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O My Friends, There Is No Friend

Politics, Affiliation and the Ontology of Friendship

June 28-July 16, 2021

Tuition: $1500

In the era of the pandemic, which has foregrounded isolation and technologies of remote nearness, as well as the ongoing crisis of racial injustice, it is all the more important to consider what affiliation and friendship mean. For two intensive weeks this summer, the School of Visual Arts in New York City and the Valand Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden will join in friendship and collaboration for a rigorous philosophical inquiry into politics, affiliation and the ontology of friendship.


Considerations regarding what friendship is and means across individual, collective and societal registers, in respect of both cooperative and antagonistic entanglements, have complex and multiple histories. Some would argue that these must be understood in order to realize an engaged ethical life that takes account of principles and experiences of affiliation in their diverse expressions as: love, familial affection, extra-familial affection, fidelity, loyalty, consensus, goodwill, recognition, sameness and difference, oppression and freedom and the intimate opacities of relationality. Here we will consider the politics and ontology of friendship, the metaphysics of togetherness and agency and survey the apparatus of support structures within the spectrum of filial relations as they are entwined with gender, race and governmentality.


The intensive will engage the question of the friend across discourses, as it is activated with different valencies for different constituencies. Points of reference include Hegel’s formulation of self-overcoming, mutuality in otherness and relational freedom; Carl Schmitt’s friend/enemy distinction; Virginia Woolf’s challenge to patriarchal representations of friendship; Carl Schmitt’s friend/enemy dichotomy; Walter Mignolo's articulations of coloniality and decoloniality; and Sibyl Schwarzenbach’s formal political discourse of friendship as a feminist political strategy, among other key texts and terms.


Participants will be selected from across disparate yet intersecting fields of practice, including art, philosophy, design, activism and curatorial practice. Through lectures, seminars, guest speakers and collaborative projects, participants will develop a contemporary framework for thinking through friendship in this unprecedented era.


The seminar will be led jointly by Steven Henry Madoff, founding chair of SVA’s MA Curatorial Studies program and internationally renowned curator, art critic and poet; and artist, educator and researcher Mick Wilson, Professor of Art and Director of Studies for Research Education at HDK-Valand Academy of Art and Design, University of Gothenburg. Group study will be augmented by an international array of guest interlocutors representing the world’s museums, academies and activist spaces for thought, action and collaboration.

Note: This intensive is fully online and offered through a combination of synchronous as well as asynchronous lectures, discussions and activities. Synchronous sessions will be announced and scheduled in consideration of different time zones.