A ‘What If’ Exercise: On the institution of the art school


  • Silvia Bottiroli DAS Theatre, Amsterdam




art school, institution, fictional institution, art education


We are increasingly experiencing an antagonistic polarization within the art schools. This seems to reflect the contemporary socio-political atmosphere, ruled by inequalities and injustices, fuelled by a narrative of scarcity and competition and by a very broadly spread mistrust, when not aggression, towards the very idea of the institution. As a matter of fact, schools are one of the few institutions in the theatre field providing a space for such polarizing relationships: they provide a space for friction, for conflict even.

This paper approaches the theatre school as an institution and a thinking entity, in the attempt to explore the forms of agonism that it makes possible, and how they can support positive forms of polarization. It assumes the perspective that “we are the institution” and, by acknowledging the agency that each of us has within artistic institutions, suggests some ways of thinking and practicing theatre school otherwise.

Author Biography

Silvia Bottiroli, DAS Theatre, Amsterdam

Silvia Bottiroli, PhD, is a curator, researcher, organizer and educator in the field of performing arts. Since 2018 she is the artistic director of DAS Theatre in Amsterdam. Between 2012 and 2016 she directed Santarcangelo Festival and in 2018 curated the programme ‘The May Events’ for KunstenFestivalDesArts in Brussels and Vooruit in Ghent. She is interested in the intersections between theoretical research, curatorial practices and education. In these fields she has written numerous articles, focusing in particular on the politics of performativity and spectatorship. She has (co)curated artistic, discursive and educational platforms, collaborating among others with Aleppo, in Brussels Homo Novus Festival in Riga, School of Visual Theatre in Jerusalem and Gent University. Since 2011 she teaches Methodology, Critique and Research in the Arts at Bocconi University in Milan.


Agamben, Giorgio. 1996. Mezzi senza fine. Note sulla politica. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri (English translation: 2000. Means Without End. Notes on Politics. Translated by Cesare Casarino and Vincenzo Binetti. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Athanasiou, Athena. 2016. “Performing the Institution, ‘as if it were Possible.’” In Former West: Art and the Contemporary After 1989. Edited by Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh, 679–692. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822388128

Blanga Gubbay, Daniel and Livia Andrea Piazza. 2016. “Fictional Institutions: On radical Imagination.” In Turn Turtle! Reenacting the Institute. Edited by Elke van Campenhout and Lilia Mestre, 40–48. Berlin: Alexander Verlag.

Bergman, Aeron, Alejandra Salinas, and Irena Boric. 2016. Forms of Education: Couldn’t Get a Sense of It. Zagreb: Institute for New Connotative Action Press.

Davida, Dena, Marc Provonost, Véronique Hudon, and Jane Gabriels, eds. 2018. Curating Live Arts: Critical Perspectives, Essays and Conversations on Theory and Practice. New York and Oxford: Berghahn. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvw04b29

Douglas, Mary. 1986. How Institutions Think. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Esche, Charles. 2007. How to Grow Possibility: The Potential Roles of Academies. Edited transcript of Charles Esche’s talk at the book launch of Air# Let’s suppose the Academy is a place for artists… Amsterdam: Amsterdam School of the Arts.

Franceschini, Silvia, ed. 2018. The Politics of Affinity: Experiments in Art, Education and the Social Sphere. Biella: Cittadellarte.

Fraser, Andrea. 2005. “From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique.” Artforum 44 (1): 278–285.

Han, Byung-Chul. 2015. The Burnout Society. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822373780

Graziano, Valeria. 2016. “Prefigurative Practices. Raw materials for a political positioning of art, leaving the avant-garde.” In Turn Turtle! Reenacting the Institute. Edited by Elke van Campenhout and Lilia Mestre, 158–174. Berlin: Alexander Verlag.

Kunst, Bojana. 2012. “The Project Horizon: On the Temporality of Making.” Maska, Performing Arts Journal XXVII: 149–150. Later published in Manifesta Journal around Curatorial Practices. Accessed November 3, 2019. https://www.manifestajournal.org/issues/regret-and-other-back-pages/project-horizon-temporality-making

Kunst, Bojana. 2014. Artist at Work. Proximity of Art and Capitalism. Arlesford: Zero Books.

Lacan, Jacques. 1973. Le séminaire. Livre XI. Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse. Paris: Le Seuil.

Le Guin, Ursula K. 2017. “Deep in Admiration.” In Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, Vol 2. Edited by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Heather Anne Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt, 15–22. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Malzacher, Florian, and Joanna Warsza, eds. 2017. Empty Stages, Crowded Flats: Performativity as curatorial strategy. Berlin: Alexander Verlag Berlin.

Mouffe, Chantal. 2005. On the Political. London and New York: Routledge.

Mouffe, Chantal.2007. “Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces.” Art & Research. A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods 1 (2) (Summer): n.p. http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/mouffe.html

Mouffe, Chantal. 2013. “Institutions as Sites of Agonistic Interventions.” In Institutional Attitudes: Instituting Art in a Flat World. Edited by Pascal Gielen, 63–74. Amsterdam: Valiz.

Mouffe, Chantal. 2013. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. London and New York: Verso.

Muraya, Ogutu. 2019. Facebook, July 27. Accessed on August 1, 2019. https://www.facebook.com/ogutu.muraya

O’Neill, Paul, Lucy Steeds, and Mick Wilson, eds. 2017. How Institutions Think: Between Contemporary Art and Curatorial Discourse. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Pasolini, Pier Paolo. 1964. Io sono una forza del passato in Poesia in forma di rosa. Milano: Garzanti.

Piazza, Livia Andrea. 2018. The Concept of the New. Framing Production and Value in Contemporary Performing Arts. Leverkusen: Verlag Barbara Budrich. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvdf04gv

Pomarico, Alessandra, ed. 2018. Pedagogy, Otherwise: The Reader. Udaipur: Ecoversities.

Rancière, Jacques. 1991. The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Schneider, Rebecca. 2011. Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. London and New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203852873

Solnit, Rebecca. 2005. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. New York: Penguin.

Stengers, Isabelle. 2011. A plea for slow science. Faculté de Philosophie et des Lettres, ULB, December 13.

Thorne, Sam. 2017. School: A Recent History of Self-Organized Art Education. Berlin and New York: Sternberg Press.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400873548

Vanhee, Sarah. 2017. ‘The Fantastic Institution’. Talk at The Fantastic Institution, Kunstencentrum BUDA, Kortijk, February 16. Accessed November 3, 2019. https://www.kunsten.be/dossiers/perspectief-kunstenaar/perspective-institution/4451-the-fantastic-institutions

Woolf, Virginia. 1929. A Room on One’s Own. London: Hogarth Press. Accessed November 3, 2019. https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91r/complete.html

Woolf, Virginia. 1938. Three Guineas. London: Hogarth Press. Accessed November 3, 2019. https://www.blackwellpublishing.com/content/BPL_Images/Content_store/Sample_chapter/9780631177241/woolf.pdf




How to Cite

Bottiroli, Silvia. 2020. “A ‘What If’ Exercise: On the Institution of the Art School”. Performance Philosophy 5 (2):203-20. https://doi.org/10.21476/PP.2020.52287.