Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz : an oral and local history of 10 hectic years at the Work.Master (2011-2021)

Lili Reynaud-Dewar

Eight years ago, in 2014, Geneva based Swiss-Ethiopian artist Ramaya Tegegne graduated from the Work.Master at HEAD. For her graduation she presented a project mysteriously entitled Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz. Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz is both a performance (a reading) and a publication that gathers the transcripts of conversations with several people involved in one way or another in New Jerseyy, an offspace based in Basel and running until 2013. With Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz, Ramaya Tegegne observed group dynamics within artistic communities. She collected gossips, stories, memories, anecdotes, tensions, everything that exists beyond the slick realm of images that characterises art production and circulation today, and everything that is actual flesh and life of art production, that is to say, life, emotions and conversations.

One year ago, the Work.Master moved from its old building on Boulevard Helvétique to the new one on the HEAD Campus. Along the way, some hard drives that contained images and documents from past projects developed in the context of Work.Master mysteriously disappeared. Almost at the same moment, a new website was launched and the “past projects” section also disappeared. We suddenly found ourselves without a record or history of what those previous years had been like. But one also has to admit that what we did was not always documented or archived, because very often, in the rush or excitement of working together and creating new works, shows, ideas, we forget to archive things properly and/or to provide evidence of what we have been doing. When we work together, we always put more energy into working, talking, traveling, arguing, partying, instead of in documenting and organising our archive.

How do we get to remember what it was like to shoot a film in Andy Warhol’s hometown with Verena Dengler’s Radical Chic Academy or to create new moving images and situations with Vaginal Davis and Olga Rozenblum? What was it like to work with guest tutors Tobias Madison, Tobias Kaspar, Jon Rafman? What was Performance Proletarians? What was Laptop Radio? What was Fashion Time? What was Teaching as Teenagers? Who got to work on a performance by Spartacus Chetwynd (whose name is now Marvin Gaye Chetwynd) at Le Consortium in Dijon? Why were some students dressed as big shrimps in Vittorio Brodmann’s performance at LiveInYourHead, when it was still located in this old building way beyond Cornavin railway station? Why did professor Danai Anesiadou come only twice? What was the outcome of Carissa Rodriguez’s Labzone? Where are the ceramics produced in the context of Mai-Thu Perret’s clay workshop? Why were some professors teaching in their hotel rooms? What did students do in the context of Anthea Hamilton’s trip to Malta? Why were the students that participated in Pedro Reyes’ Sanatorium at Documenta 13 not paid? There are so many stories to be told and remembered and laughed and to be critical about…

The Labzone Bzzz Bzzz Bzzz is both a tribute to an artwork that was developed in the context of the Work.Master (Ramaya Tegegne’s) and an appropriation of a particular methodology, the methodology of conversation. In order to understand what the years that preceded us were like, what the atmosphere was, the context and what kind of projects were developed, we will interview former participants to these pedagogical experiments, guest artists and professors of course, but most importantly, participants in these projects, that is to say: former students. We will meet them in bars, in their studios, in their homes, in their favourite park, and will ask them to talk about what they remember. People might retrieve some photos from their phones for us, find a publication on their bookshelves, they will gossip, criticise about those weird projects, they will sometimes contradict each other, not remember super well, maybe even not want to talk about any of this but instead discuss their current situation and what influence these projects and encounters had on their practice. What have those students become? Artists, chefs, publishers, employees in an office, researchers, DJs, lap dancers, farmers… To start with we will be “traveling” mostly through Geneva, and then maybe through Switzerland and then maybe to one or two European cities where some of those former students and professors reside today, like Vienna or Berlin, or Rome.

The outcome of all this chit-chatting is yet to be discussed together. Will it be a book, a film, a theatre play, a performance, a reading? Oral history sometimes doesn’t even need to produce evidence of its own existence. What matters here is to have a good conversation and to understand where we stand, that there were always other students before us, other classes, other good and bad projects, other stories, other love stories, other gossips, other crises and other forms of friendship. Everything changes so fast, we need some record of what things were like even two or three years ago, and we need to share experiences from the past in order to make our present time and condition maybe a little bit better.