Christopher Pickett and Heath Schultz are graduate students at the University of Iowa in Intermedia. They work collectively with others on an autonomous learning project entitled ‘SOS (self-organized seminar).’ Both are invested in the intersections of radical politics, cultural production, and artistic expression, though explore them in quite divergent ways. More of their work can be viewed at christopherpickett.com and heathschultz.com.
We are writing as graduate students, as relative amateurs but also as those who continue to take steps toward being “insiders” or “professionals” in our field—“fine arts.” We think it is important to state this because it makes evident what is perhaps already clear that, as artists, it is in this movement toward professionalization that we are pried apart from one another. For us it takes the form of our collectivity being relegated to intersections and offerings of support in critique sessions, but our ability to commit to one another as collaborators, as anti-capitalists, as activists, or artists—feels almost impossible, even in the sheltered space of graduate school. The other reason we draw attention to our status as grad students is to reinforce that the accumulation of debt has direct connections to our inability to participate in political and non-lucrative discussions and practices. Because of spatial limitations we’ll only say it is a problem not outside of this discussion, and collectively we will need to find a way to defend free education or establish other ways of working so that we can begin withdrawing from the neoliberal university.
Our response to the isolated and alienated feeling of graduate school feels intuitive and not terribly complicated: to build affinities across geography, scale, and practices. We do this by starting where we are, with our neighbors, by establishing friendships, collaborations and committing to one another. If this is revelatory it is only in the fact that developing models for intimacy seems to us a necessary political gesture. We’ve looked to what Colectivo Situaciones identify as love in militant research—”…a love relation participates without the mediation of an intellectual decision: rather, the existence of two or more finds itself pierced by this shared experience. This is not an illusion, but an authentic experience of anti-utilitarianism, which converts the ‘own’ into the ‘common.’ ” Through gestures of love in this fashion we might begin to understand the terms “occupy and/or evacuate,” that is, the double-movement of withdrawing from capitalist relations while developing spaces of counter-power that strengthen our already established relationships, as well as help us build new ones.
We know what we want—more intimate relations, more collective work and concerted artistic-political efforts. The difficulty is figuring out how to do this. From our perspective we only see a possibility of withdrawing as much as possible from the individualizing forces that pry us apart. It will cost us time, money, professional accolades and a variety of other unforeseen consequences. The real challenge will be establishing much greater support networks which allow for the more precarious to participate. As graduate students we’ve begun this at a local level with friends in basic ways, by beginning to make time for one another, through reading together and developing a common vocabulary, a support network, and a common desire to try and articulate a new way of working together. It is simple and not enough, but perhaps a step in the right direction.