The Space Between Classrooms

Swiss Institute is proud to present the 5th edition of its Annual Architecture and Design Series, curated by artist Alia Farid (b. 1985; lives/works in Kuwait and Puerto Rico). The works in this exhibition, entitled The Space Between Classrooms, respond to the limitations of learning within the prescribed architectural and structural parameters of an archetypal school setting. Farid takes as a starting point the prototype for schools that Alfred Roth designed for Kuwait’s Ministry of Public Works during the late 1960s, a period of rapid modernization for the newly flourishing oil state. Roth, a celebrated Swiss modernist architect, developed prefabricated schools that were to be replicated in each district across the country. From his initial report on the existing provision of schools, which opens the exhibition, The Space Between Classrooms compares the uniformity of Roth’s architecture and the introduction of a modern education system in Kuwait with expanded art practices from Latin America, Southwest Asia and North Africa. These works draw on radical forms of pedagogy and communication as tools for unlearning, exploring how institutionally engineered values might govern imagination.

The exhibition opens with Roth’s specific architectural prototype and its influence on the Gulf state. Works by Abdullah Al Mutairi, Khalid al Gharaballi and Atelier Aziz Alqatami reconstruct elements and scenes from the Roth schools to examine the use and afterlife of these modernist buildings. Placing this architectural case study in dialogue with theories of alternative learning, the exhibition concurrently draws from an expanded notion of education and pedagogical practice as seen through the prism of ideas of philosopher Ivan Illich (1926-2002), most notably in his 1971 treatise Deschooling Society, a critical discourse on education as practiced in modern economies and a critique of mandatory schooling. In Illich’s view, formal education is a means of production, and as such, it is imbricated within a fundamentally circular and capitalist logic. Works in The Space Between Classrooms by Mohamed Bourouissa, Olga Casellas and Marco Abarca, Cecilia Vicuña, Jumana Manna and Haig Avazian, Oscar Murillo, Gala Porras-Kim, and Nuria Montiel explore the potential of art as an alternative mode of learning, situated at the intersection of education and self-exploration, to challenge existing power structures and consider systems of knowledge, language and meaning outside the walls of modern institutions. Concurrent and integral to the show is a public program series that brings together activists, artists, architects and historians including Marco di Nallo, Sophie Hochhäusl, Amal Khalaf, Sofía Olascoaga and Michy Marxuach to discuss and activate alternative modes of schooling.

Driven by inquiry, the works here demonstrate how understandings of knowledge or what constitutes valuable information cannot be prescribed or confined. With its title taken from a caption that Roth inscribed beneath a photo of a hallway in a school in Kuwait, The Space Between Classrooms explores the capacity that we each have to make meaning from the in-between or the outside. Set against our current moment, in which traditional sites of education have been radically reconfigured for many, it makes visible the potential in everyday spaces for moments of thought and learning.

20 January to 18 April 2021
Swiss Institute
38 St Marks Place
10003 New York, USA
The Swiss Institute