Neil Mulholland 


Shift/Work has arisen from a number of learning experiments conducted in Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and at Edinburgh College of Art. Our shared concern is with addressing the failings of neoliberal art education in the Anglosphere that focuses solely on nurturing personal ontology. The unquestioned assumption here is that art (and education) is concerned with personal development, self-awareness, auto-critique, self-confidence… Today’s artists and art students compete to develop a private index of values, and thus to invalidate the research-value of their work as a transferable contribution to knowledge. The self-centredness of creative personal ontology encourages an apolitical and fallacious solipsism that does not develop practice or generate research. Shift/Work supports social actors who are learners within communities of practice. Key to this is an open engagement with practice (work) as a means of both generating and transferring new knowledge (shift). Shift/Work is an attempt to establish a collective ontology for practice, creating process-led pedagogy, critically reflecting upon the learning processes involved, and disseminating research on a share-and-share-alike basis. This paper describes and analyses the genesis of Shift/Work as an ongoing iterative process. 

The Locked Room (Redux)

Studio C02, Edinburgh College of Art, 2010

Sander Schoonbeek

'Recreate a Poster You Had as a Teenager' (2010)

Assignment from Learning to Love You More

Peter Hill 'Superfictions' (2011)

C02, Edinburgh College of Art

Terry Atkinson Masterclass

Studio C02, Edinburgh College of Art,

March 2011

Steven Campbell Trust Masterclass with Bruce McLean

Whitespace, Edinburgh, March 2011.

Shift/Work August 2011

Keith Farquhar Blue (2011)

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Published by Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, 2011.

Click the blue image above to download the publication.

Shift/Work August 2011

Tobias Sternberg Temporary Repair Workshop (2011)

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Shift/Work August 2011

Sarah Tripp Triad Tutorials (2011)

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Public School, September 2011

Stephen Hurrell Undeclared Public Art, Unconscious Gestures, Minuments and Monuments
Portobello, Edinburgh, September 2011.

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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

I've had enough of scheming and messing around with jerks...

The accreditation and systematisation of art education to officially conform with liberal perceptions of agency is nothing new, it has proceeded apace in the UK since the 1950s. Despite the critical impact of complimentary studies and the explosion of intermediality in this period, mercantile methods of production - assessing individually and focusing on the foundation of ‘heroic’, authentic practices - have remained firmly in place in many art schools. This is the product of a liberal perception of artistic agency, one in which agents market their labour as a commodity. The contemporary art market, while unregulated, has been a relatively ‘fixed’ mercantile economy designed to distribute the products of such forms of artistic labour. Given the parameters of academic achievement in the art school, the art market, as opposed to the public sector, has consistently remained the received method of distribution and thus the idealised career goal for the artist embarking upon a studio practice. 


The biography of market success in the liberal model of art education remained sketchily defined, a caricature of sorts. An unshakable faith in the market’s ability to reward ‘genuine talent’ combined with liberal perceptions of artistic autonomy, prevented any systematic thinking about the prosaic business of establishing a practice as if it were a business. Perceived as a structural flaw, this gap has paved the way for the neoliberalisation of art education across the Anglosphere. 


While transforming educational institutions into brands and establishing education as a commodity, neoliberals have focused more assertively on the formation of tactical allegiances and elective affinities that they regard to produce the optimum conditions for agents to emerge successfully in marketplaces. Neoliberals claim to have a more open conception of what the art market might become than their liberal counterparts, promising to help would-be artists find many ways of working in a world that favours adaptive flexibility over structural stability. Pedagogical issues regarding the nature of curriculae or their hand in the difficult development of ambitious artistic practices, however, still remain off the agenda. Instead, the ‘usability’ of allegiances formed in the right art school dominate since they are seen as paramount to reducing the ever present risk of becoming an ‘unsuccessful’ artist. 


Among the origin myths fostered by neoliberal art education, therefore, being in the right place at the right time, in the right art school with the right peer group, is presented as a key factor in opening access to professional opportunities and (self)employability. [1] Art schools taking a neoliberal turn were those quickest to remind us of their famous alumni - to capitalise on their officially sanctioned art prizes and access to private markets - ignoring threads of practices pursued or abandoned by the vast majority of their graduates. [2] Like its alumni, the neoliberal art school’s corporate self-image is, inevitably, self-improving, highly edited and notoriously difficult to verify. 

Neoliberalism exasperates the idea that art education can generate the precise conditions required to release ‘creative potential’. This has led to a fixation with self-reflexivity. Personal development, self-awareness, auto-critique, self-confidence… are all manifestations of neoliberal agency. They imagine the artist as an actor who seeks primarily to know (and manage) thy self. This is a form of professional solipsism, discouraging artists from conducting research on the world around them, or on any fields that lie beyond what they already know. Instead, art students develop a private index of values, endlessly looping back, mobius-like, to a self-citing logic. [3] So, the self-aggrandisment and narcissism of the alma mater is forever carried forth by its alumni. [4]


The neoliberalisation of art education in the 1990s and 2000s was often accompanied by critical approaches to complementary studies that denaturalised the foundational myths of creativity, personhood, subjectivity and possessive individualism that can flourish in a studio-based environment. Complimentary studies consistently presented a critique of the economicisation of culture in contradistinction to both liberalism and neoliberalism. The broadening of critical debates and methodological extradisciplinarity encouraged through complimentary studies also appeared to run counter to the managerial trend in education in the 2000s to instrumentalise uniform mantras of student-centred learning, ‘outcomes’ and personalised ontologies in the form of personal development planning (PDP) and professional practice. [5] As the market swelled in the 1990s and 2000s, complimentary studies seasoned resistance to liberalism appeared increasingly inconvenient. The market’s promise to limit the public accountability of the artist, however, still offered a path of least resistance to ambitious graduates. 


Reforms to assessment systems and the introduction of assessed criteria of professional practice filled the space that was otherwise left vacant by the, relatively, more idealistic and unruly purveyors of studio-practice and complimentary studies. Alignment of assessment processes and accreditation promised to produce a coherent artistic pedagogy. Incoherence was arguably a strength of the extant system in as much as it had the potential to generate a productive tension between theory and practice, encouraging students to look beyond the horizons of the institution’s conception of what constituted valid practice. The Bologna Process, designed to achieve alignment and mobility across the European Union, has been hijacked by neoliberal reformers as a means to eradicate such productive contradictions by the back door, to change the syllabus by transforming the way that students’ work was evaluated. A corollary of such generic reforms has been to introduce PDP and ‘professional practice’ as required learning outcomes, separating out and accounting for processes of ‘personal asset management’ that would have been contingent to experiential learning. In its overarching emphasis on self-development-as-pedagogy every corner of the art school became implicated in “a move from the liberal vision of people owning themselves as though they were property to a neoliberal vision of people owning themselves as though they were a business.” [6]


The neoliberal perception of the self as a reflexive, socially constructed, ever-improving bundle of skills and assets is one fully embraced by outcomes-based assessment processes and by PDP. To implement this, the media-specific artist-that-teaches in the liberal art school has gradually been superceded by the professional artist-facilitator, the expert as “someone with the unique reflexive role of explaining to other autonomous entities how to manage themselves more successfully.” [7] Complimentary studies has had to recognise that it shares elements of neoliberalism’s reflexive understanding of agency and of markets as constructed entities. It has also been argued that the neoliberal position was unwittingly aided and abetted by post-studio art’s disciplinary nomadism. A focus on the qualities of extradisciplinarity and intermediality that flourish in contemporary art ensures that art students no longer have the time to acquire the inert habits of liberal forms of labour associated with mastering established artistic media. 


So, the neoliberalisation of the self does not solely account for why so much artistic pedagogy has focused on self-development and reflexivity since the 1990s. We have to consider aspects of complimentary studies and post-studio practices that coalesce with, but remain independent from the neoliberal project. That the language and teleological bias of the market economy has encroached upon the education of ‘creatives’ is as obvious as it is well documented. However, the perception of artists as pioneering neoliberal agents primed to enter into mutually beneficial partnerships, is, at best, partial. 


It would be naive to assume that the artworld into which art students emerge is already neoliberal in structure. On the contrary, a pre-industrial, liberal, mercantile economy still dominates the art market. But the art market is by no means synonymous with the artworld. Ironically, it is the public and not-for-profit sectors of the art world that have most enthusiastically adopted a neoliberal argot, but they do so only to ensure they can continue to access the (liberal) state support that makes such demands of them. As a community of practice, the artworld isn’t the most likely place in which to find supporters of the neoliberal agenda. In short, few aspects of the artworld provide a professional business minded context in which ‘rational’ neoliberal agents might conduct themselves responsibly. As such, focusing on preparing students to enter an allegedly neoliberal artistic market does not prepare them for the diversity of the artworld’s value systems. 


The more instrumental aspects of neoliberal art education - professional practice and PDP - are a vain attempt to formalise something that was, in the 1990s at least, seen as being unteachable: opportunism. The problem with such instrumentalism is not such much that it assumes art to be a form of entrepreneurialism, but, as Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold have argued, that there is “no script for social and cultural life.” [8] To put this in neoliberal terms, since neoliberal agents need to continually recalibrate their selves in order to generate new markets there can be no singular predetermined toolbox of best practice for the artist to follow. Either way, this means that art education cannot proceed from the position that it knows what best practice is; it should be, rather, motivated by aiding speculation on what it might be.

Old Skool, Freestyle

In the winter of 2010, I initiated a series of learning experiments with MFA students at Edinburgh College of Art that began with some informal discussions around art education. The sessions were largely improvised, designed to fill a gap left by a defunct and much unloved ‘professional practice’ course. The focus on art education was the suggestion of the students. The sessions did not contribute to an assessed component of their programme, nor was it part of a ‘research project’ that was expected to conclude or reach any particular goal. Since it had no place in the curriculum, it was conducted in our own spare time. Students who were interested attended, those who weren’t didn’t. It began simply as an attempt to address other ways in which art education had been organised prior to the ascendance of the post-studio neoliberal art school. 


While coming from wide range of international backgrounds, the students involved shared remarkably similar experiences of professional practice as a broad attempt to economise culture and introduce a managerial discourse. In the period between the bursting of the dot-com bubble and full global economic meltdown, this generation of MFA students were seduced as consumers of a schooling that promised not only to broker direct access to the market but that claimed to hold the keys to a thriving, recalibrated creative economy. The MFA became the new MBA. [9] Following the crash, a key challenge has been imagining an art school that does not claim to have built a yellow brick road to the Emerald City. What should we now value in art education, after the creative economy? 


The students were already conversant with contemporary pedagogical speculation such as Steven Henry Madoff’s Art School: Propositions for the 21st Century, which featured many familiar contemporary curatorial and artistic voices. This felt very much like a continuation of what Lars Bang Larsen call 'The Long Nineties', a preoccupation with the social turn and the (not so) new institutionalism. Since these debates focused so heavily on the present, they didn't offer up any alternate histories with which we might play. We therefore went back to reading from the trinity of radical pedagogy (Freire, Rancière and Illich) before focusing more specifically on the genesis of the MFA, an American programme that, somehow, managed to take root in Scotland in the 1990s. [10] This combination began to provide an historical understanding of the MFA.

The students then followed their noses, continuing to look backwards, rather than sideways or forwards. Investigating radical pedagogy pointed them towards infamous experimental courses from Britain in the 1960s and 1970s rather than the overfamiliar contemporary art school curriculae of the 1990s and 2000s. [11] Each old course that they examined suggested another lost educational gem, each opening up onto a different set of issues. A key desire here was to recover the ‘improvisation’ allegedly managed out of the art school. This raised the spectre of art education as a hitherto ‘unstructured’ space. We soon learned that this widespread nostalgia was perhaps misplaced since the unstructured art school never really existed. For example, the shift in the British Isles towards Diplomas and Degrees in the early 1960s simply replaced an implicit and opaque structure with a more explicit model no better or worse that the one it succeeded. Looking back at this transitional period, a different narrative emerges. The art schools actively engaging with educational reform in the 1960s and 1970s were more overtly concerned with models of learning that were action-based, often collective and that had no expectations of an outcome (whether that be in terms of knowledge or commerce). Such experiments led students to a different level of awareness of the relations of production, distribution and consumption - often undermining these divisions. They offered invocations of agency, practice and community that were as sophisticated and complex as they were controversial. Crucially, they engaged with theory in praxis.


The educational experiments that were of particular interest to MFA students were those that were the most short lived: the St. Martin’s Sculpture Course ‘A’ of the early 1970s, Coventry’s Art Theory course in the same period and Roy Ascott’s Groundcourse of the mid-1960s. It is now relatively easy for students to research and explore these courses in depth - St. Martin’s having run a research project on the ‘A’ Course as part of the University of the Arts London’s Shaping Sculpture season [12], Roy Ascott and his former students remaining a fountain of information on Groundcourse, and Coventry’s Lanchester Gallery Projects (LGP) examining the legacy of Art & Language’s teaching in the early 1970s. LGP held a conference in November 2010 that featured leading academics, artists, curators and writers gathered to examine the echoes of events at Coventry School of Art & Design 1968-72 and look at current art educational practice and its perceived systematised failures and successes. [13] It examined the role that the regional art education institution played in the art education narrative and its significance to the wider counter culture of the 1970s: 


“In the late sixties and early seventies, CSAD held a vital subset of staff and students who together were responsible for formidable critical opposition to the art education model's perceived compliance with the market definition of the art object and its reliance on the centrality of the author. The Art and Language collective's critical agenda was to shift focus beyond the material paradigm and to construct an education capable of reflecting and promoting conceptual practice. The seventies administration of CSAD repelled this self conscious overturn of the traditional material/author-centric regime. This unyielding stance, common through regional art schools at that time, created a network of opposing force which became part of the wider counter culture of the decade. The symposium looked at the significant role that regional art schools played in the art education narrative and examine how, if at all, the art education institution can function as a site of self-organisation, agitation and change.” [14] 

Importantly, this raised awareness of the importance of regional English art schools in pioneering innovative ways of learning, countering the metrocentrism that is embodied in neoliberal concept of the 'creative city'. The LGP symposium presented a number of models of art education that can be considered to continue where the CSAD Art Theory programme left off, notably, Prof Neil Cummings presentation of the work of the Critical Practice group at Chelsea College of Art & Design. 


The LGP symposium feed into our particular fixation with English art schools of the early 1970s, a period in which such experiments were in their infancy. Despite having access to primary accounts of art courses from the 1970s, there remained an element of mythology, of conflicting readings and accounts. Discussion of them alone would take you back to questions of authorship, intent, and experience that were, largely, rehearsed and impregnable. An important difference, however, was that such art school experiments offered a more transparent pedagogy that could be regenerated, reconfigured and re-staged as if it were a musical score. It invited a praxis-based approach, a restaging of what can be resurrected. And so, the infamous Locked Room element of Sculpture Course ‘A’ was reanimated in an isolated studio in Edinburgh College of Art under conditions as close as possible to those originally generated by course authors Peter Kardia, Garth Evans, Gareth Jones and Peter Harvey. Participants worked in silence, obeying a very limited set of rules that were pasted to the wall of the room. 


“They were not allowed to leave the room, and remained under the staff’s constant surveillance. Each student was given one particular material - it might be a block of polystyrene, or a bag of plaster. With this they had to work for an unspecified period of time, with no critical feedback from their tutors.” [15]



The participants who engaged in the redux process had no knowledge of the course or of the recent debates that emerged around it in the wake of St. Martin’s research project and so experienced it for the first time. Working within a very limited set of parameters, the participants improvised in Hallam and Ingold’s generational, relational and temporal sense. Their actions were observed and noted by a participant playing the role of ‘staff’. The learning experience was one shared by all participants, staff and students alike. "Authentic education is not carried out by 'A' for 'B', or by 'A' about 'B', but rather by 'A' with 'B', mediated by the world - a world which impresses and challenges both parties [...]" [16]



Elements of Groundcourse that generated particular interest were those that lent themselves to being restaged with a view to gaining an understanding of them experientially as well as theoretically. The Groundcourse was a two year foundation that started at Ipswich School of Art in 1961. Discussions of this course now tend to focus on its impact upon online learning environments, cybernetic art and some of Ascott’s more utopian predictions regarding the world wide web (what he termed ‘telematic’ art). While all of these aspects of Groundcourse are particularly relevant today, we need to remember that the course emerged from a period when artists where engaging in behaviourism and systems theory. Both fields offered new approaches to knowledge that went far beyond the perceived limitations of art school pedagogy. The art school of the early 1960s, given its social nature and ’improvised’ pedagogic structure, was an ideal platform in which to test out these new ideas.


One of the main drivers of the Groundcourse was Ascott’s idea of the ‘irritant’. This involved introducing rules or conditions that could facilitate self-consciousness in learning. The irritant is sand in the Vaseline - since it cannot be removed or ignored it must be negotiated. The irritant acts as an obstacle around which learning takes place. For Ascott, this enabled ‘learning from the ground up’. A good example of the irritant is the ‘contra personality’ experiment, wherein students would spend ten weeks of their second year living out a character that they regarded to be contradistinctive to their own. This encouraged the students to think about two polarities of a practice: the compositional and the ethical. 


On the one hand, they had to establish what, if anything, was peculiar or distinctive about their practice. How did they pursue their work? What would it involve to proceed in the opposite direction? The list of compositional possibilities here for defamiliarisation were endless. This aspect of the contra is borne out in Brian Eno [17] and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies (1975), a pack of cards that randomly issue compositional advice to the artist. For example, the ‘reverse an axiom’ card is, essentially, an instruction to enact the contra move. In practice this was relational, actions would be determined by what you happened to be doing at the time. If you are playing a drum loudly, then you might choose to drum softly. If you were sculpting, you might switch to painting. Taken this way, the contra experiment seems to encourage deskilling and unlearning.


The contra experiment also asks participants to consider what is distinctive about their personality. Did they have any unique habits, did they respond to others in a predictable way, did they harbour any assumptions about the world? This aspect of the experiment is comparable to other alter egos in the arts, such as the motif of ‘Bunberrying’ in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest or the character George Costanza doing ‘The Opposite’ in the long running TV sitcom Seinfeld. [18] In the hands of the aesthete, the contra experiment encourages experimentation with artistic licence, fantasy and role play. It has particular resonance today due to the everyday use of avatars in online games and chatrooms. It’s no accident that there is a SecondLife version of the Groundcourse ground<c> [19] This aspect of the contra experiment encourages artists to consider the consequences of their actions - do they act in their own interests, in the best interests of others, or in the interests of their practice? The most important lesson here for future Shift/Workshops was understanding the means by which the contra experiment required participants to continually recalibrate the conditions of their practice for themselves, to invent a number of selves adapted to the circumstances in which they chose to work. This resonated with the MFAs’ own exposure to neoliberal theories of agency in their own art education. As a means of becoming more aware of the limited conditions of a practice, the irritant certainly gave artists a method for mastering the shifting contexts in which art is produced, but it did so in a way that was not instrumental, not bound to a limited range of ‘markets’ or predisposed outcomes.


The MFA students sought out other courses that involved generating and working with avatars and irritants, restaging elements of the online art assignments of Learning to Love You More (2002-09). [20] This project, by artists Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July [21], involved placing a series of assignments online to which participants around the world could post their own responses. The assignments were open, anyone could follow them who chose to do so, and deskilled in the sense that they required no specific prerequisite skill set. The MFA worked on one the assignments: 18.Recreate a poster you had as a teenager. This worked particularly well as an ice breaker while giving an unexpected and amusing insight into the foundations of a number of their practices. Learning to Love You More opened up a number of possibilities to consider further in what would become Shift/Work. It involved a gifting of its pedagogy, it was often playful and irreverent and it invited collective production. These principals carried into the workshop that followed.


We next invited the Sydney-based artist Peter Hill to run his Superfictions masterclass. Originally conceived in the late 1980s, Superfictions are imaginary artworlds populated by imagined artists, dealers, writers, critics and curators. Hill has been collecting examples of such superfictions for over twenty years while busily generating his own. Working with Hill made a lot of sense given the correlations between his project and the contra experiment. Superfictions took the workshops model in a more speculative and fictional direction, incorporating writing into the process. His workshop involved a discussion of the genesis of the superfiction as a scripting of practice in various forms (metafiction, speculative, parallel....). Participants proceeded to develop their own superfiction, inventing institutions, actors and interrelations to populate their fiction. The workshop was an exercise in generating an infrastructure based on desire rather than on calculated adaptation to given marketable circumstances. While it’s speculative in nature, it establishes a better understanding of the personal and infrastructural compromises that might be required to produce ambitious art. It also offers the alternative option of remaining true to an ideal in the unrealised potential of the Superfiction. 

A preoccupation with British art school experiments of the '70s persisted. In March of 2011, Terry Atkinson was invited to speak to the MFAs in Edinburgh about Coventry’s Art Theory course, placing this in the context of his own art education at the Slade. A few days later, curator Grianne Rice hosted Bruce McLean in Edinburgh where he run the first annual Steven Campbell Trust Master Class, a workshop that conflated his own practice with an impromptu restaging of an early performance by Steven Campbell. [22]


The results of this process were invigorating. Although such courses were historical objects of enquiry, it was possible to liberate them from their historical contexts and give them new form in the present. A form of participant observation meant that those involved in the process could learn together and effect each others experiences iteratively. 

Uncreative Scotland

While these experiments were taking place, I was in working independently with Dan Brown from Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (ESW) to produce a project for the Edinburgh Art Festival. ESW were keen to make the most of their status, at the time, as a workshop and studio complex with little or no exhibition space. ESW’s public events programme is often workshop based and it is widely known for its ILA registered courses. It therefore made sense to build upon what had become the focus on the MFA ‘art school’ seminars - namely, the establishment of a curriculum that could be experienced collectively and later transferred, translated and restaged in different contexts. 


It is important to situate this in the context of the Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) which is, essentially, a branding exercise, one that is mainly designed to draw attention to visual art events and exhibitions that happen to be on during the Festivals period in August. It is not a curated festival or selected biennial but, rather, a shop window to allow festival visitors to negotiate the very overcrowded marketplace of the world’s largest arts festival. In a sense, it follows the laissez faire model of the Fringe: if you can find a venue and have the cash to pay for it and the Fringe’s admin fee, you are in. To an extent, this explains Shift/Work’s rationale:


“The sites in which art is made and the myriad ways in which it is supported are increasingly overlooked, festival culture being fixated with the quantifiable outcomes of homo economicus: the tourist spectacle, the brand, the product. Workshops and studios such as Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop are more often concerned with non-economic work, work that can’t be easily quantified, with the process of learning through action. To make art and money involves a combination of shadow work and shiftwork, the patterns of which largely remain invisible. The expansion of Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop’s facilities and studios should encourage us to reconsider the ways in which publicly funded arts organisations might best facilitate comprehensive approaches to production rather than novel ways of fetishising consumption.” [23]



EAF is the consumerist model of the arts par excellence, one that is neatly aligned with both the neoliberal government body Creative Scotland and Scotland’s outcomes based education system. [24] EAF is complicitous with the export sector of the visual arts in Scotland - that is, with an attempt to brandalise ‘Scottish Art’ and ‘Scottish Artists’ as internationally successful “investment opportunities’ and to spin only positive stories of their glamourous consumption. [25] ESW comes from a very different time and place. It is the last in a series of studios established in Scotland since 1977, when an organised group of artists took a leaf out of ACME and SPACE’s books to establish WASPS (Working Artists Studio Provision Scotland). Since then, the emphasis in such artist-led workshops and studios has remained resolutely with production rather than exhibition and event programming. This does not square well with Creative Scotland’s conspicuous consumption, a recent chapter in the long history of cultural and personal commoditisation. If the EAF was an ideal structure within which to research the implications of Creative Scotland’s wholesale application of neoliberal logic, the dilapidated ESW, on the brink of moving to a new purpose-built workshop, was an ideal venue for this research to take place. The first Shift/Work, then, was initially predicated on deliberate overidentification with the strange bedfellows of EAF and ESW. 


ESW collaborated with me in devising a rota-based curriculum that would draw attention to the workshop as a convivial means of production and distribution. Artists would take on the temporary role of ‘shift-supervisors’, employed to assist twelve invited participants in their learning through on-the-job training in the ‘shiftworkplace’. [26] Most of the participants were artists who were interested in working with other artists for a period of intense activity. They agreed, contractually, to be become ‘shiftworkers’ - temporarily renouncing their own practices to participate in collective shiftwork. 


Consistent with post-Fordist small-batch production, a flexible form of labour that is valourised in neoliberal creative economics, each intensive two-day workshop would be an isolated shift. The shift supervisor and shiftworkers would have no detailed knowledge of the other workshops to follow in the cycle, and so, no sense of the integrated ‘outcome’, or product of, their labour. [27] Each shift would feature a core of skill-flexible shiftworkers working with a flexible structure of supervision to a fixed sequence of shifts. The shift pattern would ensure that productivity levels were maximised over the period of the project. This format was designed to parallel Creative Scotland’s neoliberalisation of art as a series of temporary ‘investment opportunities’ that emerge strictly on a project-by-project basis. Instead of focusing on project outcomes, the nominally invisible investment of the shiftworkers and shift supervisors would be methodically indexed by documenting the working process in a time and motion study. Thus, the business school language of ‘investors’, ‘partners’ and ‘investment opportunities’ promulgated by Creative Scotland was embraced as a form of black propaganda, precarity taken not just as read but as the bulwark for artistic practice.


ESW commissioned three closely related workshops. Three artists were asked to create a two day ‘shift’ in which they would supervise the practical exploration of an aspect of their own practice. Artists were selected rather than invited to apply for the project since they required plenty of run-in time to develop their shift in consultation with myself and for ESW to resource it adequately. It was also important to establish the shift supervisors as early as possible to encourage shiftworkers to sign up for and commit to the shifts. The artistic reputation of the shift supervisors was the primary attraction the format of the shifts was not divulged. In making the selection, it was important to ensure that the supervisors had a clear engagement with ESW’s emphasis on working practice. To this end, we shortlisted artists who worked iteratively and who manifested the format of the ‘workshop’ in their practice. While they would not develop their workshop alone, it was crucial that they already knew how to stage a process sequentially. It was important that these common methods were engaged in a number of different ways by the project as a whole - that intermediality was foregrounded. Lastly, since our budget was very limited, we restricted ourselves to inviting one non-UK based artist.


It was crucial that the shift supervisor and shiftworkers would learn from each other, the learning process evolving in a way that would be shaped by the cumulative sequence of events in each shift. So, while each shift was ostensibly highly regulated, there was, in practice, room for cultural improvisation and intense specialisation. Also, unlike compagnon, shiftworkers were not expected to produce a masterpiece, indeed there was no expectation of any particular ‘integrated outcome’ at all. The learning process was paramount. This also dovetailed well with the demo culture of the maker. Shift/Work would produce a productive tension between very real constraints on time and resources and the allegedly infinite liberalisation of labour and deskilling valourised by post-Fordism.


The first shift was supervised by the Edinburgh-based artist Keith Farquhar: 


“The participants in this exercise are placed in two groups, in this case the Green team and the Blue team. Each team is then split in half.


Each group is given an initial word and a camera phone. Half of each team is then asked to take a photo that they think corresponds to this word and email it to the other members of their team. Collectively, these other members attempt to find as-close-as-possible a match from the entire available images on the web. When they are satisfied that they have the best match (aesthetically, formally and/or conceptually) they should take a note of the website containing this corresponding image. A relevant word is chosen from the website’s title page and is texted back to the awaiting members with the camera phones. These members in the field then take another photo illustrating this word and once more email it back to be matched to a web image. Another word is procured in this way and texted back and so on and so on. The exercise forms a loop which can be continued indefinitely to generate images that evolve and mutate from each other in ways which stimulate creative decision-making and group discussion.” [28]



This first shift foregrounded the post-Fordism’s romance with information technology, applying an allegedly defunct technology (SMS/MMS) to creative ends. The continuing popularity of SMS over automatic geolocation-based messaging is related to a need to find a sensorial dimension for immaterial experiences. [29] In this light, Farqhar’s shift functioned as a ‘ham radio’ of the semantic environment, using SMS and MMS rather than more recent and much more accurate geolocation devices such as RFID and WiFi, technologies that are posterboys of the creative economy. A deliberate attempt to simplify geocaching parlour games, this shift was a good example of ‘hypo-technology’, a mix of anachronistic and new technologies applied to minimal compositional play. 


The groups worked quickly in relay to generate a series of images that were iterated by the decisions of each group. Three participants would debate the choices on each occasion that they were required to send or receive data. The shiftworkers just as quickly started to find ways to increase the ambition of the challenges they set each other, playing a game of brinkmanship. The two groups generated their own mnemosynes of their image-texts, finally deciding to compile them into two rival books and publish them through ESW as Green and Blue. While it began with no particular end in sight, Farquhar’s shift found its own conclusion in the production of a non-repeating pattern. The publications produced through the workshop always have the same catalyst (a photograph of stone sculpture of a sleeping lion) but would generate different narratives in a garden of forking paths. The publications that ensue form part of a series, but no two will ever be the same. 


In making explicit causal relations between online and offline environments, shiftworkers engaged with the consequences of working in a virtual world. Information sent out the field was returned filtered through the field. In this sense, the invisible labour that belies the web was made a little more opaque. The time taken to relay data from and to the base station creating a sense of the time and effort involved in producing what otherwise is quickly and easily consumed. Discussion among the shiftworkers on this point encouraged the idea of running the shift in a variety of ways to calibrate these relations of production, distribution and consumption. Obviously, moving the base will change the nature of images that are returned to it. [30] Extending the distance between the base station and the field workers will slow the relay further while creating a greater sense of detachment between the two groups of producers. [31]



There were a few things to be learned from this experience. Participants engaged with relations between on and off line environments, command and control that were multidirectional and deschooled. It wasn’t clear who occupied the position of producer or consumer, the shiftworkers and supervisor at the base station or those out in the field. The shift foregrounded and maintained the significance of self-learning, the democratic exercise of power wherein every participant's contribution was important and valued, all part of a shared ontology of practice. There remained a strong sense of the shift’s deliberate overidentification with neoliberal flexible specialisation. The images generated during the shift were cyphers of post-Fordist ‘creative’ practice, specialised products generated by consumer choice, a manifestation of the mass customisation’ maker-culture popularised by Pine and Gilmore. [32]


The second shift was supervised by the Berlin based artist Tobias Sternberg: 


“...The focus of the three day workshop I led was on some non material aspects of sculpture, such as Functionality, Ownership, Intended use, Placement in space, Role in society, Suggestively, Taboo, Quality, and others that cropped up during discussion. The purpose of the workshop was to make the participants aware of and suggest manipulations of such aspects of sculpture mostly taken for granted or ignored in art practice. For example; how can an art object be owned? For most sculptures ownership is simply supposed to be something that is imposed from the outside. Ownership is something that just happens to the sculpture, so to speak, seldom is it an intentional and meaning-carrying part of it.

The participants learned to play with and manipulate such assumptions through the physical work on objects that they had themselves brought with them to the workshop. The work was interspersed with short discussions and decision making processes but consisted mostly of practical work on the objects. The participants were divided in three groups and the objects wandered between them, forming a thread of thoughts that came together at the end.” [33]

Sternberg’s workshop was concerned with how we come to value things ethically through our interaction with and experience of them. The process began with The Gift, a potluck of dysfunctional objects donated by shiftworkers to processed by their fellow shiftworkers. The objects were selected for reinvention, the shiftworkers devising a new life for unwanted and obsolete goods through up-cycling and bespoke customisation. The recycling process was undertaken by the twelve shiftworkers in groups of four, all working quickly to realise their plans. In the final phase of Sternberg’s shift, the shiftworkers exchanged their handiwork and debated the fate of each object. Many of the objects were then re-gifted. Some were given a new role in life. A desk tidy was given to the workshop administrative staff. Other objects gained symbolic or ritualistic functions. A makeshift ‘hard hat’ was given to the building site Foreman working on the new Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, where it was adopted as a good luck mascot. A tall lampshade, reconfigured with a fan at its base, became a kinetic sculpture.

In baring witness to the process of their transubstantiation into sculptures and functional designs, the objects spoke of their ‘biography’, of their cultural life: “...the same thing may, at the same time, be seen as a commodity but one person and as something else by another. Such shifts and differences in whether and when a thing is a commodity reveal a moral economy that stand behind the objective economy of visible transactions.” [34] What were once one kind of commodity, one based in a monetised system of exchange value, were now other kinds of commodity circulating in a gift economy or symbolic economy. All, of course, remained capable of once again becoming commodities of monetary exchange through future sale, something that may be secured by their highly individualised life cycles. 

The third shift was supervised by the Glasgow based artist Sarah Tripp. 


In the sequence, Tripp’s shift functioned as a way of reflecting upon ‘best practice’, amplifying a process of self-evaluation that is systemic in post-industrial work environments. This shift was, effectively, a staff development session designed to examine what had occurred earlier in Shift/Work and, more generally, the individual practices and artistic aspirations of the shiftworkers beyond the shiftworkplace. 


Tripp’s shift foregrounded the role of the tutorial in artistic learning. Tutorials and group critiques, while endemic in art education, are not subject to much scrutiny. The system is taken for granted. As James Elkins demonstrated in Why Art Cannot be Taught, many of the assumptions surrounding these teaching methods are dangerously undertheorised. The relationship between tutor and tutee almost always obeys an unwritten law of dominant-submissive behaviour. Tripp’s shift was an important attempt to begin to unravel and rebuild these relations. 


To begin with, Tripp asked the shiftworkers to openly feedback their personal experiences of tutorials. What aspects of tutorials had they found to be helpful, unhelpful, inspiring? What conditions were required to have a helpful and inspiring tutorial. In soliciting their responses, the shiftworkers generated their own table of preferences, iterating a covenant for a better tutorial. Tripp then asked them to sign this covenant in agreement that it constituted a consensus on best tutorial practice.


In the second phase of her shift, Tripp started to establish a system of ‘Triad Tutorials’, one based on her own experience of psychoanalytic training. (35) In this model, would-be therapists work in groups of three, taking on different roles.


  1. Speaker – Carefully prepares for the tutorial by bringing an issue with their work to the listener for discussion. Speaks for a fixed period of time completely uninterrupted. Concludes by asking the listener to resolve specific questions in their practice.
  2. Listener – Prepares for the tutorial by looking at the speaker’s practice in advance of the tutorial. Listens carefully to the speaker. Attempts to help the speaker resolve issues in their practice. Has an equal amount of time respond to the speaker. Should aim to ask the speaker questions that will help them resolve the issues they have in their practice. Can engage in dialogue if they wish to. Gives the Speaker their notes at the end of the tutorial.
  3. Observer – Watches what is said and how it is said (in silence) and feeds back following the end of the discussion session between the Speaker and Listener. Makes reference to the ‘tutorial guidelines’ when attempting to evaluate the quality of the tutorial they have witnessed. Gives the Speaker and Listener their notes at the end of the triad.

Following one session, the shiftworkers would swap roles. Speaker becomes the Observer, Observer becomes the Listener, Listener becomes the Speaker. In the third session they would swap again so that they had all occupied each role. The principle of alterity is central to the value of this educational model. Each participant understands each role equally well through a process of experiential learning and so gains a greater awareness of the needs of others in their roles and of their own responsibilities to them. Following a quick demonstration of the model in action, Tripp asked the shiftworkers to split into four triads. Triads ran over the remaining period of her shift, each time creating a slightly different means of speaking, listening and observing, each time extending the length of the speaking and listening sessions.

Tripp’s shiftworkers were deeply embroiled in a process of learning to learn, one that led to intense speculation on the tutorial process itself as well as upon their development of their own practices. Simple to establish and to replicate, Tripp’s triad format has since become a regular feature on the MFA programmes at Glasgow School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art.

The three workshops presented much to reflect upon. While they had to work with very different media and processes, the shiftworkers had shown themselves to be very adaptable, working well in teams to take on each challenge with aplomb. Similarly, the artists supervising the shifts had all excelled in writing their unique curriculae. The experience of supervising or taking part in each workshop was instructive in terms of considering what ‘worked’ (and what did not). Everyone had a part to play in scripting the learning process and everyone was able to take something away with them. The shiftworkers left with new skills and knowledge and, in some cases, a collectively authored ‘masterpiece’. The supervisors also parted with something that was of artistic and financial value to them, a workshop that they could reinterpret and reanimate. 

The shiftworkers and their supervisors had worked remarkably quickly, adapting the initial structures laid down by each shift. There was a notable element of competition between the different teams in Farquhar and Sternberg’s shifts that may have driven the pace, but this did not dominate their shifts. Movement of shiftworkers between the teams, and changes to the structures meant that there was no way of discerning individual contributions (or ‘bundles of skills’) from those of the teams. By the second day of each shift the process was already beginning to iterate a further set of parameters and approaches. In effect, the shifts became self-generating educational processes. While this is what we had hoped for in planning the project, everyone was surprised by how quickly and easily it emerged. In hindsight, one reason the shifts functioned well was that there was a common level of professionalism and commitment to the process among shiftworkers and their supervisors. The process of selecting the supervisors, therefore, appeared to be vindicated. The question of how to invite shiftworkers and who to invite, however, remained open. 

To some extent, this question was answered in the first Shift/Work. Sarah Tripp stipulated that shiftworkers had to have a ‘practice‘ (the precise form of practice was not specified) in order to have something to reflect upon in her tutorial triads. While there were no specific technical skills or prerequisites beyond this, the requirement to be able to discuss their practice meant that shiftworkers were a mixture of (predominately) artists and writers with a degree of experience and a ‘professional’ outlook on the process. Only one shiftworker was an art student. The shiftworkers understood what they wanted to gain from participating and that this would only emerge from fully committing themselves. Generating the conditions assumed to be conducive to artistic learning involves establishing a territory in which people can freely associate. However, to establish such a territory is to delimit a field and establish invisible disciplinary power, a form of governmentality. The hope that participants in such a field will generate their own curriculum is one that rests on carefully selecting the kind of participants who will flourish in such circumstances. Of course, the resulting community of practice was, ultimately, closed. 

The neoliberal focus on the ‘successful’ negotiation of these communities of artistic practice, as if they were simply a competitive marketplace, normally serves to obfucate the issue of why such communities are established in the first place. In contrast, Tripp’s workshop deliberately set out to discuss and negotiate such processes. This was one way of addressing this issue. Given that we wanted Shift/Work to remain free at the point of access, how could we ensure this level of critical commitment in future shifts? Would the processes work with a completely open call for shiftworkers who did not have a practice? Conversely, by exclusively inviting a more established coterie of ‘supervisors’, would the learning process be further accelerated? This was something that would be explored in future iterations of Shift/Work. 

Another surprise was that the outcomes were more tangible than we had expected. Each shift produced something that could be viewed at the end of the project. While the finissage was never intended to be more than a wrap, a chance for everyone to socialise, the shiftworkers decided to display some of the images, objects and observation notes they had produced during the process. As such, it became a very short-lived exhibition, albeit one that did not present a coherent ‘integrated outcome’. To those who had not taken part in the process, the finissage initially looked like a three-person group show with a loose curatorial vision. On closer inspection, the teams had produced a few ‘masterpieces’ that demonstrated what and how they had learned together. That this emerged was a happy accident and testimony to the ingenuity and hard work of everyone involved. The presence of a telos, of something to work towards, nevertheless remains a thorny issue. On the one hand, too much of a focus on the end results can impede learning, on the other, the sense of urgency it produces can generate a productive group dynamic. In future shiftwork projects, the ‘masterpiece’ trajectory of the wrap was, in turn, deliberately over emphasised (By the sea circa nineteen thirty three) or completely surpressed (Developing participatory workshop models for educating contemporary artists). 

Hosting the first Shift/Work at ESW had proven to be crucial to reflect upon the practice-based learning processes that are thought to take place exclusively in art schools. Working in the workshop space of ESW generated a very different dynamic. In historical terms, it associated the process with alternate practice-based educational traditions to those nurtured in the academy. ESW’s ILA registered courses are heavily invested in assisting in the acquisition of sculptural skills such as carving, casting, moulding and metalworking. This pedagogy is inherited from the European guild system, a system of incorporation that was intertwined with the rise of medieval cities and burghs. For this reason, it is tempting to think of the learning shifts as echoing those of medieval workshops and guilds, wherein a master would pass on specialist knowledge to their apprentices. Shiftworkers were, effectively, undertaking the role of ‘journeyman’, compagnon working their way through a tour designed to impart practical wisdom. Of course, while ESW and Shift/Work had medievalist connotations, they were not precise re-enactments of medieval divisions of labour. The analogy fell only on elements of premodern practice that have adapted well to a post-Fordist environment. The master-apprentice hierarchy that is normative in the compagnon tradition was directly challenged.

This aspect of Shift/Work has since proven to be a way of engaging ESW with the global rise of maker culture, a phenomenon that has largely bypassed contemporary art centres in the UK but that is dominant in the west coast of the USA. As craftspersons, makers are heavily invested in the liberal business of acquiring a specialist skill set, a practice that has its roots in the compagnon tradition of practice-based education. However, since they are thought to have emerged “from an unexpected collision of right-wing neo-liberalism, counter-culture radicalism and technological determinism”, [36] makers are frequently painted as neoliberals free-trading their products in the frontiers of the world wide web. In practice, the maker combines liberal and neoliberal tendencies in equal measure. [37] Where makers can be seen as aligned with the objectives of Shift/Work, is in their commitment to passing on their skills, as open source ‘how-to’. Maker culture is disseminated online, via the creative commons and through huge maker meets such as Maker Faire. It is a culture of openness and sharing rather than a closed proprietorial culture. While it was a common concern of all three artists, the kind of transparency that is particular to maker culture emerged most forcefully in Sternberg’s shift in which each stage of transforming one object into another was openly staged.



Although Shift/Work began as a one off experiment, it was clear, by the end of the first three shifts, that there remained many more possibilities to explore through shiftworking. A series of Shift/Workshops since ensued that extended the application of workshop-based learning. Public School, was a contribution to Portobello’s Public Art Fest in September 2011, three shifts designed to creatively engage with the festival’s key question ‘what makes art public’? While Public School used a local indoor bowling alley as its base, its locus was the Edinburgh’s extensive beach on the Firth of Forth. Given the public character of its focus, Public School had a completely open call for shiftworkers. The shifts - supervised by Sovay Berriman, Stephen Hurrel, Chris Evans/Natasha Soobramanien - were predicated on the understanding that art practice can be a powerful means to enable the public realm. Armed with digital cameras, the shiftworkers in Hurrel’s workshop, Undeclared Public Art, Unconscious Gestures, Minuments and Monuments, beachcombed the Portobello district in rotating teams - designating and discussing their proposals of what could be considered to be public art. Rather than assume public art to be something done to, or on behalf of, the public (monuments, memorials, public places and spaces, events, etc.), we might consider it as actions carried out by the public as part of a commons of cultural practice. To gain a more rounded understanding of what public art might become, it’s essential to be involved in its production, working closely with artists to gain an insight into how we might collectively answer the thorny question ‘what makes art public’? 


Shift/Workshops that followed early in 2012 were constructed around a more specialist range of practices and so involved working with more specialist groups of shiftworkers, focusing on painting and art education respectively. In March 2012, Lucy Stein supervised By the sea circa nineteen thirty three, a day shift based on found images of interwar Mediterranean bohemianism, working alongside a group of shiftworkers to produce and install a series of new works that generated the ambience of Weimar-era Cote D’Azur. While it followed an iterative structure designed by Stein, this workshop was ends-oriented, resulting in a large installation that was the main focus on the public finissage. In this sense, Stein’s workshop was closer in its structure to a charrette, a collective process that involves a group of designers working towards the solution of a problem. The specific mise-en-scene of the Weimar-era Cote D’Azur was a specific occurrence of a strategy that could be applied to any given visual trope, but the idea of working towards a goal nevertheless remains. 

In April 2012 Developing participatory workshop models for educating contemporary artists, saw artists Dave Rushton and Neil Cummings supervise a day shift devised to enable shiftworkers to develop their own models of collaborative practice-based learning. Crucial to this workshop has been a shift towards discourses and practices that engage with the values of unlearning, deschooling, improvisation and amateurism. The proposals that emerged from this workshop, none of which required a ‘shift supervisor’, will become future Shift/Workshops in their own right. The April 2012 Shift/Work session was, effectively, a workshop that generated ideas and processes to implement in future Shift/Workshops. This has since become our main focus, bringing together learners to design, develop and share open educational resources for artists. 

Clearly art schools will continue to develop their pedagogy in relation to national and supranational changes in educational policy and philosophy. For better or worse, it’s essential that artists remain at the heart of such institutions. To opt out of the art school system entirely in response to its neoliberalisation is to aid the case for its privatisation and further the demise of art education. [38] People concerned with learning should collaborate rather than compete. 


Shift/Work offers one model by which it remains possible to carry out valuable independent research and development on education while continuing to work inside institutions. Shift/Work is not designed to replace the art school or the artist's workshop, nor is it a platform for pursuing a reformist agenda. Its role is not so much to develop an extensive new ‘open syllabus’, but to iterate systems to allow anyone to develop workshops that enable practice-based learning. The workshops that it develops function as adaptable learning charrettes. They enable the production of knowledge through a participatory practice. In an art school context, they might be used to augment other experiential forms of learning: reading, making, watching, talking, listening, etc. Since they are freely available, they may, or may not, be applied in art schools, in studio education programmes and in other relevant contexts. 


The open nature of the Shiftworking facilitates learning rather than ‘teaching and assessment’. Shift/Workshops remain beyond the administrative grasp of art institutions that have undergone the Bologna process. The participatory and collaborative nature of the workshops makes them particularly difficult to assess formally by academic institutions. There are no individuated ‘integrated outcomes’ nor are there any fixed teams to reward with a quantifiable grade for their contribution to the process. Running a workshop, of course, doesn’t prevent the assessment of individual students, as in conventional capstone assignments such as degree shows. [39] However, the very existence of group workshop learning processes undermines the significance of evaluating processes and outcomes and provides a learning environment that may lead art students to harbour different ambitions to those choices proscribed by neoliberalism.  

While Shift/Work has emerged from a partnership between staff from ESW and staff at Edinburgh College of Art, it remains distinct from both institutions, a space in which they can develop and design workshops that may later be recalibrated and activated as part of an official educational programme. In this sense, Shift/Work invites new forms of organisational thinking and engagement beyond its own operational structure. This is of enormous benefit to the educational context in which Shift/Work was born. As a microcosm of the artworld, Scotland boasts a range of arts organisations, including artist‐run centres, workshops, magazines, private galleries, studios and national galleries. It does not, however, provide a specific discursive locus wherein the practices of ‘the studio’ can flourish. Shift/Work is one of way of ensuring that those who are willing to participate can actively generate new critical and institutional contexts for their work in and beyond Scotland. Shift/Work will continue to examine and reconfigure ways in which we can facilitate comprehensive workshop-based approaches to artistic production that are theoretically informed, practical and participatory to facilitate new experiential knowledge, practices and tools for artists and art educators to adapt and implement.


Chris Anderson, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution (New York: Crown Business, 2012)  

Arjun Appaduri, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 1986) 


Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, 'The Californian Ideology', Mute, Issue n°3, Autumn 1995. 

Ivan Illich, Shadow Work (1981), (Boston & London: Marion Boyars, 2009) 

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society (1970), (Boston & London: Marion Boyars, 2002) 

James Elkins, Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students (University of Illinois Press, 2001)

Art Education Is Radically Undertheorized: An interview with James Elkins by Cornelia Sollfrank (2008) <> (accessed 5 March 2013)

Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold, Creativity and Cultural Improvisation (Berg, 2008)

Lars Bang Larsen, 'The Long Nineties' frieze, Issue 144, Jan-Feb 2012.


Education: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. by Felicity Allen, (London: Whitechapel, 2011)

Are You Working Too Much?: Post-Fordism, Precarity and the Labor of Art, ed. by eflux journal (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011) 

Teaching Art in the Neoliberal Realm: Realism versus Cynicism, ed. by Pascal Gielen & Paul De Bruyne (Amsterdam: Antennae Valiz, 2012)

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London: Penguin, 1970)

Adam Greenfield, Everyware : The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing (Berkeley, New Riders, 2006) 

Ilana Gershon, ‘Neoliberal Agency’, Current Anthropology, Vol. 52, No. 4, August 2011, pp. 537-555.

Joseph Pine and Stan Gilmore, The Experience Economy : Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage (Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 1999)

Joseph Pine and Stan Gilmore, Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition, (Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 1999)

Stan Davis, Future Perfect, (Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1997)

Seinfeld and Philosophy, ed. by William Irwin (Chicago: Open Court, 1999)


Hester Westley, ‘The Year of the Locked Room’, Tate Etc. Issue 9; Spring 2007

Marina Vishmidt, ‘Creation Myth’ Mute, July 2010


Howard Singerman, Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University, (University of California Press, 1999)


Josephine Berry Slater, ‘The Ghosts of Participation Past’, Mute, October 2012

Shift Supervisors:


Peter Hill Superfictions

Keith Farquhar

Tobias Sternberg

Sarah Tripp

Sovay Berriman

Stephen Hurrel

Chris Evans / Natasha Soobramanien

Lucy Stein 

Dave Rushton

Neil Cummings


Creative Commons Licence Shift Happens by Neil Mulholland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License Shift/Work is co-produced by Neil Mulholland and Dan Brown


[1] While it’s possible to discuss and desire a frisson approach to art education, it’s much more difficult to practice. This much is clear in the stilted speed-networking events held by arts agencies in the British Isles in the 1990s and 2000s with the intention of making peer-to-peer knowledge (i.e. artistic associates) more accessible by levelling and systematising the playing field. If networks are to be genuinely open, it seems, they can’t be managed in this way. While they may be porous, the networks established through this approach to art education can never be completely open.

[2] When we examine the murky details of how most art graduates, successful or not, try to establish their practice post-school, the self-aggrandizement and narcissism of their alma mater emerges.

[3] In such circumstances, it is difficult to ascertain where research can take place. The research value of a personal index is disadvantaged. Since it can’t be ‘transferred’ it is difficult to consider it to be a contribution to knowledge. In as much as they fail to make a contribution to knowledge, the self-centredness of creative personal ontology encourages an apolitical and fallacious solipsism that does not develop practice or generate research. The question of how artists generate and/or occupy structures of practice is not engaged by a pedagogy that assumes they have limitless agency (albeit only over their own psychology).

[4] “The first men who attributed to themselves educational functions were early bishops who led their flocks to the alma ubera (milk-brimming breasts) of Mother Church from which they were never to be weaned. This is why they, like their secular successors, call the faithful alumni - which means sucklings or suckers, and nothing else.” Ivan Illich ‘Vernacular Values’, Shadow Work (1981) (Marion Boyars, 2009) p46.

[5] The foregrounding of professional practice by incompetent corporations has made ‘unprofessional practices’, deskilling and a willed amateurism so much more inviting that voluntary simplicity is now a thriving industry.

[6] Ilana Gershon 'Neoliberal Agency', Current Anthropology, Vol. 52, No. 4, August 2011, pp. 539.

[7] ibid. pp. 542.

[8] Elizabeth Hallam & Tim Ingold, Creativity and Cultural Improvisation (Berg, 2008) p1.

[9] Katherine Bell, 'The MFA is the New MBA', Harvard Business Review, 14th April 2008.

[10] Howard Singerman’s personal history of the MFA was particularly useful: Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University, University of California Press, 1999.

[11] It’s important to note here that there is no ‘British’ education system. The Scottish education system has always been completely independent. That Scotland's educational perspective is European is clear in how quickly it aligned to the Bologna process and ECTS. The UK figures in Scottish education only in the research context since research funding councils are UK wide. To complicate matters, the main taught contemporary art masters programme in Scotland is the MFA, an American degree that follows guidelines issued by the College Art Association in New York. Given this mixture of Anglophone and European approaches, postgraduates in Scotland are a particularly international cohort. The interest in a ‘British’ educational context arose because the students chose to travel to the UK to study and wanted to understand where they were.

[12] The ‘A’ Course: An Inquiry, Central St. Martin’s, Charing Cross Road. Friday 26th March 2010 and Saturday 27th March, 10am-6pm. A forum featuring the surviving members of staff, Garth Evans and Gareth Jones, who with Peter Kardia originated in the sculpture department of St. Martin’s School of Art. See event/the-a-course-an-inquiry and related articles in Mute and Tate.


[13] Lanchester Gallery Projects Art Theory Course (1968-72) 18th November 2010.

[14] Sadie Kerr, LGP, 18th November 2010.

[15] Hester Westley ‘The Year of the Locked Room’ Tate Etc. Issue 9; Spring 2007

[16] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London: Penguin, 1970) p.74

[17] Eno was, famously, a student on the Groundcourse.

[18] See Jason Holt's 'The Costanza Maneuver: Is it Rational for George to do the Opposite?' in Seinfeld and Philosophy, ed. by William Irwin (Chicago: Open Court, 1999) pp 121-138. 

[19] “The Groundcourse emphasising behavioral change as a founding principle for enabling creativity, utilized the enactment of new personalities as educational strategy.” ground: The Enablement of Creativity in a Metaverse – Art Education in a metaverse: ground<c>

[20] Learning to Love you More also had particular resonance with the Scots solidarism found in the principle of The Democratic Intellect (1961), George Elder Davie’s term for the ideal of a ‘critical intellectualism’ in Scottish education, one founded on a dialogue between the learned and unlearned.


[21] Fletcher is chair of the innovative MFA Art & Social Practice at Portland State University in Oregon, USA. July is an artist, film director, screenwriter and actor.

[22] Whitespace, Gayfield Square, Edinburgh, EH1 3NT Monday 21st March 2011. Professor McLean, then engaged in projects at an international level in Berlin at the Tanya Leighton Gallery and at the Henry Moore Institute Leeds, worked with students and recent graduates on the presentation of a unique performance. The workshop, reflected the shared interest in performance by both McLean and Campbell, focusing on the process of developing and recording the creative process culminating in a live performance and an exhibition of work in progress. The performance ‘Poised Murder’ by Steven Campbell and McLean’s own Nice-Style Pose Band works were the context of the workshop.

[23] Shift/Work press release, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, August 2011.

[24] The Scottish Credit Qualifications Framework (SCQF) is a uniform bureaucratic framework for assessment that awards abilities rather than opens access to learning. ‘SCOTCAT’ credits are an ECTS alligned means of unitising knowledge ‘outcomes’ to fit an accounting-based framework that disregards the unquantifiable, qualitative and incommensurable values of different learning processes. The SCQF regards knowledge to be a product that can be accurately economised to be exchanged on a like-for-like basis. To paraphrase Ivan Illich, it confuses learning with schooling. See Ivan Illich ‘Why We Must Disestablish School’ in Deschooling Society, 1970.


[25] Creative Scotland has developed its own bizarre and unintentionally hilarious neoliberal argot, substituting grants for ‘investments’ and artists for ‘creative people’. Shift/Work’s lexicon is a shadow of this world.

[26] I say temporary since Workshop Technician and Workshop Manager are permanent roles in ESW. Much of the work of a studio environment involves training people to use their facilities. So Shift/Work was consistent with ESW’s approach to labour.

[27] Only the twelve participants would have a holistic view of the entire process at its end and therefore be in a unique position to put it to work.

[28] Keith Farquhar, August 2011.

[29] Although a semantic environment is freely available in the internet of things, ‘everyware’ aren’t, as yet, used on a daily basis to read this ambient landscape. For example, despite the fact that RFID chips are embedded in almost all mass produced products, most supermarkets still use barcodes to price and scan goods. Swiss supermarket chain Migros and the UK chain Waitrose are among the first to allow customers to ‘self scan’ as they shop, but they do so with the obsolete technology of a barcode scanner. RFID requires no manual scanning - all goods can be checked out and paid for entirely contactlessly. The contact of a barcode scanner is a haptic experience that is maintained to ensure that customers have a sensorial experience when shopping.

[30] Farquhar re-ran the workshop in the centre of Edinburgh with a group of art students, and found that a very different set of images emerged from those produced in the vicinity of the old fishing harbour of Newhaven and the post-industrial landscape of the Port of Leith wherein Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop is located.


[31] The next iteration will involve field workers in London and Ghent reporting back to a base in Edinburgh. Others can explore whichever variant might be seen to be worth pursuing. The shift can be directed by anyone who has read and understood the basic assignment.

[32] See Joseph Pine and Stan Gilmore, Mass Customization: The New Frontier in Business Competition, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999). The concept of ‘mass customisation’ was coined by Stan Davis in Future Perfect (Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1997).

[33] Tobias Sternberg, August 2011.

[34] Igor Kopytoff, ‘The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditisation as Process’, in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. by Arjun Appaduri, (Cambridge University Press, 1986) p64.

[35] The triad model is widespread use in personal development and management training courses.

[36] Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, ‘Agora or Exchange - Direct Democracy or Free Trade? Track 4, The Californian Ideology’, Mute, Issue n°3, Autumn 1995. 


[37] Perhaps the best know example of a neoliberal approach to maker culture is Chris Anderson’s Makers: The New Industrial Revolution (Crown Business, 2012) 

[38] The enormous rise in tuition fees in England has encouraged a number of alternative art institutes to pop up inside (e.g. Department 21 at the Royal College of Art) and outside (e.g. ARTSCHOOL/UK and Turps Banana) of publicly funded accredited art schools. Galleries have also expanded into this area by fully integrating their education programme into their visual arts programme, most prominently Wide Open School (Hayward, London, 2012) an teaching experiment that echoed Anton Vidolke’s Night School at the Museum (New Museum, NYC, 2007-8). Gallery-based and intra-art schools are generally temporary affairs and so do not represent a serious alternative to established art schools. Schools that are smaller, free and independent, while equally difficult to sustain for any length of time, are, effectively, private institutions. As such, they corroborate with the neoliberal attempt to eradicate state support for education and the arts.

[39] Some universities could include such participatory activities under the ‘additional information‘ section of the European Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) but this would still stop short of grading and assessing.