Culture Lab
Europe

June, 2020
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CFS:
The Participatory
Action Research

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19th April 2020No Comments

Culture and Solidarity: Conclusions

... our research allowed us to outline certain conclusions:

1) Solidarity may be provoked as part of a cultural and artistic activity, if the said activity happens based on a social, i.e. cultural, religious or class difference and sets in motion tensions caused by this difference by programming cooperation of people representing such difference. Active encounters of differences in order to reach a common objective (preparation of an event, artistic or cultural activity) is the first step towards rebuilding social solidarity using cultural tools.

2) It is necessary to shift the mindset from thinking about solidarity as a reaction to a crisis of another subject towards solidarity manifesting as building relations with another subject. To make it possible, organizational framework needs to be redesigned together with material infrastructure and interfaces that would form the basis for developing social solidarity. This is how we approach culture: it has greater chance of affecting how the social solidarity practices emerge and consolidate if it provides material foundations, tools that would act as a scaffold for erecting solidarity as a relation, and not only a reaction. Culture should also be able to develop and provide scenarios for social solidarity activities, a sort of dramaturgy, narrative, practical clues on how to carry out collective processes aimed at development and consolidation of social solidarity practices.

3) Thus, we find it is an imperative to rethink the category and the practice of performance which in our opinion has incredible potential as an artistic genre that can be taken over from the avant-garde culture and adopted to serve popular social culture focused on creating communities. Performance is an activity; it stimulates all senses of the participants and has a transformational potential. If aptly applied in the area of culture dedicated to solidarity, it may bring incredible results in future.

4) Other performative genres that in our opinion bring hope as far as provoking social solidarity is concerned, are the ludic genres, referring to dance, collective celebrations, carnival-related practices. Apart from the qualities of a performance they also apply laughter and humour as tools to slightly crack identity and subjectivity.

5) Last but not least, before we as creators of culture take on the task of establishing the new paradigm for cultural practices that will contribute to the restoration of social solidarity we need to fight for the reform of the culture itself, for creating conditions that will allow us to focus on the positive social impact instead of the everyday struggle for survival and concern about the future caused by insecure, precarious conditions of our own work. Without cultural organizations founded on the logic of solidarity, social culture does not have any chance to impact the solidarity of European societies.

This last point that we mention has not only the sociological, but also a deeply philosophical dimension. Solidarity is a function of the subject; only by being a subject, i.e. a person who has control over his or her life, we are able to bridge with another subject. When we do this, our subjectivity is complemented, we become even more ourselves. All in all, solidarity constitutes the subject; only if we are able to act in empathy with others, we can be certain to have control over our own life. The stake in any analysis of culture and solidarity is Europe, our society, politics, our cultures. In the end, however, the final stake here is us, our dignity and the meaning of our lives altogether.

 

This final excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

19th April 2020No Comments

Superheroes need solidarity too

Tuning is like dressing up, a masquerade. This is exactly what it is in the Seville experiment. In one of the interviews, when asked about a situation that he would consider a disruption of the habit and the routine underlying operations of the organizations and about the conditions that would facilitate solidarity towards the employees themselves and extracting their subjectivity, Felipe González Gil fantasized about a support group for tired superheroes:

"We, employees of culture, are like mutants, like superheroes. We have our mission and we tend to forget about our own needs. I wish I could create a situation, a theatre play, maybe, where we would sit in our superhero costumes, tired, with our make-up melting, trying to talk about our ideals. Or maybe rather we should be discussing our weaknesses, that everybody has some, though we can rarely expose them. This is what I imagine it like: we are sitting together and then one of the superheroes says: I’m so tired of flying..."

This image was the starting point for the masquerade that was meant to serve as a sort of solidarity experience, action research focused around the question: What needs to happen for the tired superheroes to reconnect with their desires, needs, with each other in their vulnerability and subjectivity, rather than in tasks and the productive work mode? The answer was to be reached through the already mentioned reality tuning, an intensive time of a performative city ride, made up of situations when they experience events that they previously mentioned as unusual, dream situations, disrupting the shell of values and the burden of the mission. They were roaming the city for fifteen hours dressed up as Spiderman, Catwoman, Batman and Superman, participating in surprise events that they prepared for each other based on the knowledge collected during the interviews.

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

19th April 2020No Comments

Working conditions in culture – II: Stability, solidarity and dignity

Similarly to how educational institutions may not put their values and ethics into practice, the reality of institutions of culture and art, as well as organizations dedicated to social change, is that their values may not necessarily be translated into the way they are organised.

The dissonance between the modus operandi and the contents is like a blind spot. It often remains out of sight. What represents the essence of work in the given institution, its main mission statement, the set of values and addressed issues, very often is not implemented in production structures. Theatres producing plays on social justice operate using extremely unjust mechanisms.  Progressive institutions aimed at civic society development struggle with insufficient transparency in management and lack of any internal democracy. Small organizations work on permanent take-off run, always lagging behind, uncertain, giving in to a grantosis, losing their marbles out of fear whether they will be able to maintain their open undertakings on one hand, and pay wages to their employees on the other. At the same time, they carry out projects to persuade participants about the need to look after themselves, about the value of subjective choices and that “less is more”, as the popular catchphrase assures. Can anyone imagine a more overwhelming schizophrenia? Almost all institutional cultural centres work based on habits that are a sort of default system setting. Work procedures and methods are full of contradicting and unfair rules that become translucent, absorbed by the blood flow of the system, operating on the routine level.

As a result, nobody has any first-hand experience of emancipation here, however, we always insist that we do what we love. Maybe we don't feel the cognitive dissonance, maybe we believe that this is the price to pay for this unusual privilege. How can it be changed? How do you keep your enthusiasm stemming from the sense of mission and absolute involvement in produced values and keep a clear head, not forgetting about your own needs and ambitions, not giving up on your basic sense of security, to put it plainly? Is it possible to work in dignified conditions in culture? Can we empathize with ourselves, knowing that we need both bold visions, as well as to be able to pay our bills without the recurring end-of-the-month anxieties? Are we able to create such ways of working that will be the best artistic and social project on its own talking about justice, equality and balance?

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

Miya Tokomitsu - In the name of love

19th April 2020No Comments

Working conditions in culture: “Do what you love”

During the research carried out for this paper, it was noted that one of the possible barriers to social impact and culture for solidarity gestures, is the working conditions of artists and cultural organisations. These conditions are precarious, unstable, with low pay and excessive work...

 

Paradoxically, the world of culture, art and social activities is based on the tension between the above described working conditions and the fact that the persons shaping this world very often have sincere, deeply rooted ideological motivation, and  they invest in their work a lot of energy and life resources, engaging passion, hope and thoughts. Sometimes professional activities absorb these people totally, which is not so difficult, when the profession you practice is at the same time your passion and hobby. In a simple way it helps you efface boundaries between the work and private life.

Additional factors, such as flexible working hours, high mobility, combining social and professional life, increased sense of responsibility can soon stop being a blessing, a privilege and turn to a curse instead. The problem has been diagnosed in a powerful way by Miya Tokumitsu of Pennsylvania University in her paper opening with the famous slogan, Do what you love.(Miya Tokomitsu, In the name of love) Firstly, she points to the fact we seem to often forget and refers to the primacy of passion: many activities essential for the society can be hardly referred to as fascinating and stimulating. Unfortunately, these are also jobs that enjoy very little recognition, both socially and economically. The researcher argues that being so lavish with the positive thinking narrative and enhancing the love motivation at work not only encourages humiliation of professionals on the positions not connected with any big passion or fascination, but can even result in a peculiar invisibility of the huge area of services and people providing such services.

This, according to Tokumistu, is just the tip of the iceberg. For her the situation in the area of seemingly privileged professions is even more treacherous: “The »do what you love« mantra has also caused great damage to the professions it pretends to celebrate” she maintains, giving as the example the way universities operate and the situation of scholars employed in academia.

There are many factors that keep PhDs providing such high-skilled labor for such extremely low wages [...], but one of the strongest is how pervasively the »DWYL [do what you love]« doctrine is embedded in academia. Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty authorities remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

Miya Tokomitsu - In the name of love

4th March 2020No Comments

Neighbours ‘trapped’ in photography studio together

In late June – early July 2018 Paweł Ogrodzki together with Aziz Boumediene opened a communal photo studio in the restroom of the Bel Horizon block of flats in Marseille. In the field note of 4 July Ogrodzki describes his idea as follows:

Imagine a photo studio as a meeting point for people who do not know each other. Maybe they pass each other every day but haven’t had any reason to meet yet. Now they can by posing together for their portrait. In their best suit or dressed casually. With a specially selected object, a family memento or a vase hastily grabbed off the table. All this effort only to be together in a picture, to look together in one and the same lens. What is more, a lens held by a foreigner who does not speak their language. Like many of those who have arrived in France recently and live their new, complex migrant – French identity.

It is true that Bel Horizon is inhabited mainly by foreign families: “The Cape Verde Islands, Comoros, Majotta, Algeria, Morocco”, Ogrodzki lists in his field note of 1 July. Adding: “The tenants’ turnover is relatively quick; they don’t strike roots here. Our activity is a bit like approximating a glass in order to focus rays and start a small fire in the community relations.” The artists invite Bel Horizon residents to have their photo taken together with their neighbours. However, in order to avoid shooting only people who know each other, they make appointments for different neighbours to arrive at the same time. It turns out that usually the studio welcomes people who had never had any contact before, except for the exchange of polite greetings. Because it takes a while to prepare for the photo shoot, the neighbours start talking to each other. The artists also ask them to bring along objects that are important to them. Stories behind those objects allow them to get to know each other's biographies better and learn about the experience of the members of this multiethnical community in Bel Horizon. In his summary of the activity Ogrodzki notices that “operation of the photographic studio was a sort of artistic trap [...] where people who decided to take the photo with their neighbours would fall. These [...] efforts put them in a situation of an encounter, of a talk and a shared portrait with people whom they have previously looked at with reluctance.”

The “trap” category was taken by the researcher from the works of the British anthropologist, Alfred Gell. The co-author of this paper in her paper written with Tomasz Rakowski and Ewa Rossal, explains this notion and its links with art:

The figure of the trap turns out to be [...] useful in interpretation of artistic projects, creating new ethnographic situations. […] Gell believes that all contemporary artwork works the same as traps. They generate questions but they do not provide answers, they provoke to trigger reaction in the audience, they create situations where not only the viewer, but often the artist himself or herself is entrapped in a network of meanings and relations between themselves and between them and the object. Traps not only tend to embody complex ideas and intentions of the artist, but also  disclose traits of the potential recipient, since, as emphasized by Gell, »The trap is therefore both a model of its creator, the hunter, and a model of its victim, the prey animal. But more than this, the trap embodies a scenario, which is the dramatic nexus that binds these two protagonists together, and which aligns them in time and space«. On the linguistic level we can study traps as tools/ devices/ objects for catching and/or as a method or activity aimed at entrapping somebody in a more or less defined situation.

The photographic studio is a regular piece of infrastructure. In Marseille it became a solidarity trap.

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

The Bel Horizon neighbours project 

 

4th March 2020No Comments

Dancing with the neighbours – II

"The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered. At the most elementary level it has a triple “function”: it is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian (just as the speaker appropriates and takes on the language); it is a spatial acting-out of the place (just as the speech act is an acoustic acting-out of the language); and it implies relations among differentiated positions, that is, among pragmatic “contracts” in the form of movements (just as verbal enunciation is an “allocution”, “posits another opposite” the speaker and puts contracts between interlocutors into action). It thus seems possible to give a preliminary definition of walking as a space of enunciation”

If walking is enunciation, then dance you may treat as an utterance that generates greater momentum, is more audible, more complex, makes the individual present, lets him or her individually define their place in space, take their place and leave their mark. When walking and dancing in the urban space the artists assigns relevance to simple elements of everyday life, this is where her presence and utterance are manifested. In this undertaking solidarity (although the word does not occur in Alice's essay too often, still she examines it, redefines over and over again using synonyms) entails creating similar space for Bel Horizon residents for their self-expression and giving meanings to their gestures, appreciating the importance of their activities. They dance, while she brings out the meanings, keeps up the dramaturgy, enhances their voice.

As Tania Alice emphasizes, “My role as the artist is focused on discovering the field of autonomy of the participants. [It happens through] listening, making their ideas audible again, touch, unveiling their visions and thoughts.” Solidarity here is understood as giving space and opportunity for being present and being-with. Descriptions of meetings with the residents are moving examples of “making the voice resound”. Just like when the artist is dancing with Hamsa, an autistic boy, who selects reggae music and an energetic song Karma by Naâman. “Reggae is the only word he can say”, Alice emphasizes. In this dance there is space for an equal, strong performance of a person who is very often socially considered to be different, silent, even mute. By dancing the boy has the chance to express himself in the language that is fully available to him: the language of movement.

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

Culture for Solidarity - Tours de danse activity

4th March 2020No Comments

Dancing with the neighbours

“A joyful sweetness is in the air, I feel it the moment I arrive at the airport in Marseille. It is early July 2018. The captain addresses the passengers: »Smile! We have just arrived in the land of crickets«. And then we hear an imitation of the sound of a cricket coming through the speakers. Everyone laughs together. Marseille. My city, my home, my so many other things. A sleepless night. A twenty-hour journey and ...here I am.”

These are the opening words of Tania Alice's essay Solidarity dramaturgies. It is the outcome of the Tours de danse activity that she carried out together with an artist, Aziz Boumediene, aimed at participation of residents of the Bel Horizon block of flats in Marseille. Once again, the pilot puts up a show to make people laugh that lets the Brazilian artist feel the unity with passengers, she knows she is home. The explosion of cheerfulness for a moment sets a platform of emotional flow, but not only that: it generates a special kind of understanding between people gathered in one place by pure chance. The laughter and solidarity intertwine here in a close relation.

Alice’s activity took place from 4 to 15 July 2018 and was video recorded by Daniela Lanzuisi. It entailed inviting Bel Horizon residents to dance together. Day after day the artist danced individually or in small groups successively with the neighbours, in their flats or outside in the halls of the block. Adults, children, families, friends living in the same stairwell: different set, different temperature of their co-existence. Sometimes they seem clearly embarrassed when dancing, slightly camera shy, other times you can see them totally relaxed, they enjoy the opportunity to show their body, movement and presence on stage.

In the sequences shot in the first days of the activity we can see how Tania Alice together with Aziz Boumedien and the caretaker of the building, Mr. Fortes, use a red tape to line the structure of the building on the window by the entry to the staircase. Nineteen rows represent nineteen floors, each flat is a separate window. The collage looks a bit like an advent calendar, which is an association Alice uses on purpose. In each field pictures will be placed: whenever one of the residents decides to have a dance, his or her portrait will be put in the appropriate cell of the net. Advent is a period of counting down the days according to the Christian liturgy: “a cheerful anticipation.”

Anticipation is what Alice has been experiencing from the moment she landed in Marseille. As she reports on her first morning, before the whole undertaking even begins, when she hears the city call, and each step feels like creating space, Tania Alice expresses a specific kind of tension that she experiences. It is a kind of excitement that makes you move from the usual everyday energy towards an intensified, concentrated dynamics of the performance art. The artist describes the moment she has the first look at the architecture of the building. “A tower! […] I feel moved, as if I was about to have my first kiss. Making a performance is like being constantly two seconds away from your first kiss, and from all the next ones that follow. Is performance a dramaturgy of the first kiss?” This comparison points not only to the specific state of the performer starting her action. This state involves trembling muscles, a decision to get involved, a leap into the unknown, excitement. In the description it is also a clue that lets us understand what the relations she is about to trigger during her project will be about: about being ready, feeling of getting closer, catching moments of understanding, tension on the verge of intimacy and adventure. This fleetingness and intensity of relations is a characteristic that yet again reveals the nature of solidarity as a performance. It is created in consolidation, in common adventure, in moments of unusual contact, when unexpectedly a channel of understanding opens.

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

Culture for Solidarity - Tours de danse activity

 

 

 

2nd March 2020No Comments

Laughter helps bring people together

On the 4th October 2018 Karolina Pluta, a researcher and an artist invited employees of Zagreb POGON to an activity called The Confession Room. On the video shot by Nina Klarić we see a room with a square stage in the middle and ribbons hanging down from the ceiling, forming a sort of openwork cube. At one side of the stage there is a chair where individuals sit one by one. Each person is induced into a meditative state where they can focus on their body and feelings evoked thereby, and then they are asked to note on a piece of paper a question or questions they have always wanted to ask their colleagues from POGON, but never had a chance. The notes are then hanged on ribbons. During this activity seven people phrase the total of couple of dozens of questions.

At the end of the day they meet again in the performance space in order to read the questions and discuss them. First thing one notices is the laughs, jokes, but also a hint of ambivalence. The atmosphere is very relaxed, however, the personal topics they touch give rise to a subtle tension. At first sight it seems that the activity failed. Instead of creating deep empathy, encouraging people to serious being-with, it provokes amusement. The participants seem to be looking for ways to somehow deal with the awkwardness of the situation, to somehow distance themselves from it and find the funniest answer to the given question. Most of them really succeed. When to our question: “What do you fear most?” they answer “Deadlines”, the participants of the event seem to be most amused. Later other, some really personal, and some trivial questions appear still provoking most unusual replies. Paradoxically it is the laughter that unites them. Those who follow the situation on the video record immediately notice the magic of the relations between the POGON employees who, during their thunderous explosions of joy, drop their masks. In our working language we like to call such moments “solidarity cracks”, the moments when people expose themselves and open up to real close encounters.

The laughter does not discredit the authenticity. On the contrary, it helps bring people together, intertwines somehow those who work together, share similar professional worries and work-related tensions, however, they are different from one another: in their attitudes, kinds of life challenges, commitments, character, mindset, opinions.  In laughter these differences become irrelevant for a moment, people meet, and briefly, though authentically unite. How is it possible that a simple formula allows for this kind of experience?

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

 

 

27th February 2020No Comments

Transforming public spaces for solidarity

Pola Rożek, a researcher and culture animator, with the support of Ukrainian artist Pavel Khailo and Moldovan researcher Kirill Semionov, reconstructed three strategies of transforming public space for the common-good. These reconstructions were based on research that studied gestures of solidarity at the Ciokana housing complex in Kishnev, Moldova. The first one, "together, supervised", refers to when residents of the complex built gazebos, flowerbeds, playgrounds and flower beds together. The second, "a little kingdom of their own", is described in Rożek's field notes as follows: 

"Another spot that drew my attention was the meticulously cultivated front yard garden by the block of flats. We soon found out who was the driving force behind it. People exiting the block would only say: "Maria, 9th floor." No wonder we found our way to Maria in no time. She turned out to be very open to conversation. You can tell that the space she looks after with her sister and her husband is very close to her heart, she talks about it very emotionally. Everything started 10 years ago, when a littered space right in front of the block was designated to be developed into a parking space. Maria rebelled and even though her windows are way above this space (9th floor), she did not want to see any cars parked right outside their front door. She managed to save this space (in the name of the common good) and appropriate it in full (a picket fence was immediately raised) by creating her own private flower garden for her neighbours to admire (she planted lots of roses that exude wonderful smell when in bloom), they are even allowed to stay in it with her consent. However the result is that neither the neighbours, who probably recognize the amount of effort Maria has to put in nurturing it, are not too eager to pitch in and contribute money to buy plants, nor Maria, who seems to appropriate this space more and more, does not feel like encouraging and inviting her neighbours to co-tend to the garden, and then to co-use it. She not only buys the plants, but also gets them by way of exchange with other block-based gardeners."

The issue of the fence draws attention here and may even raise some concerns. How can any fence have positive effect on bonds between the residents?

Maria fencing her block garden seems to represent rather an appropriation gesture, privatization of public space, and brings to mind the issue of enclosing common goods. A well-known American philosopher, Garrett Hardin, in his classic paper The Tragedy of the Commons used an example that, in his opinion, showed the superiority of private property over common property. If there is cattle of different herdsmen held on the commons, then each such herdsman will look after the cattle, and none after the pasture. As a result, the cattle won't have enough food to eat. However, if you divided the commons between the herdsmen, each of them would surely do their best to regenerate grass on their part of the commons. Conclusion — enclosing things that are common is more effective because it appeals to the selfish interest of the owner . Does this example mean that there are things that can be even more detrimental to solidarity among Ciokana residents than Ms. Maria enclosing her front yard garden? David Harvey approaches the issue of fencing differently than Hardin. In his book Rebel Cities he observes: “There is much confusion also over the relationship between the commons and the supposed evils of enclosure”. Harvey continues:

"In the grander scheme of things [...] some sort of enclosure is often the best way to preserve certain kinds of valued commons. That sounds like, and is, a contradictory statement, but it reflects a truly contradictory situation. It will take a draconian act of enclosure in Amazonia, for example, to protect both biodiversity and the cultures of indigenous populations as part of our global natural and cultural commons. [...] So not all forms of enclosure can be dismissed as bad by definition. [...] Enclosure of non-commodified spaces in a ruthlessly commodifying world is surely a good thing."

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website

24th February 2020No Comments

Warsaw to Seville: crossing cultural boundaries

This project emerged from the previous experiences of Rubén Alonso and Fran Torres exploring the integrating potential of music with the children of San José Obrero school, in collaboration with Sebastian Świąder (who works as a theatre educator and culture animator, involving people in creative musical, theatre and participatory processes). 

 

As a result of their meeting with Sebastian Świąder, Rubén Alonso and Fran Torres decided to continue their relationship with the San José Obrero school and follow up with exploring ways how music could contribute to integration, but this time on the international level. Having consulted teachers from both schools, Alonso, Torres and Świąder decided to organize a musical exchange of sounds and questions between Warsaw and Seville. Two distant cities, two completely different facilities, young people of similar age, mutual curiosity that can be satisfied only by asking questions, making recordings and pricking up your ears.

At first the creators organized a series of workshops in Seville where they invited the kids to join them in the action aimed at meeting somebody “other”, somebody their age, but from a different part of Europe, from Poland. “What would you like to hear from the world of kids living in another country, what would you like to ask them, how would you introduce yourselves and your world using sounds?” was the question workshop managers asked their young associates. They used their wishes as a starting point, and together generated a list of issues they were interested in and recorded an audio message, a sort of original radio show that was supposed to present their story and encourage further communication.

Their idea of the remote Poland, the thought that there are people of the same age living in another country, attending schools, dealing with their own problems, joys and customs, turned out to be extremely stimulating and inspired them to fantasize, which eventually gave rise to a series of questions: “What is the sound of your school bell? What is the sound of your voices? Of your breath? What does your teacher sound like when he or she tells you off? What does your school corridor sound like? And your homes? Your laughter? What is your favourite music? What are the voices of your friends in the playground?” Young Spaniards recorded their questions on an audio tape that they later sent to Poland, where the Bullerbyn school students prepared similarly their own list of intriguing issues. “What do animals in Spain sound like? What is the sound of wind, rain in your city? What games do you play? What do advertisements sound like? What songs are your earworms?” Such questions inspire universal ideas, while at the same time they allow you to cross boundaries of intimacy.

The voice itself, as the only sign of presence, also creates opportunity for a specific kind of a meeting: very close, because connected with the sense that has an immensely strong effect on your imagination and is traditionally associated with self-expression, while on the other hand, an indirect one because of the recording, which to top it, all was made on an archaic, quirky medium. This combination of closeness and strangeness, familiarity (introduced e.g. by questions about everyday life, things connected with their mundane life experience) and exoticism (an audio cassette, sound of the unknown language) turned out to be the key to mutual curiosity and creative tensions driving the work. This red cassette travelling across Europe became the vehicle of children’s curiosity and imagination.

The question of imagination as the key component of the anthropological approach that facilitates not only meeting with the “other”, but also understanding him or her was explored by a Polish cultural anthropologist, Andrzej Mencwel in his book The Anthropological Imagination. He believes that imagination is what helps us “open our eyes, direct our look, focus our vision” in a way that lets us see subjects in others. Imagination inspires will to know the others better, it suspends any and all judgement, lets us be with the other side by side.

 

This excerpt is from a paper based on the action research carried out by an international group of researchers and artists across Europe in 2018 as part of the Culture for Solidarity project. You can now access the final version of this participatory-action-research in both English and Polish. Soon we will also publish the Spanish version. 

Read the final English document in PDF

Read the Polish version in PDF

Information on the project - English website

Information on the project - Polish website