Boris Groys: “Education by Infection”

Here’s some excerpts of a text that some of has have been reading here at Slade. For anyone interested, there will be a chance to discuss it at the “Surplus to requirements?” exhibition-symposium at Woburn Square on wednesday.

The extract is taken from “Education by Infection”, Boris Groys, in “Art school : (propositions for the 21st century)”, edited by Steven Henry Madoff.

“Life understood as a permanent source of infection that endangers the health of students’ nervous systems was articulated early in the twentieth century by Kazimir Malevich in “An Introduction to the Theory of the Additional Element in Painting,” which concerned itself with the problems of art education. Malevich describes a range of art styles—“Cézannism,” Cubism, and Suprematism, among them—as effects of different aesthetic infections metabolized in the artist by bacilli of one aesthetic kind or another. That is to say, they were triggered by new visual forms and impressions produced by modern life…

“Malevich’s model for artists and for the teaching of art follows the trope of biological evolution: Artists need to modify the immune system of their art in order to incorporate new aesthetic bacilli, to survive them and find a new inner balance, a new definition of health…

“If artists try to resist, the effects are obviously disastrous. They fall to the side, prematurely aged; the quality of their works suffers; the works become irrelevant for the world they are living in. Malevich sees the art school as the best defense against this artistic degradation. The closed world of the art school keeps bacilli permanently circulating and students permanently infected and sick. And most important: precisely because the art school is closed and isolated, the individual bacilli can be identified, analyzed, and bred—as is also the case with isolated, sterile medical laboratories. The isolation of the art school can be an attack on the health of students, but it offers the best conditions for breeding the bacilli of art…

“Students now are well informed about critical theory, and they are infected by it just as students were infected by modern technique in Malevich’s time. So the question arises, how should students deal with new infections? Two immediate solutions offer themselves. The first is to overcome them, suppress them, ignore them, especially by turning to teachers who do the same; the second is, by logical extension, to leave art and go out into communities to heal the world. Both solutions betray the initial modernist project to live through one’s infections without sanitizing either oneself or the world. And just as obvious, neither has led to the advancement of artistic practice or of its teaching.”

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The whole of Culture is an Empire. The Empire’s collective consciousness understands and accepts things as having the function of Art. A painting, or a bronze sculpture for example are long accepted and understood as Art. An ink-jet print, a 16mm film, a “casual” arrangement of objects are also understood as art. More recently, the Empire acquired a whole new set of internet inspired aesthetic imagery which is slowly (or rapidly) subsumed into the mechanisms of cultural recognition. The collective consciousness works as a unified being and recycles, visual, philosophical, musical trends.

–laser beam sounds–

NOW, we find ourselves in an art school. We look around. Young people, trying to work through peer pressure, societal expectations and deal with a completely decayed idea of YBA artistic super-stardom. In the last seminar I became aware of a definite gap in art students conceptions of being an art student. Trying to bypass the ambivalent existential argument of “why are we doing it”, I would like to ask a different question:


Everyone wants to be good at whatever it is they are doing. Good students, successful artists. We are so desperate to make something “good” (which apparently is equivalent to “could exist in a gallery”) that we end up striving to produce things that look like art. But we missed something. I thought we are here to create something that not only cannot exist in a gallery but would require the whole structure of the gallery to change in order to be “housed”. If we believe in the possibility of change surely we should begin outside of everything that is already there. We need to fight the Empire, break its monopoly.


Art School as I see it now, is a factory of reproductions of “art”. Personal insecurity, fear of academic failure (which somehow extends to societal failure, as with every other subject) push young students towards the art of preservation. The Empire likes to understand and categorise things. It needs to maintain the status of its understanding. Its dominance depends on FIXED MEANINGS and RIGID FUNCTIONS. By (re)producing what is already art we merely manage to illustrate, outline the picture of a corpse in an anatomy class. And this illustration could at some point earn a small place in one of the Empire’s galleries/fridges installed to maintain the meaning and understanding of art long dead.


I would like to propose a different way of assessing our individual/collective practices. Good or Bad is quite frankly vague and irrelevant. Instead I propose to use the words, ALIVE or DEAD. It might sound equally vague and somehow weird but I do urge you to go through your work and distinguish between the Dead and the Alive pieces, without me defining the terms. You should be able to do so without knowing the exact definitions. There is a definite power and spark in Alive things and we can instinctively tell them apart from Dead ones. The human is somehow absent in a corpse.

The Empire tends to kill things. Once something becomes understood and concrete, chances are it’s already dead. You can make a symbol out of a dead thing but you cannot really bring it back to life (Zombie art is a whole different sub-category of the Dead/Alive drama. I will not get into this now).


Should we all be smugglers, like Hans Solo and bring stuff in and out of the Empire for personal gain? Or should we be young Skywalker fighting the Empire for noble and high purposes. The worst thing one could become is an Anakin Skywalker. Not only join the Empire but be a driving force in its stability and expansion. There are a lot of young radicals- turned middle aged agents of the Dark Side out there. Concluding I would like to add that our tutors should be incarnations of Joda or Obi Wan Kenobi and train us to be strong and kind and help us not to fear the Resistance. Be real human beings and create weird, alive, untamed stuff that in a lack of a better descriptive word, we would have to call Art.

Thank you for reading,
Margarita Athanasiou

PS I was going to end with this quote by Badiou: “It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognises as existent” since the Empire is his metaphor but I am not going to. I am not sure if he is Princess Leia fighting the Empire from the inside or not… Too far… Too far…

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European Meeting of University Struggles 11th-13th February-Paris
Come however you will or may.

edufactory website

facebook page

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Save EMA: National Student Strike Day of Action-Wednesday 26 January · 12:00 – 15:00

Walk out, Sit In, Teach Out, Shout Out.

Coming together
…1.Many meeting points (your college or school, local train station and so on) but a central one meeting point at 12noon in Trafalgar Square

Big School Swoop
2.Where possible, students should march past other local schools and FE colleges on the way to Trafalgar square in the morning to encourage students to come out and join the demonstration.

Take local action
3.If students cannot make it into central London (distance, money etc.) they should take action where they are (direct action, target key local shopping areas, stations, town halls etc).

Teach ins
4.LSA activists to try to get into local schools and FE colleges to build for the 26th, as invited speakers – if we cant get in, we should be outside every school in London in the run up to the 26th with leaflets.

Where’s Our Vote?
5.Support calls for there to be an actual vote in Parliament on the question of EMA (it was in the budget/comprehensive spending review but there has never been a specific vote).

Teach Outs, Open Mics, Silent Disco’s and more…
6.At 5pm, support students taking action in major London train stations, sit ins, teach outs, music events, public rallies, occupations etc. Make contact with RMT workers to get support.

Save EMA facebook event

School and FE Students Against the Cuts

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The Really Free School

Surrounded by institutions and universities, there is newly occupied space where education can be re-imagined. Amidst the rising fees and mounting pressure for ‘success’, we value knowledge in a different currency; one that everyone can afford to trade. In this school, skills are swapped and information shared, culture cannot be bought or sold. Here is an autonomous space to find each other, to gain momentum, to cross-pollinate ideas and actions.

If learning amounts to little more than preparation for the world of work, then this school is the antithesis of education. There is more to life than wage slavery.

This is a part of the latest chapter in a long history of resistance. It is an open book, a pop-up space with no fixed agenda, unlimited in scope, This space aims to cultivate equality through collaboration and horizontal participation. A synthesis of workshops, talks, games, discussions, lessons, skill shares, debates, film screenings. Our time in this building is short, we have the next couple of weeks to zhumba, zhumba, zhumba.

facebook page

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lewisham against fees and cuts: wednesday action

Lewisham Against Fees & Cuts – Street Party & Sound System!

In solidarity with FE student walkout, fight back against the attack on Further Education, the cuts to the EMA, and the fees increase at Goldsmiths and across the UK.

Meet outside: Goldsmiths Library, Lewisham Way, 12pm Wednesday 26th.

Bring pots + pans, and noise makers!

facebook event

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Artist of the Resistance Meeting-Wednesday 26th January

WED 26th JAN, 6.30-8.30PM


The government has made its cultural agenda clear: corporate, elitist and reckless. But opposition is growing.

Come along to this meeting to kickstart the New Year.

Following on from the excellent meeting in December which set up AoR, this meeting will be a chance to assess the latest situation with the culture cut, and to plan creative interventions, projects and events for the next few months.


Topics for discussion:
Loads of great ideas have been circulating on the AoR Facebook page. Here are a few proposed topics for discussion that can hopefully serve as launchpads for a variety of things.

* Youtube channel / Interactive Newsletter

* Creative support for the February 5th national day of action to save libraries (called by ‘Campaign for the Book’) – poetry readings, teach-ins, ‘book blocks’…

Spread the word! post this link on relevant pages, share on your wall, invite your friends.

Matt 07891 495 583

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