Art School in the Room

Readers of this blog will know that I have little patience with the “is this or is this not art” debate. I am quite happy to accept if an artist says, ‘it is art’ then that is what it it is – next question.  The real issue is whether it is good. Even so, when before Christmas, artist Annie Davey called for volunteers at Sussex Coast College  to help undertake a project about art schools, which would involve collecting  photographs of the old Hastings art college, I found, despite myself, that I was having the subversive thought,”this isn’t really art at all.” After going to a couple of meetings I dropped out. The results of the project are now on display in the Room Gallery outside the college. I went along to see the results.

The idea was t0 examine the way that 20th century art schools have been historicised and  romanticised through photographic images and stories. The team, who comprised Celeste Barker, Marie Ford, Barbara Mullen and Dan Dowling,  became interested in the move of the Hastings Art School from the old Victorian building to the current site in Station Plaza. They also looked at the way contemporary art schools combine freedom and experimentation with rules and bureaucracy.

Displayed on the wall were a series of found photographs from the old art school.

A series of photographs of the old Hasting Art College pinned to the wall
Found Photographs of the old Hastings Art School

They were not posed or artistically taken shots but included the mundane detritus that is left when a building is closed.

chairs are piled on desks at the old hastins Art College
Found Photograph of the old Hastings Art School
A filing cabinet in the old Hastings College
A filing cabinet in the old Hastings College

A slide projector showed images of the new building which had been made deliberately blurry to  distance the viewer from the present time.

A blurry photograph showing a bench with sink at Sussex Coast College
Slide Projection of studio space at Sussex Coast College – it has been deliberately blurred

On the walls, were a selection of the instructions that we receive, whilst on a loop, course leader Patrick Jone’s voice intoned the aims of the modules as set out in the student handbook.

A photograph of a sheet of paper with instructions to students at Sussex Coast College
Student instructions Sussex Coast College

Matching the modern instructions were actual notices from the old building.

A sign saying drive in thie bay only do not reverse at the old Hastins Art School
Signs from the old Hastings Art School

Strangely, and despite my misgivings, it all actually worked. I accepted it was even art. The photographs collectively were more interesting than you might have thought and pointing a spotlight on the mundane, particularly that which is separated by time has the effect of making it look special. Also, the instructions, which must be similar to those posted on many student notice boards,  looked unique and worthy of attention. The aim of the show was to “present a series of small gestures that cross wires and destabilise our perception of the past, whilst implicitly asking questions about what might be ideal for an art school now.”  Even so, I suspect that it would be of most interest to those people who experienced, which I did not, the old art college in Hastings.

Art School is on display in the Blue Room Gallery outside Sussex Coast College today 25 January 2013