Art without Boundaries

The Steering Group of the 2020 Biennial Conference 2020, with members of ELIA and ZHdK attending a meeting at the Toni Areal. Photograph: ZHdK

The Steering Group of the 2020 Biennial Conference 2020, with members of ELIA and ZHdK attending a meeting at the Toni Areal. Photograph: ZHdK

The European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA) to meet digitally at ZHdK

From 17 to 20 November 2020, ZHdK will be hosting the ELIA Biennial Conference. More than 260 art schools and universities from about 50 countries are invited. Under the title «Expanding the Arts,» the conference aims to explore the boundaries of art. In times of corona, such discussions are more important than ever, say Maria Hansen, ELIA Executive Director, and Basil Rogger, the conference project manager at ZHdK.

Lea Ingber


Lea Ingber: «Expanding the Arts»: Why have you chosen this topic for this year’s ELIA conference?
Maria Hansen: The Biennial Conference 2020 is all about transdisciplinarity. We will be examining bold and innovative ideas. For instance, Christine Böhler from Vienna University of Applied Arts will be presenting the «Cross-Disciplinary Strategies» programme, which teaches methods from a wide range of disciplines and thus counteracts the progressive fragmentation of the sciences. Arts universities must  embrace the current technological and social changes in order to help shape the world of tomorrow. This is aptly illustrated by a second example from the conference: Berlin University of the Arts and TU Berlin will be discussing their new joint Master’s programme in «Design and Computation.»

What can ZHdK teach participants about transdisciplinarity?
Basil Rogger: We wish to convey how we have lived transdisciplinarity at our university for years, as well as which great opportunities arise when people from art education, design, film, fine arts, music, dance and theatre research and teach together under one roof. Here at ZHdK we are privileged to have a large building and a modern infrastructure. Moreover, we want to show that smaller institutions can also work together across the boundaries of disciplines, formats and media.

You announce «the most participatory biennial yet».
Maria Hansen: This year, the conference is also aimed explicitly at students. How can we talk about the future if students don’t have a say? We want to involve students in our discussions and to learn from young, talented people.

Basil Rogger: We hope that as many lecturers as possible will participate in the conference along with their students. This has not been the rule so far. It is certainly one of the advantages of this year’s digital format.

Exactly! The conference will be held digitally this year due to corona— a first for ELIA and ZHdK.
Basil Rogger: We finished planning in mid-March—and then had to start all over again and completely redesign the digital conference. This made us both more nervous, but also more willing to experiment.

Did you never consider cancelling the conference?
Maria Hansen: We considered it important to offer our members something in this historic, dramatic year. We can see the damage the corona crisis is doing to cultural institutions. But we also are witnessing new possibilities, new formats and forms. Hence, our motto, «Expanding the Arts,» fits even better: we need bold ideas and interdisciplinary cooperation now more than ever.

What is the greatest challenge for a digital conference?
Basil Rogger: Conferences are about more than prominent guest speakers presenting their ideas. They are also about networking, about a specific venue, about being together. A lot of creativity and technical know-how is needed to replace such direct exchange in a worthy manner. We want to surprise participants and ourselves with experimental formats of digital get-togethers.

The programme includes over 40 presentations and workshops, including keynote speeches by New York artist and writer Coco Fusco and Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson. What are you most looking forward to?
Maria Hansen: I am particularly looking forward to exchanging ideas with many of our members, even if only digitally. We will be travelling to Zurich with a small team to try to experience this adventure together at ZHdK.

Basil Rogger: Most of all, I am looking forward to students participating. In the case of ZHdK, specifically ones from the School of Commons, but hopefully also many other students from here and from across the world.

The Biennial Conference 2020 will be held from 17 to 20 November 2020 and is aimed at all lecturers and students of ELIA member institutions. ELIA (European League of Institutes of the Arts) has over 260 members from around 50 countries and represents more than 300,000 students.
Maria Hansen has been Executive Director of ELIA since 2017. She was previously director of the Stadsschouwburg & Philharmonie Haarlem and the Netherlands Bach Association.
Basil Rogger ( is responsible for ZHdK’s Events Dossier. He also teaches on the BA Design, MA Art Education and MA Transdisciplinary Studies.
Lea Ingber ( is a project manager at ZHdK University Communications.
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