Sao Paulo Workshop Report
In preliminary discussions with O grupo inteiro and in response to the themes laid out in the Fields of Prepositions brief it was agreed that I would adapt and transfer an experimental educational project designed for First Year Fine Art BA students at CSM to the public setting at SESC Ipiranga. These projects draw on the history of experimental and left libertarian education and are intended to disrupt many of the assumptions that underpin students’ understanding of the environments/places in which they live, study and work. With this in mind, an exercise in Counter Cartography was proposed, echoing O grupo inteiro’s challenge to the institutional tendency (e.g. SESC) to manufacture and replicate communal areas in which “….the freedom for the imagination, the body, and potential uses of the space were somewhat restricted to a very specific and disciplinary format”. The aim of the workshop then, drawing on the work of a range of educationalists and activists (incl. Augusto Boal, Peter Atkins and London based migrant worker organization CAIWU), was to initiate a conversation and mapping exercise which would critically unpack the social, cultural and administrative functions of SESC.
After a brief introduction to the workshop, we played Augusto Boal’s ‘The Great Game of Power’ from Games for Actors and Non-Actors [[Footnote 1.]] with an invite to all those present in the space to join in, participate. The game itself is used on the first day of the course at CSM to disturb the binary between individual and collective action; to encourage critical, responsive group engagement and ultimately, an understanding of Power and/or it’s representation (particularly in a spatial setting). Boal’s brief from The Arsenal of Theatre of the Oppressed is pretty straightforward and this was read out to all those who had agreed to participate:
“A table, six chairs and a bottle. First of all, participants are asked to come up one at a time and arrange the objects so as to make one chair become the most powerful object, in relation to the other chairs, the table and the bottle. Any of the objects can be moved or placed on top of each other, or on their sides, or whatever, but none of the objects can be removed altogether from the space. The group will run through a great number of variations in the arrangement. Then, when a suitable arrangement has been arrived at, an arrangement in which, by group consensus, one chair is clearly the most powerful object, a participant is asked to enter the space and take up the most powerful position, without moving anything. Once someone is in place, the other members of the group can enter the space in succession and try to place themselves in an even more powerful position, and take away the power the first person established.” Augusto Boal. Games for Actors and NonActors. Routledge 2002 (2nd edition). P.163.
Having applied this game in various educational settings in Europe and witnessed Latin American migrant worker’s application of Boal exercises in and around their workplaces to highlight exploitation and abuse of power in London [[Footnote 2]], the exercise at SESC was equally cooperative but more discursive. After adapting the existing exhibition display furniture for example and prior to any action, there was much discussion (and humour) on what constitutes Power and how this might be represented in various assemblages, combinations of objects. The results of which can be described as chaotic consensus – where Power as such, was articulated, verbalized and contested at every stage in the process. By way of comparison, the same instructions delivered to First Year BA students at CSM over the last 3 years resulted in a game played out in relative contemplation and silence (although with equal humour!). No doubt the game itself also gives us an insight into the context, the setting and class composition of the participating group and in this respect, it was decided to take it a step further at SESC and introduce another educational tool, this time from the mid 1960’s, to try to unpack the ‘politics’ and social relations underpinning the exhibition itself – with an onus on the working relation of O grupo Inteiro to the host institution.
Taking the ‘interview’ format as a starting point, we attached sheets of paper to the exhibit and invited those who had participated in the Boal game to transcribe and diagrammatically represent a discussion between O grupo intiero, SESC workers and others on the staging and reception of the exhibition. This was loosely adapted from a ‘Group Project’ conducted by St. Martins School of Art staff at Goldsmiths College in the summer of 1966 where five members of staff set themselves the task of designing and running the first year of a Diploma in Art and Design with an onus on collaboration and group activity at both staff and student levels. [[Footnote 3]]. This document was unearthed in 2011 by BA Fine Art students linked to the 10th Floor initiative, an autonomous unit within CSM [[Footnote 4]] and more recently adapted from the original brief as ‘Paint it Black’, a project set for first year students. Here they are divided into groups of five and each then invited to make marks on a canvas for timed intervals (15 mins) in response to the previous participant. The mark making itself is then documented by the four observing and ‘inactive’ students and at the end of the process the collaborative work is placed in relation to the individual documentation. Following on from The Great Game of Power, the aim at SESC was to initiate a process which, via individual actions (speech, drawing, recording, filming), we were all engaged in an act of group reflection and ‘mapping’.
“In this respect our activity as a group could be thought of as paralleling the activity of an individual artist. Our concerns were to be emergent rather than stipulated and would therefore be dependent upon the form in which these concerns could be defined”. Report of Group Project involving P. Kardia, K. Adams, P.N. Darrah, M. Thorpe. M. Le Grice: Goldsmiths. Unpublished internal document. 1966
The initial result of this exchange with O grupo inteiro and contribution the Fields of Prepositions brief has been to further refine and develop an inaugural First Year student initiative - the ‘Noticeboard Project’. On the first day of the course, students are invited to form into groups and conduct research into a range of social, cultural and educational sites surrounding the CSM building in the Kings Cross Area, London. They’re asked to reflect on: space, lighting, access, audience, demographics and produce site photographs, maps and explanatory notes in preparation for a group presentation. Later in the term, after they’ve been introduced to Augusto Boal and other educational initiatives, they’re invited to develop their own game to be played out at these sites - a Counter Cartography of sorts with a nod to the work at SESC.
Anthony Davies. December 23, 2016.
1. Augusto Boal. Games for Actors and Non-Actors. Routledge 2002 (2nd edition). P.163]]
2. The Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union http://caiwu.org.uk/wp/
3. Report of Group Project involving P. Kardia, K. Adams, P.N. Darrah, M. Thorpe. M. Le Grice: Goldsmiths 1966. Unpublished. This document was discovered in 2010 and covers a St Martins School of Art staff experiment from 1966. The projects listed have been adapted and integrated into the current CSM 3D Pathway 1st Year programme – ‘Paint it Black’. https://inexchangecsm.wordpress.com/archival/peter-kardia-archival/ken-adams-peter-kardia-archivalreport-on-goldsmiths-summer/
4. The 10th Floor was a Central Saint Martin’s-based group consisting of writer, organiser and CSM tutor Anthony Davies and former CSM students from across the Fine Art Department including Tom Clark, Rozsa Farkas, Adam Gallagher, Lennart Pasch and Nikhil Vettukattil. From late 2009 to early 20011 they undertook a period of archival research and discussion about radical politics in and out of the university, and worked together to organise events, as well as conducting a number of interviews. This culminated in the presentation of a history of experimental education and staff/student struggle at CSM – In Exchange . https://10thflr.wordpress.com and https://inexchangecsm.wordpress.com