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PLATFORM works across disciplines for social and ecological justice. It combines the transformatory power of art with the tangible goals of campaigning, the rigour of in-depth research with the vision to promote alternative futures.
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I can't tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that art has often judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past has suffered, so that it has never been forgotten. I know too that the powerful fear art, whatever its form, when it does this, and that amongst the people such art sometimes runs like a rumour and a legend because it makes sense of what life's brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from a justice at last. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honour.
John Berger

Early days
Influences
PLATFORM as ARTISTS
How we work
The role of research

 

A shared expression of feeling is the foundation of any change

PLATFORM provokes desire for a democratic and ecological society. We often create an imagined reality which is different from the present reality. For example, we have held up the image of a city with its lost rivers returned, or the idea of a local parliament where people truly represent themselves. Seemingly impossible visions, but as people discuss them, write about them, dream them, believe in them, they gradually take shape and pass from the space of imagination and desire into reality.

We use art as a catalyst. This art is not primarily about an aesthetic - it is creativity applied to real situations: initiating a 168 hour forum of international dialogue; setting up a support fund for striking hospital workers; creating a 10 week performance in a tent that crossed the city; installing a turbine in a river to generate light for a local school.

All these acts we see as art - the process of moulding form - all focus on physical and metaphysical change, change both in the tangible space of the material world and the intangible space of people's hearts and imaginations.

Our working method is grounded in bringing together individuals from different disciplines, who then work collectively, developing an open space for dialogue and ideas. Since its conception in 1983 PLATFORM has combined the creativity of, among many others, economists, visual artists, pyschotherapists and teachers. This method of inter-disciplinary creativity encourages participatory audiences from equally diverse backgrounds, ranging from fishermen to commuters, environmental groups to schools.

PLATFORM IS A MEETING PLACE FOR DESIRE AND ACTS OF CHANGE

Catalysts for Change
harnessing the power of art, the commitment of campaigning, and the imagination of education to unleash citizens’ creative and democratic potential.

Individuals not Representatives
creating unique spaces where people from different backgrounds and perspectives come together in an atmosphere of trust to discuss complex issues - ‘communities of interest’.

Practical and Poetic
using a variety of strategies from research to performances, from walks to renewable energy systems, from publications to discussion-feasts.

Interdisciplinary Creativity
creating the work by consistently combining the skills and experience of people from many different disciplines - economists to artists, psychologists to environmentalists.

Here & Elsewhere
evolving long-term projects which embody a deep commitment to London’s ecology and peoples while also exploring the nature of the city’s impacts on the wider world.

Infectious Visions
feeding innovative ideas into the bloodstream of society like a benevolent virus.

 


Early days

PLATFORM was founded in 1983, as a meeting place for imagination, discussion, contemplation and action. Involved in political theatre, peace campaigning, and left/green activism, the initial grouping attracted people from a diverse range of disciplines and experiences to create street-based interactive performance work which provoked debate and awareness on a variety of issues - from supporting striking cleaning staff at a local hospital whose services were to be privatised (‘Addenbrookes Blues’, 1983), to working with activists lobbying against the privatisation of a local historic community resource (‘Corny Exchanges’, 1984), to protesting against the abolition of student maintenance grants (1985), to intimate performances exploring notions of personal locatedness, responsibility and belonging (‘Transformation’, 1986/7).


Influences

Since that time PLATFORM has evolved a complex interdisciplinary practice, influenced variously by artist and ecological thinker Joseph Beuys, ‘live art’ and ‘performance’ practices, feminist theory and practice, the writer John Berger, the engaged and critical pedagogical practices of bell hooks and Paulo Freire, critiques of global corporate culture, and the wave of ecological and social practice artists and activists of the past twenty years as written about by Carol Becker, Nina Felshin, Suzi Gablik, Grant Kester, Suzanne Lacy, George McKay, Doreen Massey, Malcolm Miles. We have worked (amongst others) with Amnesty International, Black Environment Network, Corner House, Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Watch, Environment Agency, Friends of the Earth, Green Alternatives (Georgia), Greenpeace, Intermediate Technology Development Group, Kurdish Human Rights Project, London Rivers Association, Rising Tide, Sensory Trust, Waterfront Center (USA), Za Zemiata (Bulgaria).

Some current practitioners/cultural activists who have influenced our thinking include: Ala Plastica, Apsolutno, David Butler, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, Critical Arts Ensemble, Peter Dunn - Art.e@the art of change, Peter Fend, David Haley, David Harding, Grupo Escombros, Wallace Heim, Helix Arts (formerly Artists Agency), John Jordan, Suzanne Lacy, Loraine Leeson - C-Space, Littoral (formerly Projects Environment), Sarat Maharaj, Malcolm Miles, Ne Pas Plier, Barbara Steveni - O&I, Alan Read, Jane Rendell, Heike Roms, Shelley Sacks - Social Sculpture Research Unit, Oxford Brookes University, Wochenklausur. Many important connections were made at the seminal and pioneering international ‘Littoral’ conferences, organised by Projects Environment in 1994 and 1998.


PLATFORM as ARTISTS

PLATFORM describes itself as artist-led, but this is only part of the picture in that we are also (variously) teachers, naturalists, campaigners, trade unionists, ecologists, activists. This practice of multiple identification serves to challenge territorial notions of knowledge or understanding, and creates situations where recognition of common aims and desire for shared, although distinct languages is fostered : this is what we promulgate through our collaborative practices beyond PLATFORM’s core members. We believe such an approach creates thought and activity which benefits from and honours specific expertise whilst broadening the sensibility and reach of the work and its participants.



How we work

So how is PLATFORM’s vision applied to the world as it exists at the moment? 20 years of experience, learning from failures as well as successes, have lead us to understand our approach in seven stages. This is not to say that we slavishly follow these steps as some kind of formula, or that these steps necessarily follow the sequence outlined below, more that these stages are often key elements in the successful realisation of projects. One other aspect should be emphasised here - for us the end never justifies the means. The integrity of the process has always been more important than anything that may, or may not, result from it. Therefore, if we need to slow down, re-think - we’ll slow down and re-think; if we need to solve conflicts - we’ll solve conflicts. Over the years many people have been struck by the strength of our integrity as an organisation - this is our engine, our most valuable resource.


The Seven Stages Example

  DREAMING    
1 Approach ‘reality’ in a radically different way. Be fearless about thinking outside what is considered possible. Have visions.   Imagine London again as a Water City - the city of 21 rivers it once was.
Still Waters, 1992
       
  RESEARCHING    
2. Develop an in-depth understanding of the issue being dealt with, through researching and working across disciplines and communities.   Research conducted on the trans-European trade networks involved in the production of electric light - copper, coal and bulbs - in conjunction with an economist.
Homeland, 1993
       
  SELECTING    
3. Be pragmatic. Choose whatever strategy and medium is most appropriate to the aim of the work - it might be a water turbine in a river, a newspaper for commuters or a discussion on a boat.   Publication of 26,000 copies of ‘Ignite’ - 2 free newspapers detailing impacts of oil companies distributed to commuters across London.
Ignite, 1996 + 1997
       
  FORMING    
4. See the ideas moving into form as a process like sculpture - moulding, changing, experimenting.   A series of experimental walks through the City of London.
Freedom in The City, 2002 -
       
  FEELING    
5. Engage with audiences - our ‘communities of interest’ - in the most intense and moving way possible. Go beyond the rational alone. Engage the soul as well as the mind.   The experience of participating in a 10 hour event, combining performance, music, lecture, discussion, meal and a boat.
killing us softly, 2000 -
       
  CONNECTING    
6. Through the work, connect our audiences in London with the wider world; enable individuals to understand their own power and ethical responsibilities.   A publication detailing the role of a British oil corporation and its employees in a potentially destructive pipeline project from Azerbaijan to Turkey.
Some Common Concerns, 2002
       
  LOOKING LONG    
7. Work long-term. A commitment to place and people over time. Parachutes are only useful for war, escape or emergency.   A 15 year relationship with the River Wandle, its watershed and its peoples. Music, a turbine, a school, walks....
Delta, 1988 - 2003

The role of research

PLATFORM has likened its political strategy to the acupuncturist's needle: a tiny instrument placed critically and almost imperceptively into the body, yet able to have an impact out of all proportion to its size. The skill lies therefore in studying deeply, attempting to understand the body in question - becoming aware of the strong points, the vulnerable points of that body.

Therefore, research is a core function, and often a painstakingly patient one that can go on for several years. We began our investigation into the deep cultural meaning of corporate culture in 1996, yet it has only been in the last year or so that we have begun to feel confident, fluent in the language of this new territory. Some people find it surprising that we as 'artists' have become specialists in our fields such as BP and Shell, corporations and the Holocaust, yet for us it is the minimum pre-requisite before embarking on such work.

Sometimes we prefer to use the term 'listening' instead of 'research'. This term is useful in that it suggests that one might learn from many sources, and not necessarily the ones you predicted. It also suggests that you really want and need to hear, which gets away from the connotation that research can be somehow detached and academic. Thus, listening to London as a city of buried rivers necessitates walking along their courses, observing passers-by, engaging such people in conversation, reading in libraries, surfing the internet, as well as talking to targetted specialists.

Indeed, almost every project has contained the act of walking: placing yourself in the shoes of others, in the air that is breathed, among the sights that are seen and the sounds that are heard. This is a vital process of animation and implication: you are literally placing yourself in the picture, and through this you learn about yourself, and about what you think of the other, be they animate or inanimate. By integrating such unexpected and intuitive insights with more orthodox research results, PLATFORM believes that it can provide complex understandings of the body in question, and, as a result, create a discursive space where people feel included, and in safe hands to reveal more subtle, even dangerous, thoughts.

Current projects involving in-depth long-term published and performed research are:
Unravelling the Carbon Web
desk killer
Freedom in the City

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