Transform school into a place for possibilities
On the occasion of the launch of the project “What is tomorrow made of? An inter- and transdisciplinary educational project in the Bauhaus Year 2019“, we spoke to its initiators Dr. Jasmin Grande from the Institut „Moderne im Rheinland“ and Dr. Angela Weber from the Institut für Germanistik at the Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf about the Bauhaus and its revolutionary potential for education in the future.
How does one revolutionise education?
Spontaneously we would say: with 100 years bauhaus! In North Rhine-Westphalia we jointly work on the Bauhaus Year 2019 from the An-Institut „Moderne im Rheinland“ and the Germanistischen Institut der Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf and have been focusing on the question how we can strengthen education as democratic power to act. Our core components are the reductionism of the analogue, i.e. also the haptic-practical level of experience and the digital level. We aim to open up our sectional thinking: The digital word doesn’t happen without the analogue world, we’re unable to act only with social media and we can’t remain in the material realm if we want to live in the 21stcentury. We have to face present challenges, we have to be modern or also contemporary.
This would be the second answer to the question about the revolution of education: modernity in the sense of contemporaneity. How do we live now, how do we want to live tomorrow and what possibilities for action do we see? The ‘Bauhaus’ thus represents a microcosm from which we can learn and understand a lot: How was it possible to successfully bring this exciting concept off the ground in 1919? Who is part of this movement and when and where? How does our interpretation of ‘Bauhaus’ change when our focus shifts e.g. to women at the Bauhaus or to political movements or educational concepts? A very important approach of our project is to focus on the constructive, the utopian potential of the ‘Bauhaus’. This includes the awareness that with the concept of the interwar years we level the potential of time and thus curtail our own field of action. With these approaches the avant-garde caused quite a stir a hundred years ago and even today, these perspectives are still revolutionary. Obviously one wants to know why this is the case and what to make of this knowledge.
With our inter-institutional and inter-generational model project we aim to bring the issue of modern education from universities to schools. The students act as ambassadors of a vibrant science; together with the students we develop teaching concepts that are inspired by our inter- and multidisciplinary engagement with the Bauhaus in NRW. The students implement these with the objective of transforming school into a place of possibilities. We take the concept of education as forming and shaping literally. Together with the students and teachers we want to create an atmosphere that encourages pupils to talk about their frustration and their passion concerning school. Different forms of art and activity emerge from the transfer between the past and the present and allow pupils to express themselves, to find their own language, to participate and in the best case – this is what we strive for – to become visible.
In further steps we want to show the public what is being created there and discuss with them. In turn, the students moderate and organise this process. We will host a ‘future camp’ together with all the actors and those involved in the city and its development, so-called ‘city actors’. The voices of the pupils provide the open framework and should stir.
Which educational concepts of the Bauhaus are still as relevant as then – and where do they continue to exist?
The reference to the medieval masons’ lodges, which is reflected in the name ‘Bauhaus’, is an important incentive to think about the question how to bring education on a level playing field. Here both the idea that only the collaboration of the different professions and also perspectives can create a whole takes effect as well as thinking along the lines of the content transferred. Feininger’s “Cathedral of Socialism” emphasises that the common objective is not an aesthetically sophisticated architectural landscape, but a concept to be filled by the actors.
The Bauhaus existed exactly as long as the first German Republic, which will also celebrate the centenary of its founding next year. Is the Bauhaus therefore a “basis for democracy” as you refer to it?
In order to answer this question we firstly have to designate the objectives of our project which are, amongst others, a consequence that in North Rhine Westphalia we face a challenge in dealing with the Bauhaus: it was never located here! Neither Weimar, nor Dessau or Berlin are part of North Rhine Westphalia. On the contrary, the locals of the Rhineland and Westphalia like to emphasise a constructive distance to all things Prussian. It is therefore imperative to be well aware of which Bauhaus we’re talking about, when talking about the Bauhaus in the West.
For our interpretation of the Bauhaus this means that we obviously look to the pertinent places and then ask the question: How do we deal with this? And with the focus on education we have decided to consider the Bauhaus Year as a moment of encounter through which we can engage with our relationship with the Bauhaus as a topic and its inherent potential. Or put differently: We ask what change we can bring about for the future with the Bauhaus Year? And this is where the formula of the “basis for democracy” becomes relevant. Following the call of a multitude of philosophers of the past 50 years to put the interpretations of the avant-garde into perspective, currently in particularly Jaques Rancière, we want to open up the established interpretations with our project. Foremost the loss of importance experienced by the arts when brought into contact with politics and economics. We thus work cross-institutionally between universities, schools and museum associations here in NRW, updating ideas and stimuli from the Bauhaus into an aesthetic expression and return these to the public.
The different levels of objectives and actions of our projects finally come together in the concept of aesthetic practice as understood by Rancière: as the subversion of boundaries between theory and practice, of production and reception – Rancière coined the term of the emancipated spectator – as well as the boundaries between individuals and communities. In the aesthetic practice all these zones intertwine and thus create new spaces of perception and articulation. We have to again reduce the levels of action! This also means that we engage with crossing boundaries in our heads. We have stopped arguing, also to argue for something, because we remain in closed circles. The right to assemble – which Arendt/Butler have currently incorporated.
Do we still need Bauhaus masters today?
Yes! Or rather: The term Bauhaus masters should include both masters and mistresses and transcend gender. When we asked ourselves the question “What will tomorrow be made of?” in preparation for our project and borrowed from Victor Hugo as well as Jaques Derrida and Elisabeth Roudinesco, it became clear that the texture of tomorrow has to be a joint project. The concept of the Bauhaus masters and mistresses represents a notion of community in which knowledge is not passed on based on external characteristics, but rather based on what we learn and discover through the way we practice life and work. This approach that transcends generations, disciplines and also gender is fundamental for the present.
[NF 2018; Translation: RHN]
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