Lessons Learned continues with an interview featuring Los Angeles based artist, Piero Golia. I asked him to talk about the Mountain School of Art (MSA^), a tuition-free school that he co-founded in 2005. The Mountain School of Art sees itself as a cultural institution promoting a unique and rigorous blend of pedagogy. Operating out of a bar in LA’s Chinatown they offer an intensive curriculum of seminars, fieldtrips, and studio visits. Notable faculty include Paul McCarthy, Hans Ulric Obrist, Pierre Huyghe and Simone Forti.
Piero Golia was born in Naples, Italy in 1974. It may be a cliché to call Golia a “Renaissance man,” but most labels don’t adequately describe his practice. Recent projects range from borrowing one million dollars from a bank for few hours in order to take a picture of it twice (Two Million Dollars, 2007) and in another piece melting down his Saab – after a car accident – into the shape of a unicorn in order to pay off some debts (Untitled (Y3AT35SIE1029489), 2003). His work has been included in the California Biennial, Orange County Museum of Arts, 2008; the Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Moscow, 2007; Uncertain States of America, Serpentine Gallery, London 2005, and Performa 05, New York, 2005 among others.
Below is an excerpt from conversation between Piero Golia and myself that took place on July 27, 2010.
Amara Antilla: I would like to start at the beginning back in 2005. How did the Mountain School of Art (MSA^) come about? What were your motivations and goals at that time?
Piero Golia: Not sure about why people always ask about goals and motivations, usually this is something I don’t think about. I never consider this when starting something. I think in the school’s case, everything sort of just happened. One day in 2005, Eric and I were talking about it and here we are now.
AA: Are you saying that you typically don’t articulate the goals of a project before executing it? How much of what happens is improvised and how much is really planned?
PG: It’s funny, I think somebody told me Freud once said that if it weren’t for accidents, artists would still be making Greek marble sculptures. I don’t believe in planning, I feel very weird when I hear people and mainly artist being sure of what they do and why they do it. If you know everything already to me it seems like you just playing a script. Its just fiction it’s not reality, I love reality.
AA: That reminds me of something Guy Debord said, “the more he contemplates, the less he lives.” Do you think education is always the best tool for accessing reality?
PG: Guy Debord was a very intelligent man, he was just lacking a little in patience, but a real visionary. Just the other day for the first time I saw a copy of “Memoires” in person, sand paper cover, 1950’s, wow. So fantastic. Reality it’s a very complex thing and it’s very difficult to get a good definition of it. When Eric and I started MSA^ we just wanted to start a school, a “real” one. I never understood why people were talking about MSA^ as something special. To me it was just a school, or what I thought at the time an art school was. I’m an Engineer so I never went to art school and it’s not till this year when I had to teach at UCLA that I realized the differences. Anyways I think if we stick to the basics, meaning just doing what is necessary to be done in terms of needs, then things come out naturally and not as a fiction to be played out. I remember in a previous conversation you mentioned to me a few schools that emerged in the past years. But then when I actually look at their program or the way they operate I don’t feel the “institution”. There is a bit of selfishness, not sure schools are about individuals or they shouldn’t be. It’s all confusing.
AA: How do you decide what those needs are?
PG: I think there is just one thing: having good people coming to talk. Everything else I would consider “over structured” meaning, too heavy and slow to control. At MSA^ we have a super simple structure and this helps us to be very fast and effective in terms of programming and arrangements.
AA: So the size of MSA^ allows you to have greater flexibility? Do you think it is important to maintain this intimate scale?
PG: I think the size is fundamental for having an intimate experience. A small number of students fosters dialogue that’s way more interesting then a talk. A talk is mono-directional and a dialogue instead is multi-directional, this helps with the expansion of ideas… I think it’s very important to stay small.
AA: Is your student body mainly made up of artists?
PG: Part of our class is made of artists, but during the years we have had architects, musicians, writers, and choreographers, even a biologist!!
AA: I also want to come back to your point about how fashionable pedagogy has become in art recently. You said the motivation behind these projects is careerism.
PG: I don’t know if it is about careerism, maybe more about ego, but for this they will have to deal about it with God. This is getting too close to morality and we are here for theory and not for morality. I think we should talk about good not evil.
AA: What is good?
PG: I wish I knew. This would make things much easier. Back to our discussion about planning, I don’t think you ever know what is right from the beginning.
AA: Can you elaborate?
PG: I’m not sure but I’ve heard about few schools coming out in the last few years. I don’t know everything about all of them. But there were some great models in the past such as the Black Mountain College or Nova Scotia, and more recently I know Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno and Dominique Gonzalez Foerster tried one.
AA: Yes the Temporary School. What do you think about that project?
PG: The Temporary School is different from MSA^, theirs was a poetic project, and we are more about functionality. I do respect Pierre very much as an artist. And he has come to talk at MSA^ few times, and our students loved him.
AA: On the topic of the educational turn in art practice, part of me doesn’t see a problem in the proliferation. If in fact scale is an important factor, what should stop multiple artists from starting their own schools so that in each city there can be a space for dialogue much like at MSA^?
PG: I don’t think a school is part of an art practice, I think that’s where the confusion is. I think some people misunderstood and wanted to play education as a medium because they noticed it was successful for others. But education is not a media, it’s education. It’s just for the students and not for educators/artist’s personal research. Do you think it’s part of being a good mechanic to explain to clients how to fix their own cars? No, there are good mechanics and there are good schools for mechanics. I think the problem is when people who are not good mechanics, try to make you feel they know how to fix your car. A bad artist stays a bad artist, no matter how many schools he can start.
AA: So you see a separation from your work coordinating MSA^ and your art practice?
PG: Obviously. I’m a very honest man.
AA: Dialogue seems to be the foundation of MSA^’s educational program. Does action or art making also play a role?
PG: No action or art making, it’s a school…
AA: If MSA^ is not the site for action or producing objects where is the appropriate place for that?
PG: The artist’s studio, it’s not art student’s business.
AA: I am interested in what made you decide to take a teaching position at UCLA? Did you consider teaching from within the framework of MSA^?
PG: I do not teach at MSA^, this is something Eric and I decided from the beginning. Don’t you think it would look weird to start your own school and also teach in it? I took the UCLA job because I was sure this would impress my mother, but then it lasted just a quarter. I think it’s very important for an artist to teach, it’s a part of his social duty, but this is different from his own practice, it’s more about sharing something, but not part of an art work.
AA: Can you tell me about the New Atlantis Enterprises (NEA)?
PG: A land where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit” were the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants. (Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis).
AA: You call it “a community conducting innovative research in the public interest at the request of individual donors and foundations.” Can you share any recent research requests you’ve had?
PG: We try to keep NAE jobs quite private, maybe that’s why we are in business. I also think this is a separate story. I think we shouldn’t confuse people with too many different things. I don’t think NAE has anything to do with MSA^, usually I’m pretty much always right but this time I may be wrong, you never know. This is the problem in life, nothing is right or at least nothing is for sure.