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Notes on Groundcourse

Notes on Groundcourse – Neil MulhollandThe Groundcourse was a two year foundation that ran at Ipswich School of Art from 1961 onwards. Discussions of this course now tend to focus on its impact upon online learning environments, cybernetic art and some of Roy Ascott’s more utopian predictions regarding the world wide web (what he called ‘telematic’ art). One of the main ideas of the Groundcourse was the idea of the ‘irritant’. This involves introducing rules or conditions that will facilitate a kind of self-consciousness in learning (sand in the vaseline).

This is designed to enable ‘learning from the ground up’ – which relates to radical pedagogy (Illich’s ‘Deschooling Society and Jaqcues Rancier’s ‘Ignorant Schoolmaster’). This is common to many 1960s art school experiements, especially those informed by systems theory. The element of the Groundcourse I find most interesting is when students spent ten weeks of their second year living out a character contra to their own. I think that we can consider this as an experiment in which everyone calibrates the conditions for themselves:
“The Groundcourse emphasising behavioral change as a founding principle for enabling creativity, utilized the enactment of new personalities as educational strategy.” ground<c>: The Enablement of Creativity in a Metaverse – Art Education in a metaverse: ground<c>
This now has resonance with the common use of avatars in online games and chatrooms (there’s a SecondLife version of the Groundcourse called ground<c>) It’s also similar to other doubles in the arts, such as the motif of ‘Bunberrying’ (from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt‘s Oblique Strategies (1975) ‘reverse an axiom’ card (Eno was a student on the Groundcourse), and the character George Costanza ‘Doing the Opposite’ in Seinfeld. The easiest way to understand this is to watch this clip from Seinfeld:

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