in El Salvador
    • John L. Hammond, "Popular Education as Community Organizing in El Salvador," Latin American Perspectives 26, no. 4 (July 1999): 69 - 94.

  • Week 10 Contemporary Reappraisal in Medellin, Columbia
    • Suzanne Lacy and Pilar Riano-Alcala, "Medellin, Colombia: Reinhabiting Memory," Art Journal 65, no. 4 (Winter 2006): 97 - 112.
    • Pilar Riano-Alcala, "Encounters with Memory and Mourning: Public Art as Colledctive Pedagogy of Reconciliation," Public Acts: Disruptive Readings on Making Curriculum Public, ed. Francisco Ibanez-Carrasco and Erica R. Meiners (NY: RoutledgeFalmer, 2004): 211 - 235.


  • Week 12 Critical Interpretation: Participatory Action Research
    • Orlando Fals-Borda and Mohammad Anisur Rahman ed, Action and Knowledge: Breaking the Monopoly with Participatory Action Research (New York: The Apex Press, 1991). Chapters: "Some Basic Ingredients," 3 - 12; "The Theoretical Standpoint of PAR," 13 - 23; "Remaking Knowledge," 146 - 164.

  • Week 13 Contemporary Reappraisals
    • Jenny Cameron and Katherine Gibson, "Participatory Action Research in a Poststructuralist Vein," Geoforum 36, no. 3 (May 2005): 315 - 331.


  • Week 14 FINAL PROJECT PRESENTATIONS For the last day of class in week #15, each student prepares a 5-page Process Paper that brings their own practice into dialogue with the terms of the class. The Paper can be speculative in nature (imagining a project employing a specific praxis of inquiry), analytical (analyzing one of the student's existing project in the terms of the discussions presented in class) or practical (given the time restrictions of the class, produce an actual project that engages the terms of the course). Process Papers are not bound to only one topic area and may speak to topic areas other than one assigned to your team. You must mention and discuss at least four texts assigned in class. During our last class together, we will discuss the process papers collectively.

This curriculum was first presented by Dont Rhine at the School of the Art Institute in a graduate-level class in the Performance Deparment. The course developed out of years of conversations among Ultra-red members; particularly among Elizabeth Blaney, Manuela Bojadzijev, Janna Graham, Dont Rhine, Robert Sember, and Leonardo Vilchis. Versions of the same curriculum informed classes conducted by Ultra-red members and allies teaching at UCLA, Vermont College of Fine Art, California Institute of Art, and Goldsmiths University. Thanks to Faith Wilding, Chair of the Performance Department for generously providing for Dont's stay in Chicago and to the dedicated students at SAIC who openly and seriously worked through the material.