I'm a Finnish-Dutch artist, educator and organiser living in Amsterdam-Noord. In my work I explore the revolutionary potential of collective creativity. As an autodidact DJ, filmmaker and anarchist, clubs are my art school and protests my phd.


Sandberg Instituut, Amsterdam
Tags: Amsterdam, art, education, film
In March 2019 Laurens Otto interviewed me for the accreditation of the Sandberg Instituut. Universities in the Netherlands receive a quality mark if the Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organisation has approved the quality of its education. Every 6 years, the quality is re-examining again. A university loses its recognition if the quality is no longer satisfactory. Non-recognised courses may not issue recognised diplomas.

At the time of the interview I was still programme director of Shadow Channel, and preparing for Resolution. As this interview was for a serious occasion, I wanted to be honest about my experiences at the Sandberg Instituut after two years, as the conditions for good education should be better.

"The goal was to develop a liberatoratory collectivist pedagogical programme in moving image after the Internet." Juha van 't Zelfde

How does your own practice relate to heading Shadow Channel?

My own practice consists of creating environments, platforms and programmes for artists, activists, academics and audiences to meet. This has been my personal approach to the Shadow Channel programme as well: art is the means, the end is freedom. Of course art is also an end, but it doesn’t end with art.

What was the goal of setting up Shadow Channel?

The goal was to develop a liberatoratory collectivist pedagogical programme in moving image after the Internet. That would be the academic response. A more personal response is that I was the artistic director of Lighthouse in Brighton when I was imagining this programme. Lighthouse had commissioned 'The Sprawl (Propaganda About Propaganda)' by Metahaven, which deals with the effects of the internet on democracy. While making the film, Metahaven’s Daniel van der Velden, who is also a tutor at the Design Derpartment, mentioned that many of the students at Design were making video work. Consequently, Daniel and Rob Schröder proposed to Jurgen Bey to develop a new temporary programme dedicated to new ways of moving image, that would deal with the high definition cameras that everyone has on their smartphones and the proliferation of lens-based infrastructures of for instance surveillance cameras, drones and toys. What does that mean for art and art education? What kind of artists would study this?

We called the programme Shadow Channel.

The name, coined by artist Donna Verheijden, came as a result of seeing how people are leaving the traditional infrastructure of broadcast media, galleries, cinemas, and instead are developing their own channels and platforms. The social media and other Internet developments that are hard to reach for marketing departments or big corporations are called 'shadow channels' in the broadcasting industry. We reclaimed the term as revolutionary act, as it fit our postcapitlist desire.

The goal of the programme is to locate, study, and develop these new developments of making art in the shadows of mainstream media. That's part Instagram Stories, part video games, part live streams, part drone-surveillance footage. It's all of the things we've seen after the invention of the iPhone in 2007.

It's also focused on the infrastructural design aspect, as we came from the Design Department. It's not just about the art, it's also the infrastructure and the distribution model of the art. Shadow Channel students are not only visual artists or filmmakers or video artists, we also have designers, video game developers and musicians.  

What are the specific criteria for admission?

There is no ideal student, but there is an ideal cohort. We looked at the constellation of the group. An ideal component for every student is commitment, the desire to become part of this programme and a willingness to learning.

We don't look so much at the current level of the student, but what their potential is. We especially look at those who are not represented. With our successor Temporary Programme Resolution we have articulated it as follows: “if you are underrepresented in education, on screens and in the professional field you like to work in, then Resolution is for you.”

Are you willing to commit to a communal programme in which you will have to teach others? Are you willing to participate in a collective graduation event? This implies collective authorship, a collective curatorial practice, collective production and collective research. We believe these things are important to become whole as a person, and as a group, and to realise your potential as an artist, or however you identify after Sandberg. We think collaboration, collectivity and solidarity are vital for a sustainable, productive and happy art practice.

The motivations behind the programme can be summed up as: radical imagination, intersectional solidarity, and collective joy.

"Whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching, and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning." Paulo Freire

How do you look at a final work? What is more important, the 'physical' outcome, or the position of the student and their development along the year?

There isn't a strict recipe for judging work. It is a combination of the formal criteria of the school, our own additional criteria and experience, and common sense. We try to appraise students in a way that is transparent for them to understand how they are appraised. It does remain a tricky question that requires constant addressing school-wide. How do we develop our joint educational principles when each department is free to develop its own? I haven’t been at the school long enough to figure this one out yet (laughs).

We try to bring as many different people as possible to judge the work, in order for the students to have an appraisal that does justice to them and their work, and that gives them a foundation for their next step as a master in their field. 

We invite certain tutors based on the students and the work that they make. It's not just a referee that says "OK, you can pass", but there is a more aspirational connection. Aritsts such as Rana Hamadeh, Mark Leckey or Vinca Kruk are not just inspiring tutors who can expertly read your work, they are also possible future collaborators and peers. They equally benefit from spending time with the students, and return home inspired and reinvigourated. It works both ways. As Paulo Freire once said, "whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching, and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning."

How do you get feedback about the programme?

We anticipated wanting to adjust the programme, so we kept it open. There are all of these different settings (more practical or theoretical, more collective or more individual, more experiential or more interactive) that we can adjust depending on the kind of students we have and how we develop ourselves. It's an interesting ecosystem of feedback and cross-polination, that organically evolves based on our ambitions and that of the group. You evaluate-evolve-evaluate, deploying a hands-on materialist approach to things that is both dialogical and dialectical. We also take into account previous experiences of other departments. I'm a lot in touch with Jaap Vinken to know how other departments work, what their standards and objectives are.

We didn't want to make the mistake of thinking "Ok, this is the programme and if it doesn't work out then that's it". So we only programmed the first semester. If that was the only semester of the programme that could take place because the world would end, then that would have been the perfect summary of Shadow Channel. Like food tasting, it was an introductory sample of what it could be like. We asked the students for feedback based on this semester: where should we take it from there? Who would you like to bring in as tutors.

"Capitalism is killing education." Juha van 't Zelfde

Interestingly, some students had difficulties articulating their own desires for the direction of the programme. They weren't able to propose the kind of tutors they wanted. Which makes sense, as you have just plunged into the depths of doing a masters, and you’ve managed to survive the first few vertiginous months. I now believe we made the mistake of leaving this too early in the year with the students. Maybe we should have waited until the second year for the students to create their own curriculum. It was our responsibility, and our misjudgement. Unfortunately, this is what can happen with the pedagogical experimentation that are the temporary programmes. Ideally, we would have had more time as core team  than 12 hours a week to interact with the students, instead of planning it via e-mail and Slack.
Given the conditions of the school and given the conditions of the temporary programme, overall I think we did alright. But critically reviewing this system and looking towards the future of what an art school like the Sandberg should do, I think there's lots of work to be done amongst us as educational professionals.

Are these problems related specifically to the Sandberg Instituut, or rather to Dutch art education in general?

Both. As a general remark: Capitalism is killing education. Art education as we currently have it iin the Netherlands s obviously geared towards becoming a professional under free market capitalism; art schools in the Netherlands are 'beroepsonderwijs' (vocational education), which is ridiculous. This means it has to cater for employment and career perspective. This is opposed to what art education ought to be: a liberatory human opportunity for self-actualisation, to become whole, that can reflect on our surroundings, our political system and the world at large. The founders of the Rietveld Academie and the Sandberg Instituut would have never imagined this to become a neoliberal factory for art workers.

It sounds harsh and unfair towards the people who developed the Temporary Programmes, but in my experience they are an irresponsible execution of what is arguably a good idea. I don't want to immediately kill off the temporary programmes—especially not when we've benefited from it—but I do want to make them better. Make the school better. One of the fundamental arguments I have about the school is the precarity of the employment, and the following irresponsibility towards the students. I'm speaking of the temporary contracts: not being paid over summer time and wages that don't raise with inflation or the increase in experience over the years. This is frankly unacceptable. If you can’t take care of your staff who have to take care of your students, then what’s the point of running a school? And a school that prides itself on a reputation of being experimental and radical. Maybe it should have less temporary programmes and better working conditions. Give teachers the opportunity to do it for four years, as opposed to two years, to let them learn from the first round. Think about other sustainable solutions to improve the school.

"There are 'Easyjet' programme directors, living elsewhere to visit the school once a month and do everything remotely via Slack. I think that's an extremely unsustainable approach to arts education, and one that defeats the purpose of an art school. And art, for that matter." Juha van 't Zelfde

By accepting the opportunity to continue our programme, we've thus expressed our desire to become permanent. We want to prevent others from going through the hardship of the temporary programme. How it is currently organised – no employment, no benefits, freelance contracts - is part of the same platform-capitalist logic as that of Uber, AirBnB and Deliveroo. As a school we should do better.

I say this lovingly with responsibility for this school, with respect for my colleagues and everybody working here. We continue to critique it and the situation has already improved a little by winning the battle for more hours for the coordinators of the temporary programmes. The same should go for the heads of these departments. There are 'Easyjet' programme directors, living elsewhere to visit the school once a month and do everything remotely via Slack. I think that's an extremely unsustainable approach to arts education, and one that defeats the purpose of an art school. And art, for that matter.

The school is doing other things to improve, so I also see that we make huge strides with Unsettling Rietveld, and the student initiative Black Student Union. Unsettling Rietveld is a bottom-up initiative by two queer women (one who is black) in response to how white, heteronormative and classist this school is. These programmes are fantastic and vital for the future of the academy.

Even now with the application process, we cannot accept certain students because we can only have three students from outside of the EU. If you are lucky to get in, you need to prove you have seventeen thousand euros on your bank account, otherwise you can't enjoy our education. Who has that kind of money? No vulnerable, underrepresented, marginalised person is able to study here with walls this high. This problem is systemic to education in the Netherlands, or possibly even in the EU, and needs to be fought. Education is a human right.

What will be the relation of the programme with its alumni?

They will be the reason why there will be a Main Department for moving image, they will forever be the elders of that department. They will hopefully become tutors and collaborators of future students one day. And they aren't necessarily the first generation either, because the coordinator of the department Polina Medvedeva graduated from the Design Department in 2014 and she bears the same traits. As have others throughout art history. They are all members of the same community of artists who want to make work differently, who want to woirk together and try to reclaim the utopian potential of the collectivity and connect it to the utopian potential of art.