In Residence: Collective Question
From the syllabus to the city and back again

August 21–31, 2019

About the residency

Collective Question (CQ) takes up residency at Wendy’s Subway to create a publication workshop to investigate—and reactivate—the spaces of a historic radical pedagogical initiative called Tolstoy College, active at the University at Buffalo from 1969–1985. 

The various classrooms, member houses, and public venues of Tolstoy College, gleaned from addresses listed on archival materials, have transformed over the years, and map a residual collection of sites and activities. These spaces take on new lives today: for example, an off-campus bungalow where the College held courses now sits vacant, its empty plot housing only a peregrine falcon display board next to the university’s winter salt storage facilities. Or another: the Ellicott Complex, a Brutalist complex on UB Amherst’s campus periphery, is now mixed-use facilities for dorms and classes, inaccessible by design to a general public. Rather than situated firmly in historic campus infrastructure, or housed securely in existing academic departments, these migratory activities and miscellaneous spaces provided for the College’s members to experiment with the university and the city, using the tools, means, and resources available to them. In this spirit, CQ's publication-making endeavor at Wendy’s Subway involves the assembly of a syllabus for recovering and making spaces of experimental pedagogy.

Alongside guest interlocutors—including Interference Archive co-founder Josh MacPhee and artist and writer Kameelah Janan Rasheed—CQ intends to think through the following questions, using Tolstoy College as a historical prompt for contemporary thinking around the topics of syllabus and study: how can an academic syllabus be a transgressive space for radical thinking? How is the syllabus a form of utopian publication? As a publication, how can it figure a community of study, subvert the authority of printedness, and be made available to revision or negotiation? As an archival document, how can it project and reproduce its ethics? As a space and a prompt, how can it shore up experiments, map out actions and lineages, and provide new scripts for institutions’ gaps and empty spaces? Tolstoy College and its nearly twenty-year activities provide a compelling starting point to think about the mapping and modelling of collective experimental pedagogies. From the syllabus to the city and back again bridges archival, physical, and speculative materials as a case study on the possibility of experimentation within institutional spaces.   

About Collective Question

Collective Question is a working group comprised of Julie Niemi, Steven Chodoriwsky, and Christopher Lee. They coalesced around research into Tolstoy College, an anarchist educational community within the University at Buffalo SUNY active between 1969 and 1985 that was invested in themes and questions of radicalism and oppression in America. The current research of Collective Question speculates on informal reconstitutions of the college and a reanimation of its spirit of studying together. They work by building, publishing, and talking with and through host/partner institutions and its publics.

Steven Chodoriwsky is an artist and educator. In collaboration with individuals and institutions, his research deals with experimental pedagogical models and participatory design practices for the built environment. His work employs a diverse range of media including installation, publication, performance, and audio-visual artifacts. Steven teaches architecture and landscape architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, with previous posts at Cornell, Woodbury, and at the University at Buffalo SUNY, where he was the Peter Reyner Banham Fellow. Previously, he held research positions at the Jan van Eyck Academie and at the Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu.

Chris Lee is a graphic designer and educator based in Buffalo, NY, and Toronto, ON. He graduated from OCADU (Toronto) and the Sandberg Instituut (Amsterdam), and has worked for The Walrus Magazine, Metahaven and Bruce Mau Design. He was also the designer and an editorial board member of the journal Scapegoat: Architecture/ Landscape/ Political Economy. Chris’ research explores graphic design’s entanglement with power, standards, and legitimacy. Chris is an Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute, and a programming committee member of Gendai Gallery and Squeaky Wheel. With Ali Qadeer, he recently co-guest-edited an issue of C magazine on the theme “Graphic Design.”

Julie Niemi is an independent curator, writer, and editor based in Los Angeles, CA. Through research, design, writing, and exhibition making, her projects deals with counter histories in the United States. These projects typically look to the built-environment as a starting point for inquiry, utilizing scraps of local archives and natural resources to tell a longer story of unknown persons, regional places, nameless figures, and collectives. Currently, she co-runs Diagram Press, a Los Angeles and Milwaukee-based risograph studio and publishing imprint dedicated to the production of artist books, editions, and publications. Previously, she held positions as Assistant Curator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Curatorial Fellow at the Henie On stad Kunstsenter, Oslo, Norway, and Communications Associate at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She received an M.A. from the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College in 2017. 

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