artist / participant
Michael Stevenson’s solo exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery debuts the large-scale work Serene Velocity in Practice: MC510/CS183. This representation of a learning extension facility is based on two previously unrelated academic courses: MC510 and CS183. As the codes indicate, these were actual courses taught for a short time in Californian higher-learning institutions and both espoused a distinctly Californian way of thinking. Each was transformative in its respective field and each quickly developed a mass following globally, bestselling books and a multitude of spinoff courses.
Mission class 510, or MC510, was the code used by the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena for a new course taught in the winter semester of 1982. John Wimber of the Vineyard Ministries became synonymous with this programme for four years, using it as a testing ground for his radical ideas in the experiential realm of miraculous healing and exorcism. Wimber ventured to redistribute the spirit world via practical sessions in this accredited course dubbed as "clinics" for the willing. Thirty years later, in the spring semester of 2012, Stanford University’s Computer Science faculty employed Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel to teach CS183, the course code for Startup. CS183 provided a forum for Thiel’s new intellectual framework in which he analysed case histories of failure from the tech industry’s recent past, while self-consciously modelling a future of exponential progress where miracles are worked in the space of technology.
Until now these two courses were unrelated, however, Stevenson has re-situated them together in a large-scale sculptural installation, or mini campus: two conjoined structures reflecting and illuminating each other. The course legacies are united by the artist in a newly accelerated learning environment in which their endgames are tested. One is constructed from airline comfort blankets and elevated on large commercial aircraft tyres; the other built entirely from radiating black anodised aluminium heat sink. A walkway based on the universal passageways of post-war educational institutions unites the two rooms and simultaneously disorientates the viewer.
For the teachers, Thiel and Wimber, the repetition of received knowledge prevents the generation of real change, what Thiel calls "vertical progress" and Wimber terms "paradigmatic shifts." In order to grow and mentor new possible "communities of practice," both MC510 and CS183 taught the abandonment of past (failed) models and the old institutions of knowledge, in favour of full participation in the mission for a radical future. For both parties, the quest for breakthrough (true entrepreneurship) would be won not in the ivory tower, but on the streets from Anaheim to Palo Alto. Not literal streets of course, but closer to what Californian educational theorists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger called the spaces of "legitimate peripheral participation." Like much of the movement from "real world" fact into the fictive space of the work, here Stevenson’s own hybridised aesthetic language models an addled pathway within the new learning facility beyond the here and now to wonderment.
Serene Velocity in Practice: MC510/CS183 is curated by Natasha Conland, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki with partners the Biennale of Sydney 2018 and Monash University Museum of Art | MUMA, Melbourne.
Michael Stevenson (born 1964, New Zealand) has lived in Berlin for more than 15 years. He is known for adopting an anthropological approach that often attracts moments of irrationality. His ambitious sculptural practice over many years appears to map historical narratives from certainty to ruin, mathematics to miracles, secrets and exchange. Significant recent projects have been seen at Carl Freedman, Art Basel (2016), Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2015), Dojima River Biennale, Osaka (2015), Sculpture Center, New York (2015), Liverpool Biennial (2014), Tate Modern, London (2014), Berlin Biennale (2014, 2010), Michael Lett, Auckland (2013), Portikus, Frankfurt am Main (2012), Museum Tamayo, Mexico City (2012) and a survey exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2012). Stevenson is currently professor of sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts, Nürnberg.