First Take Vivian Sky Rehberg

In early 2012, when I first moved into my shared office in the old school building in central Rotterdam that houses the Piet Zwart Institute Master Fine Art studios, a decade’s worth of carefully-labelled, black-bound ring binders visibly crowded the open shelves and invisibly occupied nearly all the closed cupboards around my corner desk. The black-bound MFA archive contained countless reams of administrative paperwork, course outlines and course readings, documentation, and ephemera from student and staff projects, correspondence with suppliers, publishers, colleagues, exchanges between the MFA office, tutors, and guests. Over the past six years, I’ve had the occasion to open, glance at, or read through most of them, before boxing them up for storage or tossing out their contents. Through my perusal, I gained a greater understanding of the history of the program I inherited from my predecessors Anke Bangma and Vanessa Ohlraun, as well as the people who have passed through it, the practices that have emerged from it, the art education traditions we’ve held onto and what we’ve changed over time.

We select, save, and file similar things differently now. Most of our archive is digital, classified in folders on a central server, and only accessible to a few. When I mentioned my idea to title this web-based digital archive “Binder” to some students last year, they snickered and joked about alliteration with Tinder and Grindr. Binders may be old-school, but I still appreciate the gratifying thump of a hole puncher chomping into a too-thick article I’ve printed from PDF and jammed into the device’s narrow slot, just as much as I admire how the same device effortlessly punctures an invoice. I enjoy making the springs unload and the rings salute the arrival of pages. Personally, I think pushing the lever-element to fasten the stack in with a reassuring click is fun.

As a digital archive, this Binder serves a practical and symbolic function. It was created to hold and make public some of the activities, experiences, research, writing, artworks, and projects that temporarily bind us together on the MFA program. Much of what we do year after year is fleeting, unseen, unrecorded, or kept between us. Students spend two intense years on the program, and during that time they might take precarious research paths and courageously try using myriad forms to express still-vulnerable ideas, positions, and feelings. They constantly test options in projects that receive recognition, as well as in those that don’t make it to the main stage of distribution. The latter is a constant feature of artistic research.

If Binder operates as the kind of promotional tool educational markets demand, then it will do so in a self-organized, collective, and collegial way, hosting the self-selected contributions of students, alumni, and staff all of whom are welcome to produce, commission for, co-edit, and share its contents. Each issue will contain an introductory editorial, like this one, written by an associate of the MFA program, plus features devoted to research undertaken and work produced on the MFA, and a section dedicated to words. In Binder you will find documentation of the recent past and present, and eventually some of the not-quite widely accessible audiovisual recordings, publications, and images saved in our MFA office collection. There is no strict temporal framework for the opening and closing of an issue, beyond the boundaries of an academic year. With sincere thanks to the efforts of designer Kristin Metho, web developer Kris Borgerink, copy editor Liz Allan, and the first issue’s documentarians Sol Archer and Tor Jonsson, this new-fashioned Binder is now open to us to fill, and for you to encounter.