The Locked Room 1969-73: Four years that shook art education

Discussion Participants: Garth Evans, Jock Ireland, Brandt Junceau

The Locked Room, Four Years that Shook Art Education, is a book recently published by MIT Press which documents a controversial teaching program that became known at the “A” Course. The course was designed by four of the tutors, Peter Atkins, Gareth Jones, Peter Harvey and myself. It took place in the Sculpture Department at St. Martin”s School of Art between 1969 and 1973. In its 432 pages the book contains my recollections and those of many of the students, together with a rich variety of archival material and documentary photographs. The book took five years to compile and would not have been possible without the guidance and industry of its editor, Rozemin Kashvani.
–Garth Evans

Click above to hear the discussion
The Locked Room, book cover

Here are some excerpts from the discussion, images from the book are below:

The book is intended to be a primary source document about what actually happened. –Garth Evans

I’m the same age as the students who were part of what’s referred to as the second intake of the course. I wasn’t part of the course. I was in college in the woods in North Carolina at the time—but reading these recollections, I felt I knew each of the students. I was a very close friend. I knew exactly who they were. –Jock Ireland

You’re all being very nice, but the reason the course was controversial—and I don’t imagine the book is going to diminish that controversy—is that it was perceived by people on the outside as very authoritarian, and potentially so restrictive and authoritarian as to be harmful. –Garth

As soon as I began to think of the issues of education, I thought right away of Plato, very directly about The Republic. (Next didn’t I say something about the Locked Room being a community, and serving one, like the Republic?  Might be good to put that in the blurb, even if it has to be said shorter than I did out loud)  –Brandt Junceau

What’s a teacher’s responsibility? Does a teacher help you to hold a pencil correctly, whatever “correctly” might mean. Or does a teacher say, Why use a pencil? –Jock

Again, I have to disagree absolutely with you. In the first project you were given a piece of material and you were given nothing else—and you were not allowed to wander off. You were there. The obligation was to be present. –Garth

For me the “authoritarian” aspect of the Locked Room was simply the obligation to address a moment, and to refuse everything else.  But reading and listening now, I’m reminded of my own limitations: I wouldn’t have been able to do it– it was all happening in public and I really depend completely on personal isolation in the visual arts. –Brandt

When it comes down to it, the whole project of education makes me shudder.  And I got a real frisson from this. It’s such a profound intervention—with consequences we can’t possibly foresee. The idea of putting one’s hand on the wheel and steering a life for a day, let alone a term or a year. It’s a terrifying intervention! –Brandt

And that panic, I’ve felt it myself with this shift to Zoom. I’m completely relaxed teaching at the Studio School—in a studio with people I can touch sort of thing. In Zoom I’m overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility—and that panic or whatever informs the book. It’s behind some of Garth’s writing in the book, but it’s also behind the whole sort of mindset of the tutors. They spent however many hours/days trying to figure out, what does it mean to teach students and how do you do that. And Garth is sitting here still worried about being too authoritarian. –Jock 

‘Deacon to nail one more’, photo from the infamous Boxing Contest organised by students in the Locked Room, Richard Deacon in corner, Nov 1971, photo courtesy Tom McPhillips
‘Heavyweight contest – Richard deacon v Richard Allat’, photo from the infamous Boxing Contest organised by students in the Locked Room, Richard Deacon in corner, Nov 1971, photo courtesy Tom McPhillips
Inside the locked room during the sitting periods project, chairs in circle, 1970-71 student intake, Image courtesy Peter Venn
During the Mask Project, The Locked Room, St Martins School of Art, 1972, Garth Evans and Peter Kardia in masks, David Millidge in front. Photo Courtesy David Millidge
Inside the Locked Room, during the Sitting Periods, 1971, photo Courtesy Peter Harvey
Inside the Locked Room, Students in 1969 intake – Sitting Periods, 1970. Background Richard Deacon and Ted Walters, foreground Gareth Jones
Inside the Locked Room, Week 1, Materials Project, St Martins School of Art, 1969, Courtesy Peter Harvey
Inside the Locked Room, Week 1, Materials Project, St Martins School of Art, 1970, Courtesy Peter Harvey
Locked Room -student directed projects – project designed by Tony Hill, ‘The Blind Leading the Blind’, 1970. Sam Thomas in front at Hampstead Heath. Photo courtesy Tony Hill
Locked Room students from Year 1970 intake enjoying a pint at the Angel , Bas Herman and John Burke (also pictured Graham Crowley). Film still from A Lay in the Dyfe, 1972 c. Tom McPhillips
Peter Harvey stands facing wall in the Locked Room waiting for students to leave for the day, 1971
St Martins School of Art, first year sculpture students, photo taken during the Sitting Periods 1970, photo courtesy Tony Hill

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