| Simon Periton: When
Nils and Merlin were there the colleges were amalgamated already but
at that time it hadn't really had much effect. It was still thought
of as being St Martins. The way the courses were set out was the same
and the various departments were still in their original buildings.
It did have an effect on me, I spent 2 years at St. Martins and
one at Central.
SP: Yes, but that's
changed now, there are no painting students at Central at all now
it's all Central St. Martins, part of the London Institute.
Which also includes several other art colleges such as The London
School of Fashion, Chelsea, London College of Printing...(etc.)
SP: The biggest
change in the last 6 months with reference to Charing Cross Road
(what was the St. Martins site) has been the way the building has
been changed. They've just put in whole new floors, moved the library,
they've moved the fashion department, they've moved whole departments
around, from one building to another. All done in the holidays,
with 4 weeks notice, lots of staff being away on holiday and not
knowing where their departments are on returning.
Nils Norman: But
they knew it was going to happen?
NN: Why so clandestine?
SP: Well, the institute
now has this policy of doing things, like closing the college coffee
bar, almost effecting military coups during the summer holidays,
because there are no students around to do anything about it.
SK: Or subvert
it at all.
SP: The Student
Union (if it has any power anyway) is always in a transitional stage
from one year to the next. Its the perfect time for any movement
and change to occur. Not many staff are around, no students around
to be up in arms about it. Lots of the fashion students last year,
having had their interviews in May/ June for degree courses, all
thought they were going to be in the centre of Soho near to fabric
shops etc. Only to arrive in September, with agreed places on the
course, to be told they weren't there at all, they were in Clerkenwell
(East London). Miles away from anywhere. The textile centre was
traditionally in Soho.
MC: They didn't
really think about that?
SP: They did think
about it, but they didn't rate it higher than getting more student
SK: Basically this
is a result of the spatial review which was done very secretly.
SP: The first really
big one was the college coffee bar going in the holidays.
NN: That was just
trashed wasn't it? Even the guy who ran it didn't know about it.
SP: No, he was
away on holiday fishing and got a call from a sympathetic school
keeper saying: "you better come in and sort out all your equipment
- till, fruit machines, snooker tables and all your various catering
equipment, because it's all being dumped outside the door and if
you don't come in you're not going to have a business!" And
he was effectively removed. The only reason it seems it was necessary
was that the college management objected to the fact that Dave (the
owner) was an autonomous unit. The Student Union was piss poor anyway,
and the only place students could meet was in his coffee bar. That's
where everything occurred.
SK: Plus it's another
6 grand per year in fees for however many students they could fit
into that now vacant space.... (£ 5,900 per year for overseas
students, £1,600 for European Community students).
SP: The bottom
line is money....
MC: Just how to
get more students into the space.
SP: The whole thing
this summer was moving, ridiculously long-winded and expensive moving.
The official story now is that the reason why they did this so late
was that they didn't finalise the budget until the last moment.
So they didn't actually know if they could do it or not. What happens
is that the Heads of College know what's going on. That's handed
down from the Rector of the lnstitute, that's in turn handed down
from a Government Minister. These various stages all know slightly
less than the ones before them. Then the Deans, who come under the
Heads of College, run the various faculties within the college.
SK: Also they did
this moving when they knew the subject leaders would not be there.
Under the Deans are the subject leaders, they don't have very much
power but they have enough power to kick up a fuss and stop things
happening. But they are only employed for 36 weeks a year. They
are not employed for the summer, especially that part of the summer
which is prime holiday time. But don't forget that it is now The
London lnstitute. Its not a college anymore.
MC: But what specific
thing are you talking about?
SP: They moved
another department into one part of the painting department.
MC: Which department?
SK: Critical Fine
MC: They just took
over part of the painting department without telling the actual
SP: Not even telling
the department who was moving in there either! It's just a re-jigging
of space. For instance the sculpture studio, the main hall where
they held fashion shows, whatever, pantomimes....
NN: That was actually
built as a theatre.
SP: Right. The
building is a listed building
and what they have done is they've built this massive (you couldn't
get more permanent) mezzanine floor. They've theoretically nearly
doubled the floor space.
NN: They've just
extended the mezzanine so now it reaches half way across the hall.
SK: Right. Its
now another floor.
SP: It stops just
by the stage really, which prevents any sculpture taller than 10ft.
I asked my friend Alan, who works on a building site, how much would
this job cost? They had builders in from 8 a.m. working right through
till 9 p.m. sometimes midnight for 5 or 6 weeks during the holidays.
At no notice whatsoever, so they were obviously on really good earners
because there's no way they could afford to have those people there
unless they're seriously funding it. The total cost is not known,
but it would have been two to three hundred thousand at least. What
they've actually gained are maybe spaces for 40 students and what
they are hoping is that those 40 students will then be from overseas.
SK: Which means
18 grand apiece.
NN: Those students
would be fee paying foreign students?
SP: Well that's
what they hope. But there's no guarantee that they are going to
SK: Well there
is actually because the subject leaders are forced to take in overseas
students without even interviews.
SP: The prospectus
is only available in one other language, which is Japanese. They
printed it in Japanese, opening the same way as an English book,
so effectively they published it in Japanese, back to front!
MC: By mistake?
SP: By mistake.
they want the place to have a Fine Art degree with different modules
which you go into, rather than a dinosaur departmentalised system.
So that there would no longer be a painting department, there would
be a painting facility.
MC: That's all
fine but I mean, if they are just cramming in more and more students,
without thinking they would have to give one "p" more
in teaching time or facilities, then it's just going to get worse.
They've reduced the teaching time and facilities since you were
there. They've basically halved the resources and doubled the student
intake. That is why the Rector lost his validation from the C.N.A.A.,
MC: So your degree
is not validated anymore?
SK: Well it is
now, it's self-validating, they now have self-validating status.
There was a time in between you and us and what it is now where
the only institution that would validate the institutes degree
was the Open University.
And they had to pay a hell of a lot of money for that. So for one
year everyone got an Open University degree from St. Martins!
NN: So they could
have all just stayed at home and watched T.V.
SP: The way the
courses have changed, which is something to do with the course which
moved into the painting department, what was the F.A.C.S.
course, a 5 year modular course, that ran different days with different
students, is what's seen as the future of further education. A kind
of shift system.
NN: Mainly older
people who would come back to school, having done other things.
SP: That's good,
it attracted lots of, for example, women who had been housewives
and it's really excellent to encourage that sort of people, but
the way the staff ran the course was a bit of a joke, it wasn't
SK: The C.F.A.P.
course is much better.
SP: Yeah, this
is a new course which seems to have attracted much younger students
and older ones too. Its a bit sort of funkier.
NN: And is that
still over a period of 5 years?
SK: No it's a 3
NN: But you do
your 3 year degree in 5 years. Part-time.
SP: No but there
are part-time ones as well. I think in an ideal world they wanted
to get lots of M.A.
part-time courses. The thing about St. Martins in the past was that
it didn't have a very good image in terms of being like Chelsea
or the Royal College. It didn't run M.A. courses.
NN: But surely
if they start setting up M.A. courses they need more space.
MC: They need more
teachers, you can't just have a M.A.. course and not teach anybody
SK: The bottom
line is that most departments need more teachers anyway.
SP: What you've
hit on is the idea of the part-time course.
NN: One student
can use the space for half a day then....
SP: Another shift
NN: Like time share.
You share the space....
SP: And you share
the staff. That's the ideal.
SK: At the moment
is a 3 year course, it's just a fine art degree, but it's critically
based so you can go into any other area and do your stuff.
SP: There is also
a whole part-time B.A.
SK: There's a much
stronger part-time structure. There is also this thing called D.A.L.I.:
Developments at the London lnstitute. They are a money-making operation.
So basically if Simon, as a technician, wanted to run a summer course
he would just go to D.A.L.I.
and say "I want to set up a summer course" they would
say "fine, you write it, we'll pay you to do it and we'll take
a percentage of the money you generate." The whole thing is
SP: Now at the
last degree show when I walked around (this isn't a problem just
a noticeable difference) next to all the spaces underneath all the
labels of people's names, there was this little D.A.L.I. sheet
which had the titles of the work and price and it said if sold,
you were supposed to put a little cross next to it. These would
all be sent back to central office which works out how much money
the college gets.
MC: Everyone had
an A4 xeroxed sheet next to their work with a chart which you could
cross to fill in if a piece of work had been sold?
SP: It was supposed
to be filled in as the work was sold.
NN: Who priced
SP: I think it
was still priced by the students.
SK: No, no it was
priced by D.A.L.I.
they have a woman who goes around and assesses what she thinks the
students would get....
MC: For all the
student work in the shows she assesses the price?
SK: Yes she does.
NN: Did you find
out how much they took, what percentage?
SK: The painting
department sold about £15,000 worth.
SP: You mean what
take? 1 don't know, they probably only take about 30% or something,
it's not a ridiculous sum but they do enforce taking it.
MC: So the buyer
writes a cheque to D.A.L.I.....
SP: D.A.L.I. then
pays the student the difference.
SK: But the institution
won't let you take your work out of the building without their say
so because it's the institution's work. Its not yours.
MC: But you still
take your work home.
SK: You still do
but you're not supposed to.
SP: That was the
old way it worked and what happened was, theoretically, all the
work that's made while you're a student, when you enrol at the beginning
of each year, you effectively sign away the rights to any of it,
but what happened was at some point in the past then they obviously
tried to enforce the rule. In some college in the Midlands I think....
SK: In Leeds.
SP: What happened
was a lot of students said OK in that case we'll just leave all
our work here. And they just went at the end of the summer term
and left all their work there. It was more of a problem for the
college to then get rid of all this work or store it, than it was
to have the students take it away with them anyway.
MC: Well the students
clean up and paint the college every year, don't they? Its
very cheap labour. And then they clear everything out. So you're
left with a clean empty college next year.
SP: Having a show
at the end of the year is an ideal way to get the college virtually
ready for the next year.
SK: Another important
thing that's happened is that because Central St. Martins is self-validating
(the Institute is as a whole), the Rector has now awarded himself
a professorship and he's awarded the Head of Central St. Martins
a professorship as well. This is what I was talking to you about
the other day, this pseudo-academy that they have created, rather
than one which has existed through conventional systems in this
NN: And what are
these people trained as?
SK: Well, the Rector
has a M.A. in philosophy and a B.A. in economics. I think the Head
of Central St. Martins has...
SP: I don't think
she actually has a M.A.
NN: Then what are
they now professors of?
as educationalists, which is quite disturbing, they are professors
of the lnstitute.
SP: What's supposed
to happen is a self-inflating situation whereby the tutors and staff,
even us, are encouraged to up our credentials as much as possible
and to tell everybody (students) what's going on (in the art world).
Which is a way really of trying to make the college sound more attractive
to prospective students. There is this thing called "staff
SK: There is also
''performance related pay". On Monday I was invited to a party
which was paid for by a staff member's performance related pay.
NN: How can they
assess your performance?
SK: Money. Number
of students placed and students retained on the course and fee paying.
SP: That's not
specific to Central St. Martins, that's a really big employment
issue in the whole country.
SK: Its a
kind of post-Thatcherite idea, as also is this homogenisation of
different fine art disciplines. But I don't think that's such a
related pay has come from the industrial sector. The uproars occur
when they try to apply it to the health service for instance, how
do you decide how well a nurse has performed or a social worker,
when it's not quantifiable like that. Its the same in teaching.
NN: In the recent
degree show, or the last two or three, do you see any noticeable
difference or swing in what artists have made or are doing?
SK: Yeah, you do;
show was outstandingly different from any others that have been
at St. Martins.
SP: The C.F.A.P.
show was different mainly because it was a different kind of course.
A lot more critically based topical work. It stood out from all
the other departments.
MC: But basically
when I was at St. Martins I thought it was just a complete disaster
area. A nightmare disaster area. Which I could sort of exist in.
I had very little input from any teachers. I didn't know about any
of these regulations. I didn't know who the boss was. I never spoke
to them. I just came in and used the studio space. But the thing
is it seems almost more extremely like that. OK maybe C.F.A.P is
better. But it's still an incredible rabbit warren of horrible little
studio spaces. The whole annex is a rabbit warren now of studios
which it wasn't before and it just has a quite oppressive, incredibly
disorganised feel to it.
SK: But structurally
it's actually opening up. Its becoming less bureaucratic and
MC: I didn't think
it was bureaucratic I thought it was just chaos basically, and I
think it's even more chaotic now.
SK: Well all subject
are basically just administrators. This goes for all art schools
in this country. All these artists are told to be administrators
and they don't know what the fuck they're doing.
SP: One of the
other important things was they were making a lot of cuts on studio
teaching hours. So all the studio-based staff started to get up
in arms about this and said "if you're going to make cuts on
studio-based staff you also have to make cuts on the Cultural Studies
staff". So what happened was they then drastically severed
the hours for Cultural Studies staff: thesis tutors and complementary
studies tutors. What we now have is a situation whereby the heads
of various departments have to now act as thesis tutors. So now
painting tutors are thesis tutors too!
MC: Basically these
are people without brains.
SP: They have brains
but they have no grasp of the kind of things that most students
will be wanting to write about. Other than red and blue makes purple.
MC: They are just
not qualified for that job.
SP: What it meant
before was that if you were writing a thesis the tutor that was
your thesis tutor would have to have some knowledge or read the
books that you were reading. Suddenly now there are these tutors
who haven't maybe even read an art theory book from the last 20
years and are being bombarded with 50 students each.
MC: Even though
you are working in that place, don't things like that make you think
you're just in a nightmare? Its so extreme.
SK: No not really.
Our input to the students is probably more useful than what they
get from their academic heads.
MC: As technical
SK: No, as, as....
NN: As friends?
SK: As friends
and as other artists. They come and talk about things that we used
to talk to the Cultural Studies people about. This is another shift,
we're used as teachers as well.
NN: What do you
think they are trying to get to with these changes, what is the
SP: They want a
production line, an eye catching, self advertising...
SK: The degree
show is a product and if the student has a good career that's good
product for the college.
SP: The emphasis,
in terms of departments, is the financial factor, it probably always
was but it's so much more apparent now. The departments that control
and have the biggest say in how the college is run are the industrial
design and fashion departments. And also those with high profile
MC: The fashion
department is quite successful.
SP: Its incredibly
successful and it gets good press for the college, even though it
tries to pretend it's still St. Martins fashion, it is now Central
St. Martins. The way the whole business is run is actually much
more efficient from the top down. There's a much greater emphasis
on the corporate identity of the London lnstitute logo being on
everything that leaves the college. That wasn't really played on
that much when we were there. To go back to what I was saying before,
if the fashion department or industrial design department wanted
to have a particular place in the college they would more than likely
get it at the expense of some of the more quiet departments like
painting or sculpture.
SK: In themselves
they are being marginalised not just politically but physically:
they are being pushed to the very edges of the building. As you
said the annex is now this rabbit warren of painting studios. The
core of the place is now the School of Fashion. The 9th floor is
painting, the 8th C.F.A.P.,
the 7th is painting and from then on down to the first floor is
fashion, then sculpture.
MC: So the painters
have been jammed, jammerikkied
together in the top.
SK: I think they
are trying to reduce the whole fine art activity into one course
so they can centralise all the technical resources. But I don't
think they will make it physically smaller in terms of student intake.
NN: Does the college
now help students get gallery deals?
SK: Yes it does.
SP: C.F.A.P. does.
NN: They liase
SP: The way C.F.A.P.
is different and much more successful than its predeccesor F.A.C.S.
(it was set up in the same way as F.A.C.S.) was because the tutors
on F.A.C.S. had no understanding of any contemporary art issues
at all. For example you now have Mona Hartoum teaching on the C.F.A.P.
course, she might not be everyone's cup of tea, but you've got people
who are around and are in shows on a regular basis, so there are
connections through their gallerists.
They have a policy of inviting people like Eigen + Art. They might
be rubbish but they (C.F.A.P.) are doing something, that's not maybe
a useful connection but it does show the right direction.
NN: Have they removed
certain teachers to get these younger people?
SP: No, they've
invented a whole new course!
NN: When I was
there I just wondered why most of the teachers were there.
SP: A lot of them
have a job for life from I.L.E.A.
SK: Now some of
them are just too old. Some of them are so decrepit they can't get
NN: Ive noticed
they've dramatically changed the reception area. Instead of coming
up to a security guard at a small desk you now come up to an official
secretary at a very long, large circular desk.
SK: If you look
at what they are doing, this is all part of the new London lnstitute.
They are trying to merge all these things (Buildings, departments,
courses, people) into one massive art school (the biggest in Europe)
and I think its model is the Royal College.
SP: No the model
was supposedly the London School of Economics which was the knock
on to the Royal College.
SK: So they are
trying to recreate an academy very quickly, not from any ancient
ideas like Oxbridge....
SP: But in the
summer holidays basically!
MC: It all strikes
me as being slightly unconvincing. Its always about these
things that will happen in the future. Its not sorted out
now. As a Thatcherite revolution do you think it's actually going
to succeed? Is it going to be a successful Thatcherite college?
Is it actually ever going to be sorted out and clean?
SK: They don't
want it to be a Thatcherite college. This is a post-Thatcher idea.
I think it will be successful. It will work. It might even be better
for the students but then in some ways it's going to be rubbish.
SP: It won't be
good for the students. It will be good in business terms because
if nothing else it will be making money. And how it makes money
is by a glossy exterior and a quick paint job. They've sand-blasted
the building but they only sand-blasted 10ft up in the air!
SK: You have to
be a little generous here. There's a room full of Macs there. Now
there's £1,000's worth of software. There are editing suites,
there's stuff you never dreamt of having.
SP: I know, but
you've got to compare that with what other colleges have and on
those terms the lnstitute is really poorly equipped. Its got
basically 10 years to catch up. Buying 3 or 4 Macs isn't going to
do it. I can't see how it can possibly be in the interest of the
students when everything is done in such a way as the students are
never consulted. I don't know of any members of staff who are consulted
about what students are expecting.
MC: It sounds like
members of staff are being treated like students. Students are being
treated like "just get them in and shut them up".
SP: Everyone is
treated like they're a pack of animals basically and they are herded
around without being told anything.
SK: Only by upper
level management, not with people they work with directly.
SP: When the Head
of the lnstitute says something, then the heads of all the colleges
jump. When the heads of college jump, then the Deans all jump. It
just gets more diluted as it comes down but basically no one is
turning around and saying, "Hang on! No, stop!" No one
SK: Its panic
managed, to prevent people from saying that.
SP: You have a
management structure whereby you are unable to say anything to anybody
higher than the person who's your direct line manager. So what that
stops is anybody going over someone's head to complain to where
the complaint really should be made, it's just passed one rung up
or one rung down, which is a tried and tested way of stopping dissent.
That exists now in a way it didn't before.
MC: There is no
reason why the students shouldn't demand things, they are paying
a lot of money.
SP: They are demanding
things, but you're a student, you've paid your money to come to
college and this is why I think the Student Union at St. Martins
just petered out; unless it's up and running already, no one's got
the time to spend setting it up. Because they are like you and I
were, quite happy just to get on with it, if you were a bit self-motivated
and you could get on without the staff, you knew the system and
used it how you wanted it.
SK: We used the
system how we wanted it, we didn't use the structure that was there.
MC: Im not
comparing it now to when I was there, because I thought it was complete
crap when I was there.
SP: I would still
say it is!
MC: There seems
to be this other structure within the management now, compressing
everything into this other shape. I wonder if that is going to actually
work? Is it actually going to get it on course to something else.
SP: Like I said
before what has happened is the business side is where most development
has been. The D.A.L.I.
unit generates a lot of money, in its first year it announced £3
NN: Where does
that money go?
SP: It does go
back into the college, some of it. What happens is, it goes back
into the departments that generate the most cash. This is how it
works; if as a department you generate enough D.A.L.I. unit activity
then you get the money back in. So photography is a really big earner,
everybody wants to learn photography. Photography has been more
popular in the last 5 years than it ever has been in Britain before.
So photography generates a lot of D.A.L.I. activity. D.A.L.I. then
pays money back to photography but at a much slower rate than it's
supposed to. The painting department might not generate that much
business so basically it doesn't get fed back. There are supposed
to be more general school of art funds. But it seems to be so slow
in trickling down and back from the D.A.L.I. office.
NN: Simon you've
been there for around 4 years, how has your pay differed? Has it
changed at all?
SP: Its gone
up slightly. But not a great deal.
MC: You have quite
nice buffet lunches in photography.
That buffet lunch means we are on the premises more than tutors
who go to restaurants for one and a half hours and drink a few bottles
of red wine.
MC: There is nowhere
to eat in the college, there's nowhere even to have a cup of coffee.
There are a thousand students in there and nowhere to have a cup
of coffee. There's not even a coffee machine.
MC: But that is
SK: The social
life in the college has gone (rasssssp!).
NN: There is nowhere
for the students to meet at all?
SK: No. They have
a lot less money, a lot less than we did as students. They have
less money, they have to work, no social life.
SP: Grants were
pegged 3 years ago.
SK: Grants are
about 40% of what we got in real terms.
SP: In the summer
holidays they don't get any housing benefit. Housing benefit to
students has stopped in London even if you have a full grant.
MC: You basically
have to start work the first week of the holidays.
SK: No, you work
through the term!
SP: Say you've
got a £70 a week grant. There aren't many places in London
you can get to rent for less than £50/£60 a week and
you're talking Tottenham and Brixton. So it doesn't leave any money
for materials, which has an effect on work produced... lots of sponsorship
SK: Students are
demanding things. But I don't mean demonstrating or protesting.
They demand from us, they say things like, "I pay lots of money
not to bang in my nails, you have to bang in my nails for
me!" They are Thatcherite kids who will get sponsorship from