“The highest form of creativity
is that which promotes the creativity of others”
PLATFORM has a long tradition of doing educational work: running residencies, workshops and seminars, giving talks, and presenting papers in a wide range of settings and institutions about past or ongoing ideas and concerns. You could argue that all our work is ‘educational’ in broadest sense, but we make a distinction between dedicated and overtly educational work such as “The Body Politic”, and project work which has intrinsic educational components, such as the projects ‘killing us softly’, ‘Unravelling the Carbon Web’, and ‘Freedom in The City’.
The former work has become increasingly significant, making its own unique contribution to our work on social and ecological change at a deep level. It is essentially a realm where overt political and methodological debate can take place, where people who share a commitment to envisioning and realising ecological and democratic possibilities expressed through interdisciplinarity between the arts and other disciplines can come together. We see education as a third of our practice, and take great inspiration for this part of our work from teachers, artists and social activists such as Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Henry Giroux, Joseph Beuys and others.
We have evolved our educational work using a mixture of strategies - walks, talks, stories, art techniques, music, group-work, with lots of time for discussion and feedback, and we’ve worked across all ages, social groupings and contexts. We also work with academic researchers, students, campaigners and journalists to provide access to our archive, and to further their own work through discussion. Our long-term plan is to put a great deal of the archive online. We take research students on placements, some of which have turned into long-term creative relationships.
As in all our work, we are extremely wary of the dangers of the ‘parachute’ project, where the participants/initiators perceive the project as landing on a particular patch from outer space, staying for a while, stirring up emotions - good or bad - and then airlifting out again, without a trace. There is a role for this model - the circus comes to town, the wandering minstrels, the chance encounter... but for our core aims, we feel it necessary to enter relationships as if they were going to be long-term. This, in our experience, means that there is an emotional investment in striving for genuine exchange of views and feelings - whether the project is for a few hours, a day or ten. We feel that we have as much to learn and gain from the exchange as those who we are working with, and in this sense, have come to the conclusion that actually, doing less but doing it better and for longer is the way forward.
Of course, power relations in pedagogical work are always an issue: the ‘facilitator’ or teacher is always in a position of power. Yet, to paraphrase bell hooks, the issue is not one of denying one’s power, but of knowing that it can be abused in many subtle and not so subtle ways, even by well-intentioned people. Power and responsibility should be raised as an issue from the start.
Resulting from this, the constant questions are ‘how are power relations established and negotiated in such contexts?’, ‘how are decisions made about what is to be explored, and how that exploration should be done?’, ‘are we undertaking this with a view to sustaining a relationship, if what transpires is that that is necessary or desired?’ ‘how is this work contributing to social justice?’, ‘are we investing in an ongoing interest in and dedication to reflective practice?’, ‘what does it mean to ‘teach’ and what does it mean to ‘learn’?’.
In this methodology, what each participant (including PLATFORM) brings to the discussion is the starting point, and the role of the facilitator/educator is to help frame and create an imaginative and safe space where diverse and sometimes diametrically opposed opinions can be aired, shared and worked through. With whatever group of people, our intention is to create spaces for discussion not only of the issues at hand, but also that the manner of the discussion is a micro-model of democratic practice - bell hooks calls this 'engaged pedagogy', Henry Giroux calls this 'critical pedagogy', Paulo Freire calls this ‘the pedagogy of hope’.
Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, tutors 2001 - 3
Papers contributed to:
New Imperialism: Power and Influence in the New World Order, New Economics Foundation, ICA - London, June 2002
Artist as Educator - Interrupt Symposium, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham/ACE, Mar 2003
The great pipeline debate - Baku-Ceyhan Campaign, London School of Economics, May 2003
Fleet River - Past Present and Future, London Canal Museum, July 2003
Refusing to accept the absurdity of the world picture offered us, Dartington College of Arts, Devon, UK
Unburying Rivers, Belgian socialist group “Louis Paul Boonkring”, June 2003
education, activism: PLATFORM's view', Jane Trowell - PLATFORM, in
Artists in Socially Engaged Practice, Ikon Gallery, University of
Central England, Birmingham and ACE