There, there

An Ode to “Behind The Scene(s)”

Towards unfinished projects

A few years ago, I wrote a short text for the Rice Architecture Journal about the value of the finished project in three exceptional architectural schools: the École des Beaux-Arts, the Bauhaus, and Black Mountain College. My key point was that, however open-ended the pedagogical approach, each of these schools focused on cultivating the notion of sharing work with the public at a stage defined either by the timeframe or by the agreement between the pedagogue and the student. Of course, each of these schools expanded the notion of architecture and offered its attendees numerous disciplines that broadened the horizon of one discipline and served knowledge production within the cultural field at large. The emergence of these schools was predicated by the particular historical time. The École des Beaux-Arts, among other fields, was an innovative educational institution of its time, pioneering the format of exhibiting works as part of the public event format. The Bauhaus emerged on the premise of intellectual curiosity that would respond to the demands of changes in socio-political attitudes immediately after the WWI period, as well as underscored by the developments in industry and technology. Black Mountain College in the US was formed post-WWII, with an immigration flow from Europe to the US and within the changes of attitudes towards modernism and the development of the American avant-garde scene. It must be noted that each of these schools, in a format underscored by its radically novel attitudes towards pedagogies and experimentation in learning and teaching approaches, existed for only a short period of time. In other words, each of these exceptional pedagogical experiments existed within the framework of its time, defined and constrained by the notion of socio-political, historical, and cultural zeitgeist.

In the artistic world, the blurred line between the finished project and the practice of an artist “behind the scenes” became evident in the second half of the 20th century, leading to the current merging of various forms of practices that, in their formal strategies, are indistinguishable from work on hire in various contexts other than artistic. Inevitably, many of these forms of artistic practice are bound by the participation of various stakeholders.

Within the historical narrative around participatory art, the evident transformation in the forms of engagement with broader audiences in performance art began to occur more actively during the mid-20th century and is closely linked to the political and social upheavals of the 1960s. The expansion of public engagement, coupled with rising political and social tensions, led to a heightened interest in participatory modes of art that sought to foster social interaction outside the confines of traditional museums. This era saw the emergence of various new forms of engagement, and Allan Kaprow’s Happenings were one of the pioneering artistic engagements with various audiences, participants, and peer artists, underscored as “an assemblage of events performed or perceived in more than one time and place,” highlighting its capacity to take place in diverse settings, whether planned or improvised (Kaprow, 1993). Within the artistic field, they were characterized by their lack of rehearsal, audience, or repetition, and at times antagonistic approaches towards their participants (Sontag 1966). While the “expanded” form of engagement within those avant-garde pieces was new to many and allowed for additional levels of improvisation, the authorship of the artist remained intact as scripts written as a guide for the Happenings were set within the familiar formal confines of a performative and theatrical framework. Interestingly, Kaprow, in addition to being a productive artist, was also a pedagogue who often involved his students as participants in Happenings. The aspect of his durational and practice-led role as a pedagogue, where he worked with the younger generations of artists, is among the most interesting parts of his artistic career. Chay Allen’s review of Kaprow’s teaching practices as part of what Allen called “Radical Pedagogy” sheds light on numerous interesting aspects within the Six Ordinary Happenings (1969), where his co-directorship of the Berkeley Unified School District’s educational experiment Project Other Ways from 1967 to 1968, as well as Message Units (1972) that developed during Kaprow’s tenure as Associate Dean of the School of Art at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). (Allen 2016) Allen’s research underscores the role of Kaprow’s pedagogy as a call for, first and foremost, practice-led research with performance art in focus. Furthermore, figures such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, who emerged as pioneering artists within their respective artistic trajectories, have complicated the notion of blurring the “behind-the-scenes” of artistic practice. Ukeles’s maintenance art was among the first works within a broader context of the 20th-century avant-garde to adopt the appearance of non-work and, specifically, service work. In 1969, Mierle Laderman Ukeles presented the “Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! Proposal for an Exhibition ‘CARE,'” emphasizing the Western cultural practice’s foundation on the Freudian dichotomy between the death instinct and the life instinct, with the latter being associated with the perpetuation and maintenance of the species and conventionally assigned to the female gender (Ukeles, 1971). Ukeles employed maintenance work as a form of performance during the 1960s and 1970s and subsequently engaged in a sustained artist-in-residency project with the New York Department of Sanitation. Her involvement in both domestic and public spheres underscores the evolving role and agency of the artist in Western society during the latter half of the 20th century, prompting inquiries into labor and value.

The opening up of the field continued to branch into new directions of artistic practices, and by the 1990s, as a result of the shift in the middle of the 20th century, artists in the Americas and Europe had transcended traditional disciplinary boundaries, engaging in diverse forms of labor within non-art contexts. From the 1990s, thinkers such as Claire Bishop, Shannon Jackson, Lucy Lippard, Miwon Kwon, Grant Kester, and others have written about the social turn and various forms of participatory strategies artists have engaged with and popularized throughout the second half of the 20th century and in the 21st century, proving that these forms of engagement are here to stay. Their open-ended nature, in conjunction with formal strategies, is indistinguishable from service work, organizational work, maintenance work, activism, and pedagogical practices, continuing to complicate the forms of socially-oriented practices and the discourse that addresses them within fields of theory and practice.

Indeed, the work that happens behind the scenes in every project that bears fruit at one point or another requires a substantial input of labor. Within durational formats, such as many pedagogical projects, certain milestones for the projects-in-progress are set to track the work development and allow for feedback exchange between the assisting and the performing task parties. Again, both of these require the input of time, skill, communication efforts, and labor, setting forth the liminal space between the “behind-the-scenes” and “shared with the public.”
It is specifically within the confines of this unconfined “work-in-progress” space of experimentation, feeding from other side projects and countless hours of unpaid labor with trials and errors, that make the work on “work” possible in the first place.

SoCial space: “behind the scenes”

The School of Commons that the “There, there” working group joined as participants in the 2023 Cohort provided the group with a curriculum surprisingly close to its title. While each of the groups and individuals applied with their project that was yet to be developed throughout the year, the majority of the time within our Focus Group (a smaller group focused on developing several contributions to SoC), we were truly engaged in testing the “school” format and the “commons” format regarding role-establishing and idea-generating.

The first half of the year within SoC was dedicated to getting to know the values and aspirations of focus group participants, and each bi-weekly meeting was dedicated to re-introducing our moods and feelings with ice-breakers, followed by discussing what aspects and ideas unite us. However, knowing that the common task for focus groups was to find a common thread between the projects and practices involved within the SoC and produce material for the podcast, as well as to develop a sharing session, the group soon entered the phase of organizational arrangements. This was a natural flow of discussion. However, it allowed no time at all to bring forth feedback sessions and exchange ideas regarding the projects that people in the group had applied. Moreover, the choice of the public sharing moment in our focus group was distinctly different from some other focus groups that chose an offered version of a lecture with an invited practitioner in the field of interest. Our group, however, delved into a space of co-curating and co-organizing a shared experience – a cooking session open to the public. This choice, initially predicated by the shared values of nourishing the community space and finding food to be a unifying and culturally diverse factor allowing for various identities to be expressed and common space to be shared, involved numerous tasks with regard to ideation, facilitation, and implementation. Each phase had fewer and fewer people being active in the group, allowing those who were more active during this intense phase to know each other better. With the load of organizational work that underlined the public sharing event, many people’s concern about the shift of attention from their submitted project to the project expected on the part of the focus group had proven to be an issue for some of the participants in the group. Perhaps due to this aspect, the participation of some people in the process after the bi-weekly meetings had ended became very minimal, and, understandably, it was clear that there was a lack of investment in a common project and focus on a personal project.

However, looking back at the year, the year-long development of the common project, in fact, took a truly learning and pedagogical experience. A model of micro-society with people who agreed to come together, think together, and generate together something that they hadn’t done before in the company of people they found themselves with, in a setting and context that was new to them. With this, the focus group tasks, while taking away from the agenda of the individual project, nevertheless, turned out to be a true learning experiment where hands-on testing of ideas that we write about outside of the SoC context, ideals that we strive to in society (civil participation, inclusion and appreciation of differences, shifting roles and democratic decision-making, horizontal structures that yet have a limited time to accomplish tasks efficiently and yet be process-driven and open-ended) with the embodied presence as part of this experiment that was run throughout the year with other people.

Hopefully, these “behind-the-scenes” reflections have emerged in other groups’ and individuals’ contemplation of this year’s work and participation in SoC.

SoCial space: Outside SoC

Artistic research, a relatively recent and innovative form of artistic practice that merges the creative process with academic inquiry, nevertheless has roots in the very traditional apprentice model – one joins the process and learns “hands-on” from the master within the environment. Today’s definition underscores the expansion of traditional artistic boundaries and embraces an interdisciplinary approach, encouraging collaboration between artists and scholars from diverse fields. Unlike conventional art forms that prioritize final artworks, artistic research places equal importance on the process itself, promoting critical inquiry, exploration, and experimentation. Documentation is pivotal, with artists producing written texts, visual records, or multimedia presentations to capture their research journey. The outcomes of artistic research are open-ended, ranging from exhibitions and performances to publications and installations, challenging established artistic norms. This form of research is subject to peer review and aims to contribute to both artistic practice and academic knowledge, often addressing contemporary issues and pushing the boundaries of art. With growing recognition in academia and alternative institutions, artistic research has ignited debates about the nature of art and the role of creativity in research, shaping the evolving landscape of contemporary art and scholarship. Within the context of the SoC curriculum and the distribution of work efforts throughout the year, artistic research, we would argue, involves the reality of the interdependence of projects that are done throughout the year outside of the SoC curriculum that yet feeds it.

In the same vein, Kim Grant’s “All About Process: The Theory and Discourse of Modern Artistic Labor” delves into the concept of the artistic process rather than focusing on deadlines in the artistic field. Her analysis emphasizes the growing importance of the process in modern and contemporary art, examining how this shift affects the understanding of art, art-making, and the artist’s role in society. The book highlights that many artists now prioritize the process of creation over the final artwork, showing a commitment to creative labor and allowing their work to evolve naturally. While Grant explores the contrast between artistic creation and utilitarian or industrial production, she notes the physicality and often endless nature of the artist’s work, which lacks a clear goal and differs from the production of utilitarian objects. This positions the artist’s process as a self-sufficient activity without a certain end.

Framing the process of work outside of the SoC by the “There, there” working group over the course of 2023, this text attempts to celebrate the hidden “behind-the-scenes” of the artists’ work that fed and continues to fuel the work on podcasts that has been set within the floating lines of delivery. Provided that these creative practitioners gather tangible and intangible materials as well as contacts for the podcast project, in many cases, that are yet to gain form, a brief outline of the occasions to meet and gain insights on the course of their creative practices is shown below.

Perhaps the primary two aspects of our ideation of podcast themes and episodes happen and continue to take place in the mode of relational work – in our research and doing events with different people. Creating connections and working with people allows for ideas to be discovered and generated in relationships, especially in the context in which the world operates – within and outside of institutional frameworks. On the one hand, the “There, there” team operates part-time within these institutions. On the other hand, the “There, there” team also challenges the established norms by proposing alternative ways to be within institutions, exploring practices that have been challenging institutional frameworks for a longer time, and proposing mechanisms of working within these institutions differently. Considering that Lena, Luise, and Sabrina are all on the path towards writing their doctoral dissertations while at the same time operating within the domain of practice-driven research within the fields of institutional critique, community work, feminist practices, and alternatives to academic forms of knowledge production and dissemination, these three have also worked throughout 2023 on their projects outside of SoC. These, while being kept behind the scenes, will undoubtedly influence their work on podcasts in 2024.

The second huge aspect of the work that we are doing is focused on working with communities – people who are interested in being together and sharing activities that help us nurture relationships, establish friendships, and create safe spaces to be ourselves without judgments and prejudices. Often, these endeavors are long-lasting, and events that frame certain milestones as dates on a calendar are simply markers that allow the world to discover what has been there all along. Workshops are part of these markers because they signify both open-to-public events and a long-standing practice that happens behind the scenes.

And, of course, one of the continuous efforts throughout the year was in collecting sounds for the upcoming podcasts – playing, recording, and testing ideas. And within the “There, there” crew, there are three artists who primarily work with sound: the 2vvo duo and Germain. Throughout the year, Eldar and Lena have organized a series of events that have produced a substantial collection of recorded material for the “There, there” project. The original nature of the sound is yet to be used as a backdrop to stories, conversations, or published as independent material as part of the project. However, as an “ode to behind-the-scenes,” we wanted to publish an array of occasions that during 2023 allowed Eldar and Germain to practice their skills, to come up with and test ideas, and, as a result of this work, collect material for the “There, there” podcast in 2024.

In conclusion, it is evident that the work undertaken by the “There, there” team throughout 2023, both within and beyond the School of Commons (SoC) curriculum, has been pivotal in shaping their upcoming podcast series. The team’s dedication to community engagement and the nurturing of relationships through shared activities has not only fostered a creative and inclusive environment but also provided a wealth of content and inspiration. The array of events orchestrated by Eldar Tagi and Germain, especially those centered around sound, has amassed a substantial collection of material poised to enrich the auditory experience of the podcast. Meanwhile, Sabrina and Luise’s continuous work and research practice have expanded the horizons and geographical reach of the podcast. Additionally, Anna and Lena’s engagement with various communities has facilitated numerous learning opportunities in relational work.

This retrospective on the “behind-the-scenes” efforts of the “There, there” working group underscores that creative practice is an ongoing process of learning and unlearning, involving collaboration with communities and groups. All these diverse projects undertaken by the team have become an integral part of the SoC curriculum, highlighting the interconnectedness of their work.

This piece is written in solidarity with communities of creative workers who, despite being constrained by the pressures of end-product-oriented demands, the chains of capitalistic production, and the neoliberal ideology of production, continue to resist and persist. They incorporate their lived experiences to broaden and deepen their practices, reflecting a commitment to more than just survival in a challenging environment but also to the flourishing of creative expression and community engagement.


​​Grant, K. (2017). All about process: The theory and discourse of modern artistic labor. Penn State Press.

Sontag, S. (1966). Happenings: an art of radical juxtaposition. Against Interpretation, 263-74.

Ukeles, M. L. (2018). Manifesto for Maintenance Art 1969! Proposal for an exhibition” CARE”. Journal of Contemporary Painting, 4(2), 233-238.

Ukeles, M. L., & Works, M. A. (1969). Mierle Laderman Ukeles. New York: Feldman Gallery.

Published 12/30/2023