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Photo by Marlayna Demond for UMBC

A new way of looking at academia

Renowned primarily for his installation and new media art, Antoni Muntadas focuses on addressing social, political and communication issues in nontraditional mediums. In 2011, Muntadas began to research the university system throughout the United States through the eyes of the professors and faculty who taught at research universities within this system. His findings were collected into About Academia I, a video installation, which premiered at Harvard University’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.

Now, six years later, Muntadas has revisited the subject of academia in the Western world in his second installation, Activating Artifacts: About Academia, which was curated by Niels Van Tomme, director of De Appel in Amsterdam. Presented in UMBC’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture and produced in part with De Appel, About Academia II explores the social divide in higher education between public and private institutions in relation to the ever-increasing corporatization and globalization of the U.S. education system. In this piece, Muntadas concentrates on the perspectives of the students within these educational institutions, rather than the academics as he did within the first installation.

To enter the art installation is to enter an open floor classroom: two long desks flank the entrance on either side, as if inviting one into a more traditional educational setting. The main portion of the piece is comprised of two sets of three video-installations, separated by a screen.

On one side, the videos present a more student-focused view of academia, while the other presents a more professor-focused view. The student-focused side features video footage of the UMBC Commons and articles citing everything from the importance of mentorship, to the subject of knowledge capitalism. The professor-focused side features images of different universities around the country and other references that look at the differences in public and private education.

Arguably, the most important part of this piece is not only the inclusion of the interviews Muntadas has done over the years with professors and other such university faculty, but also the interviews he has most recently done with students around the country.

These interviews tackle issues that have long been the subject of conversation within the U.S. educational system: private university elitism, the power of alumni in the U.S. versus their power in other countries, the positive influence of scientific research networks on universities and much, much more.

One of the overarching issues that Muntadas paid close attention to was the concept of space within a university. One of the factors many students consider before choosing a university to attend is its atmosphere, which often affects how one sees his or her position within the school and, by extension, within the world. In structuring his art installation like an open floor classroom, Muntadas allows those who experience his work to understand the potential universities have to create spaces that influence students’ drive and potential.

Muntadas’s work is just a portion of the ongoing conversation throughout colleges and universities across the U.S. By drawing attention to this conversation, Muntadas asks his audience to think beyond the context of his own work and bring it back into a personal setting. About Academia II will leave students contemplating how they view themselves within the education system and where they want to go once they have left it.

Activating Artifacts: About Academia can be viewed until March 17 at The Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, which is located on the first floor of the Fine Arts Building, Room 105. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. On Thursdays the gallery is open until 7:00 p.m.