ABOUT

The University of the Underground was founded in February 2017, as a charity with a ANBI status (RSIN 8575.82.781), with the purpose of creating a global engagement with society as a whole, bringing generations together, to democratise access to public institutions and trigger changes and critical reflections through the use of creative, experiential and design practices. With an explicit focus on social dreaming, critical design, social actions, politics, theatrical practices, film, music and experiential practices; it aims to provide toolkits for members of the public to actively participate in revealing power structures in institutions. The University of the Underground supports unconventional research and practices that apprehend and challenge the formulation of culture, the manufacture and commodities of knowledge. The University of the Underground believes in a transnational form of education, which goes across borders and beyond nation-states. We are based in Amsterdam but we are nurturing other tuition-free global initiatives.

We work on multiple outlets:

WE ARE AN EDUCATIVE STRUCTURE

The University of the Underground currently provides an accredited full time Master of the Arts (MA Design of Experiences) in Design of Experiences in collaboration with the Sandberg Instituut.  The Sandberg’s Instituut is the postgraduate programme of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. We take 15 students every two years for classes in Amsterdam and London (to start with). The applications are now closed for 2017-2019. The University of the Underground responds to the current trend of increased fees for postgraduate programmes by firstly proposing a model in which students are invited to receive a scholarship from the University of the Underground charity (RSIN 8575.82.781), to cover their tuition fees. The curriculum is concerned with a contemporary and strategic foresight implying politics, sustainability, institutions, new technologies and scientific developments both in Artificial Intelligence and in the current digital ecosystems. It makes innovative use of design, linguistic, experiential, political, musical and film practices as tools to engage members of the public with the experiences and the debates created. The University of the Underground is located in Amsterdam under the night club De Marktkantine and in London at the nightclub the Village Underground.  Students have access to the basement of the nightclub but also have access to the Sandberg Instituut and Rietveld Academy’s facilities. The University of the Underground is established as a charity in Amsterdam (ANBI Status), composed of a multidisciplinary international team as part of its advisory board, guest tutors and teaching team. The board of the University of the Underground is composed of professionals such as MOMA Senior Design curator Paola Antonelli, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery Hans Ulrich Obrist, WeTransfer president Damian Bradfield, intellectual activist Prof. Noam Chomsky and Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Andreyevna Tolokonnikova, Pentagram’s partner Michael Bierut and Paula Scher, and award-winning author Dave Eggers to name a few. Following our international recruitment, we have selected 15 students out of 250 applications from 40 different nationalities to start in September 2017. You can see the students work here

The MA Design of Experiences is a two year, full-time MA programme. (Friday is not scheduled for classes so that students can take paid roles to support their living expenses). Our programme exists at the nexus between critical design, experiential, theatrical, filmic, semiotics, political and musical practices; it aims to teach students how to engineer situations, to design experiences and events to best support social dreaming, social actions and power shifts within institutions, companies and governments.

The programme runs as such:

YEAR 1:

Where both practice and theory are run together simultaneously. Our first-year programme is fast-paced, providing both the methodologies and tools to students in the development of their unconventional practice, the formulation of their events and their understanding/ approach to the institution.

Theory:

-In the fall, weekly theory classes (2 hours each): Cultural entrepreneurship/ Linguistics/ Political strategy/ Theatrical practices/ Political philosophy and methodology (ethnography, design practices, ethics and gender studies). Sports classes take place every Tuesday morning to teach team work and endurance as a form of work ethic. Alongside scheduled classes, students also run self directed studies with their own group discussions.

-The Allegory of the Cave series runs weekly and it is co-curated by both the teaching team and the students. It is a series of illuminating talks and discussions on various topics and timeframes, questioning our plausible futures, unique design and unconventional research practices, economics, politics, sociology and more. In the fall 2017, guests included Head of Documentary at the Guardian Charlie Phillips, designer Daisy Ginsberg, filmmaker Noam Toran, Activist and member of Anarchist Feminist group Pussy Riot Nadezhda Andreyevna Tolokonnikova, cyborg Moon Ribas, science fiction author Bruce Sterling, feminist and serbian author Jasmina Tesanovic and more.

-Thursday evening screenings. In collaboration with production studio Dartmouth Films a series of documentary films questioning politics, society and economics, proposing methods and visual investigation of research.

Thursdays 5 to 6. Time for current affairs; Every Thursday from 5pm to 6pm, students and staff discuss one piece of writing, one piece of recent news relevant to their research investigation. Together we read, share sources and references and we identify some innovative or imaginative concepts, both challenging and problematic which might influence students’ practice or research in the coming years. 

Practice:

RADIO PODCAST: group work, a monthly podcast by the students in MA Design of Experiences, produced at the University of the Underground in the basement of nightclub DeMarktkantine. The programme’s treatment is written by the students in relation to their course programme, presented and disseminated in collaboration with Radio Wolfgang.

-BRIEF 1: CELEBRATIONS! Monday 2nd October 2017 (briefing & symposium day) to Saturday 4th November 2017: This brief focuses on the geophysics of the underground, surveillance and countercultures. It is developed with the Night Mayor of Amsterdam Mirik Milan and tutor Teun Castelein and it explores celebrations throughout history and the development of nightlife. Students are tasked with the production of an innovative celebration in collaboration with an institution of their choosing.

-WORKSHOP 1: Tuesday 7th November 2017 to Friday 10th November: Material and visual workshop with guest tutors visual artists Our Machine.

-BRIEF 2: The Immortal Monkey Monday 13th November 2017 to Thursday 11th January 2018: This brief, lead by tutor Thomas Greenall, explores Artificial Intelligence (AI) and gender studies. From the dawn of mechanized human forms to cutting-edge technology fresh from the lab, we interrogate the 500-year quest to make machines human. Focusing on why they exist (and the potential implications of their existence) rather than on how they work, we explore the ways robots mirror humanity and the insights they offer in our contemporary ambitions, fears, and desires, and our perceived position in a rapidly changing world.  Students are tasked to design a new test for artificial intelligence (an alternative Turing Test) in collaboration with an institution of their choosing, in order to challenge our limited understanding of human intelligence, and to explore a more productive future for human-machine interaction. 

WORKSHOP 2: Monday 18th December 2017 to Friday 22nd December 2017: Material exploration workshop and visual software (ie: Illustrator/ Photoshop/ Adobe After Effect, etc…) through a techno-catastrophe workshop by Clemens Wriklers.

WORKSHOP 3: Monday 8th January 2018 to Thursday 11th January 2018: Music and music production Workshop: The Black Ice Album lead by rock band Savages (Fay Milton and Ayse Hassan).

WORKSHOP 4: Monday 15th January 2018 to Thursday 18th January 2018: Experimental architecture with Prof. Rachel Armstrong, Set Design workshop with Joseph Popper, Space architecture with Dr. Barbara Imhof.

-INTERIM ASSESSMENT: Monday 22nd January 2018.

WORKSHOP 5: Thursday, January 18 and
Thursday, April 26: Launch of the University of the Underground, MA design of Experiences’ leaflet. In collaboration with guest tutor Sina Najafi, editor in chief of Brooklyn based Cabinet Magazine. A series of literary, poetic experiments and narrative methodologies are introduced to students’ practices.

OPEN DAY: Friday 2nd February 2018 at the Sandberg Instituut and the University of the Underground.

BRIEF 3: Since 1989. Monday 5th February 2018 to Thursday 22nd March 2018. A brief in  London, in collaboration with the British Film Institute (BFI), the British Council and their archive department together with independent record label XL Recordings. Students have access to film and audio archives to rethink post-truth and narrative arcs. When post-truth is the new normal, what is the role of fiction in revealing hidden political narratives? Cultural institutions and the entertainment industry gain a whole new relevance when emotions matter more than facts.  Students are tasked to question the role of the curator, the role of films in human archiving for the age of the network and clouds of data. Part cinemathèque, part theatre set, Since 1989 is collectively constructed by the students of the MA Design of Experiences, culminating in 24h of live performance and experience rethinking the future of storytelling in cinema and sound.

BRIEF 4: What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone? A brief lead by tutor Sjaron Minailo in collaboration with the Opera House of Amsterdam and Opera Director Peter Sellars, together with the department of dramaturgy at the University of Amsterdam. In this brief on post-colonialism and reenactment, students are introduced to strategies for writing and rewriting history. Monday 26th March 2018 to Friday 25th May 2018.

FIRST YEAR ASSESSMENT: Monday 28th May 2018 to Friday 1st June 2018.

SECOND YEAR PROPOSAL: Monday 4th June 2018 to Friday 22nd June 2018: Students have to present the institution they want to work with, in their second year, their research question, summer programme and thesis topic.

THE GLOBAL PROGRAMME: Summer assignment. Students have to fundraise and intern at an international institution of their choice which has to present challenges to both their practice and their training. Along the way, they learn to write and imagine new roles and potential job descriptions for themselves. Their internship or work has to happen abroad.

YEAR 2:

The year 2 kickstarts with a brief on economics and post-capitalism where invited hypnotists, economists and psychiatrists redefine new market models. Students are tasked to develop new economies and to pitch them to the Nobel prize museum in Sweden.

In mid-November, students submit a 10,000-word thesis on their research practice.

In their second year, students are developing design events, products, experiences, political outcomes, and experimental actions in collaboration with institutions and experts of their choosing. This includes the documentation of both their process and results. Students’ final year project is to be developed by the students according to their own topical agenda and in their own voice, at a site either within an institution – or without, this can be a reconstructed site – of their choosing.

The MA Design of Experiences is composed of creative soldiers, pirates, hidden creative agents of change, the Willy Wonkas of modern times, the contemporary Velvet Underground’s, The Smiths’ and the Joy Division’s, action researchers and designers, mythologists and makers of new worlds, living below ground in the underground and connected above while surveying from space.

As such The University of the Underground is looking for bold, hard-working, passionate and engaged students ready to jump on the rollercoaster and to experiment with various teaching disciplines in order to develop meaningful unexpected experiences in an institution. We encourage our students to challenge the rules of design by developing a performative, political and hybrid critical design practice with an existential attitude.

The University of the Underground responds to the current trend of increased fees for postgraduate programmes by firstly proposing a model in which students in the MA Design of Experiences are invited to receive a scholarship from the University of the Underground charity (RSIN 8575.82.781), to cover their tuition fees. The University of the Underground is making steps towards an ambitious model for financing postgraduate education with the hope to diversify leadership and access to knowledge. As a charity, the University of the Underground is pioneering the ‘100 years of education’ programme in which individuals are invited to commit long term- for 100 years- to a better redistribution of wealth. Both individuals, philanthropists and private sectors are invited to donate to the charity. While we are actively fundraising in the private and individual sector, we are also fundraising in the public sector through governmental grants. In the near future, we wish that our scholarships will be the result of private donations (80%) and governmental grants (20%). The goal is to create many more of these educative structures worldwide on that basis 80%, 20%. Right now in 2017, our charity issues scholarships through governmental grants (50%),  individual donations (35%) and the private sector (15%).

At the University of the Underground, we believe that a new leadership should be established which is both more diverse, but also which includes creatives at key roles in public institutions. We believe in the freedom of learning but also we believe that education should be free to students. We are experimenting with models in order to achieve this.

In the University of the Underground, we believe that it is most urgent to equip young designers with the learning that allows them to use their knowledge of the material world within the navigation of governmental systems, institutions and power structures. We are concerned with the modelling and physical existence of students’ dreams, beliefs and myths. We believe in social dreaming becoming the fuel for social actions. Through our curriculum and the research and creative methodologies taught, we wish to democratize the experience of the institution. If nothing else, experiences and events make you feel alive and connected to the world around you. Music can do just that, but many other art forms too, and it is within this realm that we experiment within the MA Design of Experiences at the University of the Underground.

Students have rarely before been finally provided with the tools and means to learn to understand their professions as the increasingly multi-faceted and malleable role it assumes in today’s world (which is ever changing and disorienting) – where designers enter the realm of authors, directors, politicians, planners, dreamers, activists, mythologists and musicians. We encourage students to use their own voice, style, tone and aesthetics as manifested in final outcomes of performative product scenarios, products embedded in the context of the built environment and the institutions.

Students are tasked with the production of events that can modify power structures in public institutions of their choosing. In this process they have to document their experimental actions and meaningful productions and formulate new roles for themselves to maintain their activities and critical reflections within the institution they have selected. 

We expect our students to demonstrate an unconventional creative practice and to extend their design production in scale, scope and modes of engagement into the territory of architecture, systems thinking, critical design, sociology, philosophy, music, film, performance of politics, and experiences. Students are invited to observe, explore, collect, examine and extrapolate the ordinary in institutions through the design of products as events, experiences, systems, film, and musical reenactments.

We hope for our students to go into societies’ institutions – companies, health services, government departments etc. – and to use their creative drive to change these institutions and make them serve society better, dream further rather than have their creativity crushed. We want them to provoke events, projects and experiences in these institutions which make those who work there think and act differently. Our clarion call is: Use your creative urge to action change.

As a methodology and critical research practice with the potential to modify existing politics, the Design of Experiences takes root in the field of Critical Design and exists at the nexus of other disciplines such as theatre, music, film, linguistics and political philosophy. The following manifesto intent is to introduce some of the key research focus of the Design of Experiences. It falls into two parts; status, which introduces the context in which this manifesto exists in the design discourse and the manifesto itself that summarises the key ideas of the Design of Experiences.

a) Status
More than ever, designed objects are seen as constituent artefacts, embedded in a contextual environment with its social, technological and institutionalised layers. At the same time, the boundaries between products, services, interiors, architecture, infrastructure, political and global systems are blurring. In their complexity, these interfaces and systems of exchange have become a central part of our design experience. They set the scene for the narratives of human activity to unfold and evolve with particular events. These experienced events are called products. Design has been opening its doors to these experiences – whether from the speculative end of the spectrum with fictions, stories and scenarios; or on the applied end of the spectrum, which concerns authentic scripted reality of personas, usability simulations and narratives of design testing.

In this journey, we have established a role as a Designer of Experiences, a job title that was created and defined as oscillating across the axes of Critical Design, theatrical practices, existential philosophy and the performance of politics. The Design of Experiences encourages a political design practice. It extends the field of design in scale, scope and modes of engagement into the territory of mythology, ethnography, philosophy and experiences. Participants in the production of the Design of Experiences are invited to observe, collect, examine and extrapolate the mundane through the Design of Experiences. They are required to zoom in and out of different scales of context and to consider critically the implications of their roles in relation to their environment. Indeed, the designer of the Design of Experiences is encouraged to challenge the rules of design by developing a performative, political, embodied and Critical Design practice.

As such, the Design of Experiences is about crafting tangible scenarios relevant to and representative of the institution and its workers’ topical agendas. Final outcomes might be, but are not limited to: performative critical products, films and experiences shaped as events, scenarios or products embedded in the context of the built environment or in the context of the institution. The Design of Experiences oscillates between the human condition and the human factor. We believe that the role of the Designer of Experiences, as a maker, should be extended to the practice of the mythologist, ethnographer and performer and should assume a role as a key agent in the context of governmental, political, scientific and technological institutions.

To the question is the Design of Experiences intended to design experiences for experience’s sake, or is it intended to reveal power structures through performance and/or documentary film, the answer is that, it aims to do both. Indeed, it is an experimental practice that allows for experimental actions to take place in the institution. But it is also a practice that intends to demonstrate and reveal existing power structures in order to modify them. Experimental actions can develop towards such a result or be reworked to bring the change and power shift initially intended to the community and the institution. Trial and error are a part of the process, just like any theatrical practice which require rehearsals or design practices which require multple iterations in the development of a product.

The Design of Experiences is, in sum, a performative, critical, experiential and event-based political design practice. As such, the following manifesto highlights five areas of interest: i) Research practice, ii) The performance of politics, iii) Existential attitude, iv) Design events and performance as experiences and v) Activating the dreamers of the day.

b) Manifesto
i) Research practice
The Design of Experiences is a research practice that proposes to deconstruct hierarchies in institutions. It questions hierarchies’ context, network and systems. It disassembles the institution, industrialisation processes, theatrical practices and politics and it designs functions to edit, choreograph and build experiences and experimental actions. To develop the Design of Experiences means to go on site into real contexts of use and production; first as ethnographer, second as mythologist and finally as performer, an active instigator of the performance of politics and social actions. The Design of Experiences is a research practice that places a strong emphasis on the tangibility of the experience in revealing power structures. It produces original content, new metalanguages to trigger reactions and social change. It moves from the purely technical and aesthetic functionality of a prototyped product towards the experiential, the existential, the human performance and the mundane. It thinks in terms of manifested, political experiences and physical products beyond the sole use of the written word, the diagram and the image. In this research, the process is documented by distinguishing, manifesting and utilising theatrical practices and coercive systems within the institution. This research practice enables the performance of politics.

ii) The performance of politics
The Designer of Experiences is unravelling labour structures in institutions and shifting power. We aim for social action through the use of critical thinking, Critical Design, theatrical practices, existential philosophy and experimental actions. In this, the Design of Experiences is politically loud and as such, the Designer of Experiences is an agent of change and an active researcher. The active researcher performs politics using carefully crafted and produced experiences, sets, props and characters. The performance of politics exists in its challenge to hierarchies and the status quo, making use of visceral theatrical practices and staging such as the Theatre of Cruelty. Everything is questioned and power structures are modified through, and allow for, the taking place of poetics and critical thinking. Decision making is imposed on Animal Laborans and supports empowerment of the workforce through engineered situations and experiences. Politics is manufactured via the existential attitude.

iii) The existential attitude
It questions access to design and to scientific, academic and political knowledge. It works with amateurs and experts so as to create access for people to experience and engage within. It designs with an existential attitude to democratise the experience. Our work aims to challenge power structures by initiating and engineering events. It rejects absurdity and boredom in the everyday and responds to it with passion, thrill and free will, thereby generating new forms of individual and social imaginings and actions. We work both with the public and stakeholders in institutions. We produce critical experiential outcomes that, in turn, allow for social actions to take place.

iv) Design events and performance as experiences
Designers of Experiences believe that design should be embedded in a physical experience, something that is imprinted on to your memory: similar to seeing a painting and remembering the colour of it. We believe in wonders and experimentations with other disciplines and their mode of representations. Meanwhile, experimental actions take account for everything that happens in the mundane and which score the everyday as potential materials for a programmed chaos; this we translate through the experience. We think that design can generate events, challenge power structures, incite riots and demonstrations through performance. We believe that research, through design and politics, needs to provide this experience in order to activate Animal Laborans, the dreamers of the day.

v) Activating the dreamers of the day
As a result of our investigations, we have determined that Animal Laborans dream louder than Homo Faber in public institutions. What the Design of Experiences can achieve is to allow Animal Laborans to begin to act out their critical ambitions for the institution. As such the Design of Experiences is involved with the narration of the stories of the workforce, who think as social and active dreamers: the manufacturers, the Animal Laborans. we are working with and for them to better insure that we, as a society, remain away from what Arendt called the ‘Alienation of Earth’ (Arendt, 1957).
The Design of Experiences establishes spaces for discord and humanity in the institution.

The criteria for the MA Design of Experiences involves:

1.Research

2. Analysis

3. Experimental Actions (Ability to demonstrate the formulation, development and implementation of series, groups and/or unique experimental actions in the context of the institution and in collaboration with a given community. Risk taking and testing of ideas and materials in the production of experiences)

4.Documentation of the process (Ability to demonstrate and record intelligent, strategic process, power shifts and outcomes in the context of the institution. Skills in the selected media; awareness and adoption of appropriate conventions and languages; sensitivity to the needs of diverse audiences)

5. Production (Demonstrate skills and appropriate tools, planning and collaboration to enable the execution of ideas, concepts, experimental actions and experiences)

6. Meaningful experiences (Demonstrate the ability to design and shape experiences with a potential to engage social dreaming, social actions and power shifts on a long-term basis. These experiences have to introduce/and/or to reveal additional, possibly new meanings to the community, workforce, institution and original existing context.)

7. Innovation (Ability to create original knowledge, creative systems and to question status quo. Original and unique uses of theories, methods and techniques.)

8. Collaborative and/or Independent Professional Working

Yes, the MA Design of Experiences is an accredited Master of the Arts (MA Design of Experiences) developed in collaboration with the Sandberg Instituut.  The Sandberg’s Instituut is the postgraduate programme of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.

To maintain international standards, we have an external examiner providing the teaching team with feedback and a report every two years. For 2017-2019, the external examiner is Dr. Caroline O’Sullivan.  Dr. Caroline O’Sullivan is a cultural sociologist focusing mainly on the disciplines of popular culture, media and music. She currently holds the position of Head of Creative Media in Dublin Institute of Technology. She was previously co-director of the Centre for Creative Arts Research and Senior Lecturer in Creative Media at Dundalk Institute of Technology.

WE ARE A CULTURAL INSTITUTION SUPPORTING UNCONVENTIONAL RESEARCH PRACTICES

The University of the Underground hosts the unconventional research office. In the near future, we are hoping to welcome Ph.D students and practitioners in residence whose practices challenge politics and economic and sociological systems.

In the University of the Underground’s research office, we strongly believe in research through practice and education as a research practice. As such we are producing multimedia projects that are investigating, unravelling, characterising and speculating on the commodities of the act of thinking. By questioning the social and cultural capital of education, we are opening up discussions on the manufacture of knowledge, confronting past and present fears. The unconventional research office intends to demonstrate the state of ideologies in contemporary societies, where knowledge is interwoven with the idea of the nation-state and cultural heritage while current development in technology proposes a global notion of ‘collectiveness’. Through the production of both multimedia projects and written texts, we are aiming to act as a point of dialogue between stakeholders, politicians, academics, students and parents, proposing to portray the value of social dreaming, experiences and theatre as critical research practices.

Our live events support, acknowledge and endorse social dreaming and experiential design practices in institutions. Titled, ‘The Dreamers of the Day talk Series’, it is a collaboration with our venue and founding partner the nightclub De Marktantine in Amsterdam. In 2018, we are running a monthly programme of symposiums and musical performance introducing themes at the nexus between critical design, experiential, theatrical, film, semiotics, political and musical practices to members of the public. Our programming supports experimental interdisciplinary design practices pushing for the non-established and the unconventional. Theatre of cruelties and musical concerts are celebrated as we manufacture countercultures, radios, pirate utopias and experiences for power shifts. These live events engage members of the public with the extraordinary, the surreal and the decadent into the potential of design practices to encourage critical reflections and innovation in social actions and creativity. We believe it is most urgent to equip young designers with the tools and means to learn to understand the design profession as the increasingly multi-faceted and malleable role it assumes in today’s world. Our live events are commissioned by a Creative Industries fund NL design grant. While the talk series is currently hosted in Amsterdam, we will share content on visual and audio platforms (ie: audio, radio podcast, blog posts …). More details on these can be found in the Experience section of our website.

The University of the Underground is based in the underground of the urban space, down below nightclub De Marktkantine, in Amsterdam. We are collecting books from members of the public, donations from creatives and well-known designers, which are accessible to members of the public through a monthly membership. Books, records and other collections will be stored down below and literature seminars are organized on a monthly basis to discuss meanings and popular cultures, countercultures and other unconventional research practices; learning from methods and disciplines borrowed from theatre, design, music, film, semiotics and politics. [currently in Amsterdam]

The University of the Underground hosts a sound studio. We are currently producing a podcast hosted by the University of the Underground students and creative team. Through our podcasts, we are hoping to disseminate internationally some of our ideas on a diverse creative education that truly supports free access to knowledge and new leadership. We believe in unconventional research, experiential practices, and experimental actions. With partners such as Wolfgang Radio, we are hoping to create innovative recordings sharing the potential for the design of experiences in the context of the institution. Students in the MA Design of Experiences have a monthly podcast titled ’13 Steps Below’ which you can listen here