The Octopus Programme is a guided research-based educational programme that encourages artistic research and production-based collaborations across academies and art institutions; students and professionals; diverse presentation modes; and processes of research and documentation in different geographies. 

While the Octopus Programme functions as a support mechanism for emerging artists, the main objective of the programme is to accumulate experience-based collective and creative output by taking geopolitical, social, ecological, and educational urgencies and diversities into consideration. Correspondingly, the programme intends to develop and point out new critical perspectives and standing points to process artistic research and practices. In this respect, by merging the viewpoints of academic entities and contemporary art institutions along with what they can provide such as mixed facilities and activities, the Octopus Programme would like to develop a progressive methodology by creating its autonomous network.

The programme was initiated in 2019/2020 by University of Applied Arts Vienna and Kamel Lazaar Foundation with a pilot phase which linked Vienna and Tunis. The main phase is taking place in 2020/2021 and the partners of the main phase of the programme are University of Applied Arts Vienna; Kamel Lazaar Foundation, Tunis; Konstfack – University College of Arts, Crafts, Stockholm; Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation; The University of Pretoria, Pretoria; The Centre for The Less Good Idea, Johannesburg; Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah; Birzeit University, Birzeit; the Palestinian Museum, Birzeit; SAHA Association, Istanbul; Publics; and Saastamoinen Foundation, Helsinki.

The programme not only intends to bridge and acknowledge social and cultural diversities in the targeted geographical regions—Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa—but the programme also values and connects the diversities between and/or among:

++ socio-political realities and perspectives;
++ interdisciplinary approaches;
++ academic and nonacademic intellectual models;
++ forms of artistic research and practices;
++ divergent perspectives on artistic production methodologies;
++ individual and community-based approaches;
++ top-down and grass-root organisation models;
++ accessed and distributed resources and facilities;
++ strategies of environmental sustainability;
++ artistic challenges and opportunities;
++ different funding possibilities;
++ institutional and alternative curatorial practices;
++ forms of engagement of artists, audiences, institutions;
++ forms of innovative and technology-driven mindsets;
++ and diverse knowledge production models.

The first chapter of the programme was designed as a two-semester course “Spectral Encounters” (3 credits per semester) that takes place both at the University of Applied Arts (the Angewandte) in Vienna and B7L9, Kamel Lazaar Foundation in Tunis as a pilot application. The language of the course is English. After the completion of the pilot phase in February 2021, the main phase is planned to start in April 2021 during the winter semester of 2021/2022. The first part will be the 10 weeks from the first week of April 2021 to the last week of June 2021, the second part starts  in the first week of October and continues until the last week of February 2022.  The presentations, exhibitions, and book launches will continue until the last week of June 2022

In 2019/2020, the course includes peer to peer educational sessions, online and class discussions, research field-trips, and workgroups both in Tunis and Vienna, collaborative production-based workshops, and lectures. The course is led by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Basak Senova, Visiting Professor at Art and Communication Practices, the University of Applied Arts Vienna. The course also incorporates guest lecturers and curated presentations of the students/artists in both cities. The travel expenses are covered by the University of Applied Arts Vienna and Kamel Lazaar Foundation.

The first call of the Octopus Programme attracted a high number of well-articulated and competitive applications. After careful evaluation and consideration through applications, followed by interviews with the short-listed applicants conducted by the selection committee —consisting of Barbara Putz-Plecko, Vice-Rector for Research and Diversity, University of Applied Arts Vienna; Basak Senova, Visiting Professor, University of Applied Arts Vienna; Lina Lazaar, Vice President, Kamel Lazaar Foundation; Konrad Strutz, Senior Lecturer, University of Applied Arts Vienna; Moez Mrabet, Kamel Lazaar Foundation; and Rachida Triki, Professor of Philosophy, Tunis University—, the decision to select four applicants to take part at the Octopus Programme in 2020 was reached. And the new participant was invited to the programme as a result of a consecutive selection process, conducted by Lina Lazaar and Basak Senova in October 2020.

During the pilot phase, the winning applicants were announced as Julia Stern (DAE/TEX), Sophia Bellouhassi (DEX/KKP) from University of Applied Arts Vienna and Marwa Manai and Younes Ben Slimane from Tunis in February 2020. During the summer of 2020, Younes Ben Slimane was successfully accepted to Le Fresnoy—Studio National des Arts Contemporains in France and started his education in the Winter Semester of 2020/2021, therefore, he will only participate to the exhibitions at the main phase. Férielle Doulain was selected and invited as the fourth participant for the second semester.

For the main phase,12 artists/participants from Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa have been selected. The Open Call for each country was carried its own procedure with the same conditions and the institution/art centre/art space/association from each country conducted the selection process in collaboration/coordination with Basak Senova from the University of the Applied Arts Vienna. The participating artists selected and also appointed to the programme are Alina Rentsch (DE/SE), Bengü Karaduman (TR), Bochra Taboubi (TU), Conny Zenk (AT), Els van Houtert (NL/AT), Eser Epözdemir (TR), Jannis Neumann (DE/AT), Kim M. Reynolds (US/SA), Maarit Mustonen (FI), Nondumiso Lwazi Msimanga (SA), Noor Abed (PS), Sofia Priftis (SE), and Verena Miedl-Faißt (DE/AT).

9 curators/instructors/coordinators have developed and designed a collaborative content for 30 weeks (2021/2022). The activities spread around among each node. In University of the Applied Arts Vienna, the programme continues through 2 semester 3 credit (4 hours) Spectral Encounters course, so the participants gets 6 credits from the university and all the participants will receive certificates from the programme.

The partner curators and representatives of the programme are Barbara Putz-Plecko and Basak Senova (curator) in Vienna; Maria Lanz, Magnus Bärtås, Marti Manen and Anne Klontz (curator) in Stockholm; Lina Lazaar, Moez Brabet and Karim Sultan (curator) in Tunis; William Kentridge, Phala Ookeditse Phala, and Bronwyn Lace (curator) in Johannesburg; Tina Sherwell (curator) in Birzeit; Ruba Totah in Birzeit; Renad Shqeirat in Ramallah; Çelenk Bafra (curator) in Istanbul; Johan Thom (curator) in Pretoria and Marja Karttunen Saastamoinen Foundation and Paul O’Neill (curator) in Helsinki.