Reading Resources — Studio K.O.S.
Studio K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) have pursued a decades-long investigation of art-making as a process of collaborative learning and literacy-building.
The group’s current members—Angel Abreu, Jorge Abreu, Robert Branch, and Rick Savinon—continue to reimagine the collective practice founded by Tim Rollins in the early 1980s. At the core of their work is jamming: a process in which the artists read a work of literature aloud while the group draws, paints, and collages on pages from the same text. Building on the legacies of conceptual art as much as those of the civil rights movement and radical pedagogy, the group insists that art-making and reading are transformative for self and society alike.
How do we make history so we are not made by it?
Through their collaborative process, Studio K.O.S. rethink what art and reading can do. Using literature—literally and figuratively—as the material for their work, Studio K.O.S. refuse to be passive readers. Instead they actively transform texts and collectively produce new interpretations that insist on the relevance and value of their lived experiences.
When Tim Rollins began the teaching practice that became the foundations of Studio K.O.S., he told his first students: “Today we are going to make art, but we are also going to make history.” Rollins later explained what he meant by “making history”:
"To dare to make history when you are young, when you are a minority, when you are working, or nonworking class, when you are voiceless in society, takes courage. Where we came from, just surviving is ‘making history.’ So many others, in the same situations, have not survived, physically, psychologically, spiritually, or socially. We were making our own history. We weren’t going to accept history as something given to us."
Rollins’ explanation referenced Martin Luther King Jr., a formative influence throughout Rollins’ life. In King Jr.’s 1954 sermon “Transformed Nonconformist,” the minister reflects on the process of social change. When people unthinkingly follow and uphold social structures that oppress others, King Jr. states, "instead of making history we are made by history.”
King Jr.'s sermon entreats listeners to "make history" by resisting its oppressive forces. It offers guidance by opening and closing with a line from Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” With this quote, King Jr. calls on listeners to refuse passive obedience by changing their outlook to become a “transformed nonconformist.” The transformed nonconformist would not simply be different for the sake of it, but would rather resist the repressive structures upholding racism, inequality, and injustice. To King Jr., this transformed mentality was key to realizing the beloved community: a vision of global solidarity, reconciliation, and mutual well-being achieved through non-violent movements for social justice.
Alongside King Jr.’s ideas of transformed nonconformism and the beloved community, Rollins and K.O.S. were also deeply influenced by the philosopher John Dewey. In Dewey’s profound writings on art education, he insisted on the relationship between art and everyday experience. Art-making, for Dewey, is not simply about creating objects. Rather, it is about the activity of making and experiencing meaning. In this way, Dewey believed that art-making could transmit a special kind of knowledge that supported a holistic education—a mode of schooling that accounted for the whole child.
Drawing on the ideas of King Jr. and Dewey, Rollins and K.O.S. insist on art-making as a specific way of acting and producing something that can transform individual outlooks, and potentially social structures at large. For the group, the collectivity or we-ness of doing, of emancipating the mind, is essential to this transformation. The jamming process enables the group to connect their lived experiences to literary works and to build upon their personal interpretations in a collective process, creating a shared imagination of images and ideas. This collective imagination becomes a source for living, acting, and building new futures. As Rollins and K.O.S. say of their work with literary sources, “We want to turn these images into active forms of freedom against those other very active forces who would bring an end to human history and culture as we know it if they are left without our resistance.”
Introduction to Reading Resources: Studio K.O.S.
Reading Resources: Studio K.O.S. was developed through a unique collaboration between A.R.T., the Walker Art Center, and the artists themselves in September 2020.
This collaboration invited Studio K.O.S. to be virtual artists-in-residence at the Walker Art Center. At the core of the residency was a series of online workshops for Minneapolis-based educators and students on the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), based on Studio K.O.S.'s distinctive method of jamming.
About Studio K.O.S.
Studio K.O.S.'s history dates to the early 1980s, when artist Tim Rollins was recruited to serve as an art and literacy teacher at Intermediate School 52 in the South Bronx. Rollins was twenty-six at the time and had recently graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he studied with conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth. He was also a core member of the artist collective Group Material.
At Intermediate School 52, Rollins was assigned to work with students classified as "at risk," yet his work immediately challenged the institutional structures and assumptions underlying such labels. It was here that Rollins developed jamming as a method of literacy instruction. In this process, Rollins or a student would read a text aloud—often a work of classic literature—while others drew, painted, and collaged on pages from the same text. Jamming motivated students to engage challenging works of literature and produce collective artworks.
Rollins soon expanded the project from the classroom by initiating an after-school program called the Art and Knowledge Workshop, allowing him and his students to work without being constrained by the restrictions of the public school system. In the Workshop, Rollins supported students with their homework and, as a group, they produced paintings and prints through their jamming method. The Workshop became the artist collective Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival (K.O.S.).
In 1986, the group held their first public exhibition at Jay Gorney Modern Art. They subsequently participated in major exhibitions including the Whitney Biennial (New York, 1985 and 1991), Documenta (Kassel Germany, 1987), and the Venice Biennale (1988). The group continued to work and exhibit collectively until Rollins' passing in 2017, after which they have continued and re-imagined the project under the name Studio K.O.S.
The following exercises are structured to sequentially build on each other. We encourage you to adapt them to your teaching activities.
Activity Group 1: Looking Exercises
Before practicing jamming in your classroom, take some time to look at the various artworks that Tim Rollins and K.O.S. developed from their own jamming process.
Activity Group 2: Jamming and Adaptations
Reading a text is often understood as an individual process, and we are typically taught to read books quietly to ourselves. Jamming is a process that breaks apart this limited definition of reading, providing more support and possibilities for all readers.
Activity Group 3: Collaboratively Reading Martin Luther King
Expand your work with Studio K.O.S. by question jamming through a collaborative reading of Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermon “Transformed Nonconformist.”
Studio K.O.S. Resource Packet (A.R.T. and the Walker Art Center)
A compilation of excerpted texts on Tim Rollins and K.O.S.
Kids of Survival: The Art and Life of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. (Directed by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine)
Watch this documentary on the history of Tim Rollins and Studio K.O.S.
'Tim Rollins (1955–2017)' by Julie Ault (Artforum)
Obituary of Tim Rollins by the artist's long-standing friend and collaborator
"Tim Rollins and K.O.S." by Angel Abreu (The Paris Review)
Read Studio K.O.S. member Angel Abreu's reflections on Tim Rollins and the collective's history
Studio K.O.S.: The Continuing Legacy of Tim Rollins and Kids of Survival (Wexler Gallery)
Resources from Studio K.O.S.'s 2021 exhibition
"Young Collective, Now Middle Age, Keeps Growing" (New York Times)
Read an article on Studio K.O.S.'s evolving practice
Studio K.O.S. Collaborative Workshops Outline (Abreu Projects)
Learn about the history of Studio K.O.S. Workshops
Reading Resources: Studio K.O.S. was produced by Wendy Tronrud (A. R. T. Education Advisor) in collaboration with Art Resources Transfer (A.R.T.) and the Walker Art Center in 2020-21.
In memory of Tim Rollins.
A.R.T. would like to thank the Walker Art Center; in particular Nisa Mackie (Head of Public Engagement, Learning, and Impact), Simona Zappas (Youth Programs Coordinator), and Sara Shives (Production Manager).
We are grateful for the financial support of our generous funders. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.
Additional support was granted by:
National Endowment for the Arts
H.W. Wilson Foundation
Wilhelm Family Foundation
A.R.T. Board of Directors
A.R.T. Advisory Board
Most specially, we thank Studio K.O.S.: Angel Abreu, Jorge Abreu, Robert Branch, and Ricardo Savinon.
Web programming by Document Services.
Copyright © Art Resources Transfer, Inc 2021.
All images are protected under copyright by the original rights holders.
A.R.T. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.