Learning Plays – A School of Schools

Eine Zusammenkunft alternativer Akademien, Schulen und Universitäten im Rahmen des Impulse Theater Festivals 2016

Instead of trying to invent yet another methodology for yet another summer academy, Learning Plays – A School of Schools brought together four exemplary initiatives to share their practice by practical means. What are the opportunities and obligations facing art, artists, activism, theory and theater in these increasingly dramatic times? What are the organic intellectual practices which are being lived?

Learning Plays is a school of schools: Four artist-initiated platforms for knowledge production and exchange moved to Mülheim/Ruhr for one week:

  • Chto Delat – School of Engaged Art (St. Petersburg)
  • PAF – Performing Arts Forum (St. Erme)
  • The Silent University (Athen, Amman, Hamburg, London, Mülheim, Stockholm)
  • Vierte Welt Kollaborationen (Berlin)

Learning Plays situates itself in the context of alternative educational approaches – ranging from the youth and reform movements of the 1910s and Paulo Freire’s concept of critical pedagogy from the 1970s to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s current approach of aesthetic education – while also referencing Brecht’s Lehrstück theory: the idea of a theater with no division between audience and actors, an agonistic group situation focussed on learning how to understand and act within political reality. All four of the invited initiatives have developed their own very different performing models of knowledge production and transfer, while at the same time being deeply engaged in struggling with contemporary political realities.

Impulse Theater Festival 2016 | Clip 3

© Impulse Theater Festival


Chto Delat’s School of Engaged Art
What is socialist art today?

The School of Engaged Art (St. Petersburg) was founded in 2012 by the collective Chto Delat, a working group of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers with the aim of merging political theory, art, and activism into a tool of political and civic empowerment in the attempt to reclaim and reconsider new forms of emancipatory education through art practice. The School of Engaged Art functions as a modular art school based on experimentation with the possibilities of engaged art practices in a period dominated by reactionary discourse.

Known for its utopian questioning and promotion of communist imagination and aspiration, the School of Engaged Art examines a variety of artistic practices which are currently operating in a hostile world of commodity fetishism despite their own structure being fundamentally different. The need to do this is more urgent than ever now when cultural workers are challenged not only by the growing pressure of conservatism, reaction and the exploitation of their creative potential by a neo-liberal agenda, but also by the growth of popular new movements of the European left. These have shown the courage to claim power and – in addition to restructuring urgent economic issues and fighting austerity – to also offer a new vision of cultural politics (as the case of Syriza or Podemos), providing the possibility of genuine socialist political change in future.

“What is socialist art today?” consists of creating, rehearsing and performing a new Lehrstück, of trying to find a new definition of socialist art together, as well as to trace its genealogy and investigate the possibilities of its practical realization. 

PAF – Performing Arts Forum
Nor Culture Nor Art

With Valeria Graziano, Vanessa Ohlraun & Mårten Spångberg

As much as knowledge is a resource, it implies the formation of forms of power. How can an understanding of knowledge as a practice redistribute the ways it circulates and create other modes of engagement with that which is as yet unknown?

Knowledge and learning are matters of affordability and investment: they are deeply entangled in our present economic system. Is it enough to engage in alternative forms of learning and education or is it necessary to reconsider the very relation between life and knowledge, not to mention the relations between knowledge and culture, communication and art? 

Over the last ten years Performing Arts Forum (PAF), initiated by Jan Ritsema, has functioned as a hub for informal experimentation in knowledge, learning and education in combination with often unorthodox forms of administration, engagement, activity and sociality. The workshop takes as its starting point experiences from PAF – yet it does not try to represent or reconstruct it. Rather, PAF is taken as the context that sparked the common reflection around non-aligned modes of practicing knowledge, which is the red thread connecting the interests of the three facilitators. Together we will engage in seminars, discussions and practices of different kinds, often crossing the threshold between knowledge and artistic activity, a grey zone which is of special interest in today’s semio-capitalist society.

To learn means to integrate into established structures as much as to dismantle them. Are there alternative means of learning that bypass dichotomies such as knowing and not-knowing in favor of an expanded notion of what it means to practice? 

Vierte Welt Kollaborationen

Die Vierte Welt (“The Fourth World”) is a production platform of artists who advocate a collaborative practice and enter a discourse through theory, art and politics, philosophy and action. For one week the Vierte Welt will transplant itself to Mülheim in order to work for a theatre after the project and removed from marketing imperatives. Specific research will be made into a technique for collaborative artistic practice and self-determined consortium. In practical terms this will be done with the aid of a text by philosopher Boyan Manchev providing a new narrative for the idea of subjectivity. For collaboration is an activity – in the case of the Vierte Welt mostly an artistic appropriation of political philosophy within the protected space of art – capable of offering an alternative of thought to immutable reality. Beyond the enclosed world of academia and cycles of use and re-use, the point of this search is to make philosophical propositions in the performative space productive for public thinking. It is not only about a new aesthetic practice, but also about developing new forms of (transnational) conversation out of performance. It is about inventing a critical practice from artistic and performative forms founded upon a truth which manifests itself in criticism in the attempt to mobilize its productive energy to achieve an emancipatory transformation. 

The Silent University

What kind of knowledge do we allow? What are the boundaries of free exchange? The Silent University, initiated by the Kurdish artist Ahmet Öğüt, is an autonomous platform of exchange for academics who can’t share their knowledge and skills as teachers due to their residence status or because their degrees are not recognized. This university by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants aims to address and reactivate the knowledge of its participants and to make the exchange process mutually beneficial by inventing alternative currencies in place of money or free voluntary service. These explorations attempt to make apparent the systemic failure and the loss of skills and knowledge experienced as a result of the process of silencing people seeking asylum. Branches of the Silent University already exist in Hamburg, London, Mülheim/Ruhr, and Stockholm, with new branches currently being established in Athens and Amman. 

During Learning Plays representatives from all the branches will come together for the first time to exchange their experiences and to discuss the principles of the Silent University and options for future collaborations. In addition workshops, lectures, seminars will also be offered to the public.