An Academy from Island to Continent.

“A before”-Interview with Mikkel Bogh, new rector
of the Royal Academy of Fine Art
in Copenhagen from the 1st of October 2005

by Charlotte Brüel, editor of Visual Art Politics

See also the video interview (in Danish)

Professional Dreams

CB: Congratulations with your new job. Recently we made an interview - in our mother tongue Danish. Today we will make a - shorter - one in English.

O.K. I am ready!

CB: Which are your professional dreams for your new job?

MB: My professional dreams, on a preliminary level, would be creating an artistic education, which should be among the best in Europe, or in Scandinavia, in terms of creating students or candidates and artists, being at a level of the society we are living in. Or to put it otherwise, creating artists - talented artists - fit for making a career in this region, being Copenhagen, Denmark or Europe considered as a region of the world, and in a globalized context. That is artists being able to manoeuvre in a world so to speak torn between regional problematics and and the problem of globalization.

CB: Yes, hot issue!

MB: (smiling) Hot issue, and a very important one.

CB: How will you describe your formal duties as a rector of the academy of fine art, our only one with status of Higher Education?

MB: My formal duties? As a principal of the Art Academy, as a rector of the Art Academy I have the formal responsibility of education and research, so it is my formal duty to maintain and to develop the institution as to education and as research institution. And it is my formal duty in developing this institution, also to make a strategy for this development and to make policies for the development of the education and for the development of the artistic research, being made here - which is another “hot issue!”. We can come back to that later.

CB: How free will you be to fulfill your personal visions and dreams? How far do you think your authority will reach in that sense?

MB: Ha ha. Difficult question! How free will I be? I must say that so far, having been rector since three weeks, I feel quite free to do what I wish to do, but having said that, I must also admit, that of course it’s not just a matter of doing, what I want to do. It also - and primarily - fulfilling or developing my wishes, I would say rather in collaboration with the professors, the associated professors and the students, as well, so freedom is also a matter of how free will I be to make an arena for discussions and for development in collaboration with all the people in here, and not the freedom to do what I want to do personally, because it is always a matter of creating a match between, what I want, what the students want and what the others wish to do here.

CB: You say that you want to create “the best academy in the region” . What do you see as a primary action from your part, getting closer to that goal?

MB: I see a lot of small, but important actions, in the first place. So I have no great master plan for the years to come. Not only because of my limited knowledge of this institution, so far, but also because I am feeling - I got a notion - that the institution is generally quite well functioning, and has great potential as it is today. This is not to say, that I don’t want to change anything, but there are, you know, small adjustments here and there, then suddenly some greater issues will emerge, and then we will take care of them.
The first thing to do, I think, will be our policy or strategy for publication and, so to say, our strategy of self promotion. How do we communicate with the surrounding world? That is interest groups, other artists, press - the media. How do we make ourself visible, and how do we communicate our goals, our visions, for high education in the arts? So one of the things, we will do in the coming weeks, will be to consider our publications.

Working Conditions Part of the Art Education

CB: Then I will go to ask from another side:
Will we see the Academy supporting the visual artists in their political work for better working conditions in society - trying to work contemporary art out of the gap between snobbism and neglect ? Will the status of the artist be a formal educational issue for the students?

MB: There were 3 or 4 questions in that question! To answer the last one firstly, I would say that, yes, indeed, there will be... I don’t think there is now, but there will be, for sure, as part of the education a discussion, an ongoing discussion on the notion of the development and the history of the role of the artist.
To my opinion it is crucial today, that artists have a thorough and historically based - theoretically based as well - knowledge of the position of the artist today. It is, so to speak, not enough, if you want to be educated in an institution of high education, to be an artist. You also have to have a reflection on, what it is to be an artist.
Also in order to be able to develop that role. To find new ways, new paths to expand the notion of the artists. In order to do that, you need to know the institutional basis, the historical background of the development of the artist, as that category it exists today.
You need to know about the institution of art, the museums, how modern criticism developed and so on. So I think this should be a very important part. Not the most important part, but a very important part of the education of artists today, yes.

The other question - there was another question?

CB: ”Will we see the Academy supporting the visual artists in their political work for better working conditions”...

MB: Well, yes. The main question.
I will have to say, that the primary of the question is, that, there is a gap between neglect of art and snobbism. Maybe it exists. I am sure that it did exist some years ago. I am not too sure about how it looks today.
There is a neglect. Mainly, I would say, on the part of the press - on the daily press in Denmark - maybe it is a global thing, but in Denmark especially there is a severe neglect on the part of the press.

CB: Also a governmental neglect.

MB: Also a governmental neglect, although we are quite privileged in Denmark, compared to other countries. That is we have official support funds and so on for artists. That is hardly known in other countries, but there is a neglect. There is no doubt about that, and we should fight for more..for better conditions, and the Academy, I think, should take a major part in that fight. So the short answer would be: Yes, the Academy will be a strong and central partner in the fight, that should be fought not only among or...with the institutions, but also with other interest groups as the “Billedkunstnernes Forbund”(BKF,The Association of Visual Artists), The Union of Young artists and critics (UKK, Unge kunstnere og kunstformidlere) and so on, which I think it is important institutions or important groups to line up with, in the fight for better conditions, better working conditions, better support possibilities, better educations, also! Better deals with museum institutions, for example. The fact that today an artist only rarely get paid for exhibitions, I think is one starting point. But there are a lot of important issues to...

Artistic versus Scientific Research

CB: As part of taking the responsibility that society does not understand the contemporary art, maybe we should put the question: What is the difference between academic knowledge - the scientific tradition of the universities - and knowledge accumulated through artistic work by visual artists?

MB: That’s a very good question, and a very hard one to answer. As you know I got university background, myself, and I have been associated professor at the university (in Copenhagen) for 11 years, so I got some experience with university research, but also some with artistic research, since I have been supervising phd. candidates in the arts. And it has been tremendously interesting.
So I would say, the main difference, seen from my point of view today, is a matter of pragmatics, as scientific research has a goal, a certain way of communicating itself, and a certain way of - not a way of working, because in that sense I think the two ways of making research are quite alike, but the goals are very different.
University research is - should we answer the phone? No? / (CB: As you like.) / Let it be. University research is a special kind of research, that has a pragmatic goal, that is....agghh, I simply has to take it, because....

CB: (This time with telephone closed): What is the difference between academic knowledge - the scientific tradition of the universities and knowledge accumulated through artistic work by visual artists?

MB: Thats a very good question, and a very hard one to answer, since it has only emerged recently and has been in a sense of focus within the last 10 years.
But I am speaking as a former university person, I have been a university professor for ten or nearly eleven years, and I got a fair amount of experience in university research, but also some experience as supervisor of artistic researchers, as well - phd. candidates.

I must say there is a great difference, and there is also similarities. To start with the differences, which of course are crucial, as we have to define, what is specific about artistic research. University research, scientific research has a certain goal, a certain pragmatic goal, even if the process of research can be quite experimental - should be experimental - that is you set certain... you have a set of conditions, you have some questions, you try different methods, in order to shed light on these questions. That process is very much like an artistic process. You have a material to work in, you have an empirical background, you have a medium in which you work. But scientific research has a way of communicating itself, a certain pragmatics, which is very different from the artistic one. That is you write articles, you write books and you have a way of documenting the process in scientific research, which is quite different from the artistic one.

When you write a research article or a book, documenting research process, every thing have to be transparent , that is the whole process of research has to be documented in footnotes, in references, it has to be clear, what kind of books you have read. You have to make clear the whole research tradition in which you are positioning yourself, or up against which you develop your own research.

Artistic research has a similar process. You have a medium or a cluster of media in which you work, you have some problematics, you have themes, you have questions, you have a development, that is self reflective, you reflect on what you do, and there is a feed back from your material, but the way it is documented is quite different. That is it is not pragmatic. There is no demand of a communicability. It does not have to communicate a whole academic public. That is maybe the main difference, as I see it. But there are many others as well. So I think there is a whole process of research, which alines academic and artistic research, but there is a way of documenting that research, which is quite different.

Artistic research end up in some kind of work, in some kind of artistic work, where as academic research or scientific research ends up with a pragmatic communicable article or book, that documents all phases of process, and the work thing that artistic research ends up with, wether it is a traditional work, a painting within four frames or a sculpture, or something quite different from that, something completely unseen, always being inscribed in another kind of communication, which is more bound to the material, is more bound to the medium, and which is in itself experimenting.

That is artistic research has an experiment with the whole medium of research, with the whole communication of research, whereas making an experimental or experimenting with the way you communicates scientific research should be, to say the least, highly difficult.

CB: Seen from outside, as a quality, there is a certain humility in the way scientists describe and give references and respect to other people, who has been through the same problematics, where as artists thinking the same problematics through as others have done, are free of that as a tradition. You can act as it were your own personal overview, although you are stepping upon tradition. Is that correct, said in short?

MB: That is partly correct, I think. Especially as far as inventing your own platform is concerned.

I think it is - to pick up upon what I said before - artistic research is also research in the way you do research. It is also inventing or making a platform for doing artistic research.

CB: Yes.

MB: So in that sense artistic research is much more insecure, and much more self made, in a way.

I don’t think that should be considered a license to do whatever, and just to say: Well, I am an artist and what I do is per definition “research”. Since no one can tell me what research is, I invent my research myself; that would be too loosely defined, I think.

So I have not got the full answer to what is artistic research today, but I am sure, that will be a hot issue for the next 5-10 years, indeed.

But I am quite sure, that university research should not be the model for the way we do artistic research. Thats for one thing. And second I think, we should find a way of dealing with artistic research, that makes it definable on its own terms. That is, it is not the same as just making art, if I may say so. Even though there is an research aspect in all artistic processes. It is not artistic research in itself. It takes something, to call it research. And that thing, it takes, is a way of reflecting upon the process, while doing it. And a way of reflecting upon the platform you invent for making that research.

I know it’s a bit complicated, a bit tricky, but I think, you know, academic research, scientific research, has its quite secure platform. You have a research institution, you have articles, you have ways of making footnotes, and there are certain standards, how you build up an article, there are no standards - there are no similar standards about how to make an art work, and even it is so making artistic research. We have to invent it. And I think even if the coming years will - or we will see the emergence of some more , let’s say stable definitions of what artistic research can be considered to be, I think it will always be characteristic of artistic research, that it has to invent itself all the time.

CB: Content as well as form.

MB: Yes.

Communication of Visual Art in the Media

CB: You have experience from your former job - I think it was before the job you just left from the university - at the daily paper Information as an art critique. Is that correct?

MB: Thats correct. “Information” and “Week End Avisen”.

CB: What do you think can be done to improve the general communication of visual art relevant issues in the media?

MB: Oh, thats a difficult one. But an important one, of course. On the so called activist level, I think we should put pressure on the media, by constantly reminding them, that they are not doing their job well enough! And I personally do, what I can, every time I meet art critiques, colleagues and people I know in charge of daily and weekly newspapers in Copenhagen. I constantly remind them, or ask them: How come, that you have downsized the amount of criticism of fine art, or especially visual arts, since theatre and film and books are quite well covered today, but visual artists not so - so much.

So, put pressure on them.

Also, I think, create alternative media that can compete with and that could set a standard - new standard - for what art criticism is.

CB: An example of, what alternative media is / might be?

MB: Well, I think still that radio holds a great potential. Also alternative TV. We know of at least one example of alternative TV in Denmark - which is called “TV TV”. There has been other examples as well, within the last 10-15 years. That could be developed, I think.

One could think in terms of art magazines, which we had in Denmark, but no really broad band - broadly covering art magazine, as far as I can see.
Then of course the internet. We have , which is at present maybe the most important medium or media for communicating the art criticism and...there are some others as well. But “” and similar things, I think, should be new platforms for art criticism.

So a lot of different ways of doing it, but we shouldn’t just give up on the traditional media, like daily newspapers, television and broadcasting companies. They are the most important and most far reaching media today.

CB: But sometimes I feel that, what is written on visual art in the daily papers, is kind of “fake” scientific. It could be much more simple, and in that sense be much more loyal to the art.

MB: Yes. I agree. I totally agree. Art criticism today - in Denmark at least - is characterized by a certain...well, on one hand at a certain academic attitude, which should be there, of course, since academicly based or reflecsive criticism is in opposition to impressionist criticism. It’s a good thing to have and is a way of securing a high standard or level of criticism, and then also it is considered as characteristic by being very much - especially among younger art critics, as far as I see it, as being very dependent on artistic... or dependent on the scene. That is you sense that the art critic is not very autonomous in the work.

CB: You think they are microphone holders?

MB: Microphone holder. They prefer interviews for independent criticism, and I think, it’s crucial and highly important today to insist on the independence, and the specificity of art criticism, and not art criticism as a medium through which artists should speak.

CB: Thats too indirectly. Why not go directly to the way, the artists have been thinking over communicating his or her idea, through the art piece, the art work?

MB: Yes.

CB: Sometimes journalism or art critics is kind of translating what has been done, so that it comes between the public, the audience and the experience.

MB: I am not sure I agree with the premises of your comments. It is as if, there is a direct way of going to art works, and I do not think there is. I think there is always an intermediary and a distance between the audience and the art work, which comes from our way of simply perceiving art. You always have your own history, your own knowledge, your own way of approaching arts, which is already putting you in a certain position vis a vis the art work. So there is no direct way of going to the art work.

And art criticism is not about creating direct approaches to art. It’s about communicating, it’s about interpreting, it’s about developing and expanding the art work.

CB: A third angle to...

MB: It’s about finding an interesting angle that can be discussed with, and also, of course, which are...I know it’s not a very hip or does not sound very contemporary, but also about, I think, evaluating - assessing - the art work. To make an assessment of the artwork. Does it work?

CB: But that’s what we don’t see!

MB: That’s what we don’t see. “Does it succeed in what it wants?”.

And that is what art criticism is about.

Discussing with the art work as if it were a statement. Considering the art work as a statement about the world, about art, about itself, no matter what, and discus that statement, as if you were discussing with another person.

So what I miss in contemporary art criticism in Denmark, is the willingness to be in clinch with the art work. To discuss with it. To assess it. To evaluate it.

CB: I agree. Thats why I said, that I feel sometimes, that art critic is only interpreting, and in that sense they go between the artist and the audience.

MB: O.K. I agree.

A dream which has to be developed

CB: I know you have been giving lots of interviews, besides this one. What is the most frequently asked question?

MB: The most frequently asked question is: “What will happen to the art academy, now?”
and “What is your vision for the future art academy?”

CB: Did you ever feel like putting a counter question?

MB: Yes, ha: “What do you think?” (Laughter)

But that is cowardice, so I used to say: I am sure in a year or so, I will be much more able to answer that question - in a visionary way - because, of course I visions, I got dreams. But that dream is one to be developed along with the people I work with here, and it’s not something going on in my head. I am part of this island - ah, what would I say, I am part of this continent, and this continent consist of 8 professors, 15 assistant professors and 200 students. We should develop this academy together. Of course I am heading it, but I am steering the process, but I won’t do it alone.

CB: Thank you.

Thank you for the interview - “Visual Art Politics” will be looking forward to the “After” interview in 2 or 3 years - when your dreams and daily work have been professional followers for some time.
Best wishes for the time until then!

MB: Your welcome.

25.10.2005, Rector’s office, Royal Academy of Art