Media artwork for cell phones and a book, 2008
Kalle Hamm: SMS (School of Mobile Studies, Fine Art Group) media art work. Exchange rates, weather reports, bodymass index, dating tips, horoscope Ė all these can be sent to your mobile phone as SMS services. OK. But a degree in art? The idea of a work of art in the form of an SMS art school is amusing and generates questions. Whatís the point? Does it work? Why can anyone attend? Iíll text my questions to Kalle Hamm, who made the SMS work.
Minna Raitmaa > Kalle Hamm: Hi Kalle! Why can everybody attend the SMS art school?
Kalle > Minna: Being an artist is everyoneís right. I want to give that opportunity to everyone who wants to have it because I have found no sound arguments for leaving someone out and admitting someone else.
The gatekeepers of established art schools are usually professionals from the art world. In admission tests consisting of several stages they separate the artists from the non-artists, or at least we assume that only those with talent are selected for the studies. By contrast, anyone who has a mobile phone and value on their card can study in the SMS school, regardless of any advance knowledge.
Minna > Kalle: Doesnít an art student need to be especially talented to get on in an art school? Shouldnít they be able to draw, for example?
Kalle > Minna: The artistís job profile has expanded: itís not a drawback to know how to draw, but, above all, what an artist needs today is the ability to think. You can complete SMS without drawing a single line, yet be doing art all the time. On the other hand, drawing hasnít disappeared, itís just complemented by other things.
Despite the terse format of text messaging, the School of Mobile Studies covers a wide range of topics. SMS simulates the subjects taught in established art schools and ends with a diploma work complete with opening ceremonies and a press conference. The school offers lectures in art history as well as the core theories of contemporary art and art philosophy. The studies are characterised by an analytical and critical attitude. Contemporary art occupies a key role from the beginning to the end of the 71 teaching situations/text messages. Thanks to the finite number of letters that can be used in text messages, the content is couched in very precise terms. SMS encourages students to think and to do. Each lecture ends with a question or some idea that is challenged, and then the student is asked to give his or her own arguments and opinions on the subject. The school also challenges students to reflect upon definitions of art. The study assignments both encourage them to make art and to think about the processes. If the student really follows the instructions sent by SMS, he or she will inevitably explore key questions on contemporary art and put him/herself on the line. Works completed in the School of Mobile Studies make use of the methods of contemporary art, and the assignments cover the entire field of art. The topics are explained in a terse and challenging way. SMS offers alternative instruction in art with tongue in cheek. Although the lessons are laced with humour, the School of Mobile Art ultimately takes art education very seriously, offering interesting viewpoints and encouraging assignments to everybody who is interested. The democratic comment embodied in the school can even be seen as a challenger to established forms of art education.
Minna > Kalle: Does SMS challenge traditional art education?
Kalle > Minna: SMS does not challenge traditional art education, but its intrinsic power structure: who has the right to decide who can study art. At the same time, it asks what is relevant to teach and how. And do not forget that the genre of SMS is parody.
Students of SMS are expected to have an active and analytical attitude, which belies an attitude of respect for the unknown students by the school. As all who complete the SMS degree in art cannot find work as artists, the participants must be given something else that is of value, such as personal insights on contemporary art. At least SMS brings art close to the lived world of young people and opens up contemporary art through a familiar medium. It is easy to imagine, say, art educators making use of Hammís text messaging school in their own work.
Minna > Kalle: Is your SMS work also a project in art education?
Kalle > Minna: It is that notorious thing known as applied and participatory art, so it can beused for art education as well. It could also be seen as experimental art education. Use at your own risk : )
Minna > Kalle: Thanks for the interview! Be texting you ; )
Summing up: text messages can accommodate art The format of the SMS work is both functional and revealing. The cavalcade of text messages is constructed with care and betrays familiarity with contemporary art. Its dramaturgy beguiles students to proceed to the next message. Along the way you can learn a thing or two about contemporary art, and even about yourself. As an added bonus, SMS is a convincing argument that every writer and content producer would do well to crystallise their ideas into text messages in the way Kalle Hamm has done. The process of compression inevitably reveals the core idea, and especially its absence. Although Kalle Hamm has made a smooth transition from one medium to another in his SMS work, its core that challenges power in the world of art education remains intact and quite as visionary as in his earlier output. Kalle Hammís School of Mobile Studies is a complex work that stimulates critical thinking, and where art and artisthood belong to all people. Using the work for art education would be natural in almost any context, because the questions raised by SMS and the personal insights about contemporary art that they lead to are among the key strengths of the piece.