Redmond Entwistle: Walk-Through, review by Henry Little
Redmond Entwistle’s new film Walk-Through, a combination of documentary and fictionalised reconstruction, is a multi-faceted analysis of contemporary art education and the very particular impact of Michael Asher’s ‘post-studio class’ at the California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles in the 1970s.
Michael Asher, a canonical, deeply influential and highly undervalued figure from Conceptual art in the 1960s and ‘70s, developed the now legendary ‘crit’ (or critical discussion class) with art students at CalArts. The classes involved lengthy discussion of a student’s work by their peers - a rather terrifying microcosm of the unflinching judgement an artist’s work receives when it enters the public domain. Most compellingly, the reality of this most utopian of pedagogical models (in which the teacher was ‘hauled down from the podium’ to become discussion leader) was a highly political scenario in which friends spoke flatteringly of each other’s work unfailingly, while enemies remained bitterly opposed in the class room.
Walk-through is typical of Entwistle’s wider artistic project - in terms of its interest in the subjective quality of recollection and the relationship between place and memory - as well as being an exemplar of Asher-ian theory and practice.
Asher, as an artist, is most particularly occupied with institutional interventions and critique. One of his most recent exhibitions, at Santa Monica Museum of Art, California, 2008 involved reinstating the stud walling from reconfigurations of the space during previous exhibitions. (Intriguingly a directly comparable exhibition, curated by artist Simon Starling and titled Never the Same River (Possible Futures, Probable Pasts), took place at London’s Camden Arts Centre in 2010 - 2011). The walls, which comprised only the metal frames, created a skeletal metallic residue of the gallery’s exhibition history. This interest in the exhibition space as an adaptable arena in which art and artists ‘performed’ was central to the structural (and theoretical) framework of CalArts when it was founded. Given over largely to wide open spaces which could be endlessly reconfigured to create new rooms and spaces, CalArt’s campus was an intentional statement about this new form of teaching and practice which espoused critique, reconfiguration and assessment as a continual process, and the institution as the stage or site for this on-going process.
It is constructive to remember the immediate (and not quite so immediate) predecessors of the CalArts. Most pertinent, as a contrast, is the Bauhaus - a key Modernist archetype - as fundamentally ideological, fraternal and practical. CalArts and crits, as a defining element of the new educational models following its example, were anything but these things. Intended to emphasise peer review, open judgement, conceptual fertility and an environment free of hierarchy (at least in the classroom), these classes have come to embody fine art education in the intervening years.
Entwistle’s film, in its style which is itself an exploration of and homage to Asher’s work and philosophies, identifies educational institutions, and CalArts in particular, as not just the physical confines of the campus and its buildings, but rather as a stage pregnant with latent creative potential which must be released with careful and laborious critique. It also highlights a major shift towards individual, collective and institutional reflexivity, and the concomitant processes of critique, as a vital strategy for the production of art during this period.