European Regional Ecoversities Gathering 2019: Inviting the threshold. Art, Life, Pedagogy in the unfolding of the everyday

Lecce (Italy), 27.12.2019 – 3.01.2020

By Alessandra Pomarico

The first European regional gathering was held in Lecce (Southern Italy) on the threshold between the year 2019 and 2020, a kitchen and a garden, the visible and the invisible, the known and the unknown.

Co-hosted by artist Emilio Fantin (Lac o Lemon Foundation, Italy) and curator/educator Alessandra Pomarico (Free Home University, Italy) together with Johannes Pfister (learner, educator, change maker) and Uta Gerullies (gardener, nature paedagogic and healing activities) from UnaVision (Germany), Cinzia di Meglio, anthroposophic doctor and art therapy teacher from Waldorf School (Italy), Silvia Maglioni and Graeme Thomson, filmmakers and artists, initiators of The Centre for Language Unlearning (a nomadic project begun in France), Nikolay Oleynikov, artist from Chto Delat School of Engaged Art (Russia) and Julien Boyer, professor at Paris 8\rapper (France). Representatives of the diverse local community were engaged on several occasions.

Representing different European Ecoversities, the group engaged with each other and with the local learning community, living together and sharing various artistic, spiritual, healing and pedagogical practices. Reflecting on current issues of Fortress Europe, on the socio-economic crisis and the impasse of our imaginary and languages, the contributors prepared the ground for a collectively dreamt Mediterranean Ecoversities, beyond borders and separability, gesturing towards a more just and ecologically aware learning environment, fostering a wider ecology of knowledge, and a radically different way of knowing and being together.

The gathering was a first attempt to invite a group of people active in the European Region to reflect together around questions at the intersection of pedagogy, ecology, art, politics and the everyday. Initially planned to be in the summer, the gathering had to be postponed and was organized at short notice, and through personal invitations, in the rich soil of Salento region where Lac o Lemon and Free Home University have been working for some time forming communities of learners, and engaging with communities in collective practices.

We like to think that those who managed to join this gathering are those who were meant to be together, coming from different places and paths of life and meeting those that locally are engaged in everyday struggles of learning (and surviving), sharing questions and proposals in intimate and profound ways.

The threshold between the kitchen and the garden, where Uta invited the group to greet and reconnect with the plants, became the liminal space of our encounter: a space to be inhabited with awareness, a crack in between knowing and not knowing, a tension in which to stay between definitions and desires, possibilities and capacities, a bridge connecting spiritual aspirations and material conditions, content and form, and other dimensions of being and relating.

Our time/space was defined by the rhythm of our communal living in a shared home prepared with care, hospitality and trust. The same care was put in the food we cooked, bought locally from a network of organic farmers that we support in the region. Proposals on how to spend our time together and how to allow for a conversation beyond usual ways of talking and planning emerged organically and, in a way, almost spontaneously. The intimate setting and the relatively small number of people (compared to other Ecoversities gatherings) enabled us to get to know each other and share our questions in depth, despite the short time spent together, in what felt as expansion of durations, of selves and of possibilities. Seemingly, the encounters with members of the local community were organized through the creation of spaces of conviviality and space of conversations, informally sharing food, tools, urgencies, experiences, music, films and our different stories.

We experimented ways to connect art and pedagogy, and how artforms and relational/political aesthetics could support and become embodied in transformative learning processes. We discussed the possibility of overcoming the obstacles of a language that is often co-opted, abused, or over used, that ‘speaks us’ not only to us, in a habitual or conventional way, even when we are in setting wishing to be an alternative to the mainstream; we discussed useful and unusual notions, the problematic use of ‘universals’, the artificial distinction between art and non art, or art and life, and how an artistic practice, approach and sensibility can facilitate the emergence of an otherwise. Conversely, we problematized a certain understanding of art in the west or in art circles. All of us contributed by offering different experiences concerning the relationship with plants, human beings, forms of communication and systems of knowledge production. We discussed our projects, initiatives, tools to facilitate collective decision-making, circulation of authority and consensus based technologies.

The material generated in our gathering will take sometime to be recomposed in shareable recordings, video and texts, as we aspire to match our intentions with the resulting forms of documents. We hope that the final result of these experiments will speaks more than and beyond the written words. The challenge was to create not a documentation of our gathering but rather to generate images, sounds and words which show our pedagogical approach through an artistic process. This experiment represents a trace which can be applied in other occasions, In which the gathering assumes the form of a laboratory.

In the meanwhile, here are some of the things we did and the exercises that could be fruitful in other processes:

  • The Nocturnal Committee reunited one night on a round table covered by a red velvet tablecloth in low light. Here the Dark Matter Cinema Tarot, a special pack of tarot cards replacing the major and minor arcana with images drawn from the history of cinema, awaited our most urgent questions and our collective imagination to be activated. The burning question proposed was How we want to live (together) . The cards were picked and interpreted collectively, through analysis of the images, followed by the sharing of visions, connections, memories, reflections, alternative narratives – offering an orientation on the challenges that the question conveyed. The conversation was recorded and has been transcribed and edited in a speculative reconfiguration so that everybody can share it. The collective reading was proposed by Silvia and Graeme, who created the Dark Matter Cinema Tarot.
  • Entering the threshold and connecting with the plants in the garden. Finding a way to greet the plant and to be in relation with them, to explore with our senses and to listen deeply. Exploring this connection in a creative way, lead some of us to draw, paint, assemble earthy collage or fragile rosemary sculptures, sound recording and blind walking. Nicolay volunteered to film the activity, setting his camera to a 20 seconds frame parameter for each take. Coming back into the house, the group shared their sensations and reflections. The activity was proposed by Uta, who only spoke German, a language not shared by the rest of the group, and was able to touch us and communicate with us beyond verbal language. Johannes, provided translation of our conversations sometimes through multiple languages passages, which was also an important tool for establishing different temporalities in our exchange and exercised our capacity of listening.
  • Rap Your 2019 News. Julian proposed to assemble a rap piece, and Nicolay suggested that we could compose a collective piece bringing the news that struck us in the year just about to end. The beats resulted from a collaboration between Julian and Graeme who recorded and looped together the sounds of the house. The various guests visiting us were also invited to participate in their own languages, and retracted in the back room coming out excited and uplifted. “If you know how to speak, you know how to rap “, Julian said to those among us feeling shy or not well equipped, repeating what was told to him when he started voicing the struggle on the beat. We will soon be ready to share the final mix.
  • An afternoon of sharing with guests from the local community of educators and Free Home University participants with the experience of displacement and migration. After sharing coffee, pastries, chocolates and small talk, we introduced the Ecoversities Alliance core principles and initiatives to the group. We invited people to make a circle and to be part of a conversation with a “glitch”: talking and listening with eyes closed, introducing themselves in relation to the question of “time” in education, and struggles, desires, challenges, surprises around their work as educators. The exercise, proposed by Silvia and Graeme, became a very touching way of sharing intimate stories, bringing together many perspectives and experiences. The conversation was recorded and part of it was later edited with the images filmed during the exercise with the plants, in a sort of ‘chance operation’: the order of speaking was respected while the edited phrases encountered the images by chance.
  • Nocturnal conversations about everything, morning reconfigurations around a never ending cycle of coffee and breakfast
  • Two public screenings of the film People of Flour, Salt and Water , by artistic collective Chto Delat and produced by Free Home University during the 2019 session. Discussion around the film with the community of farmers and land defenders of Casa delle Agriculture of Castiglione d’Otranto, where the film was created, and conversation in our group about the making of a “learning film”, the question of representation, the non neutrality of images, the position of the artist when working with communities of struggle, and in general around the use of language, images, and gaze. Those conversations continued over the analysis of our little film portraying our process: is too much beauty too much? Is it necessary to double image with words? How to balance the need for communication and readability with the poetics of the suspended and indefinite/undefined? Can we develop a certain sensibility which allows us to approach knowledge through intuition? Might art be a tool which improves our intuition and imaginative capability?
  • European ecoversities ‘dragon dreaming’ session, proposed by Johannes following a sociocracy methodology previously explained to the group. With the help of a talking stick we were prompted to dream about the ecoversities we wish/dream of having 20 years from now. The exercise brought us to further discuss what we mean when we say Europe, what are the different voices and urgencies, how to map and connect the emergent alternative education network, what defines ecoversities for us, what are the existing resources and capacities, and how to plan the next step for a larger European gathering, how to collectively prepare an invitation, with which focus, how to apply for local funds and start strategic partnerships.
  • Ecoversities/ transversity/ freeversity New Year’s Eve Trans-Territorial dinner party with dishes, presences, music and stories beyond Europe.
  • Greeting the new decade with the Mediterranean Sea, taking the time to look at our (common) horizon, embracing the sun setting down among the clouds.
  • Farewells and shared traveling.

Agreement on Next steps:

Finalizing all material and sharing it with the larger community of the Ecoversities Alliance;

Contacting all European participants present in past gatherings or for other networks and sharing possible dates and themes for a larger gathering to happen at the end of August either in Unavision (Germany) or in Castiglione d’Otranto – a few days before the Green Night Festival. The Green Night festival (28 to 31 st of August) could be used for ecoversity participants to have presentations, workshops, activities in the context of a festival that attracts more than 15.000 people. The group can participate in the local community events and a series of workshops and conversations.

Europe beyond its borders,
Europe beyond eurocentrism.

We also envisioned the possibility of creating a European/Mediterranean linked labs, including Africa and other region strictly connected to Europe, and we agreed that we should strategically inform and link the various networks about all of our activities.

Rather than considering Europe as a geographic territory based on nation state divisions and borders, and as a way to politically counter that very narrative and control border policies, we explored the possibility of expanding the notion of Europe for the next encounter to those who are personally affected or concerned by and/ or involved with European issues, working more on geopolitical areas of interest and actions in a trans-national or even trans-territorial perspective.

EcoVersities Europe Questions, Ideas, Activities

  • Who is EcoVersities?
    • What are the borders of EcoVersities Europe?
    • Including Mediterranean countries / Northern Africa / Middle East
    • Widening / enlargement of the EcoVersities network
    • Include / Integrate other like-minded initiatives and individuals
  • What structure has EcoVersities global and Europe?
    • Not hierarchical
    • Democratic, Sociocratic, Consentment, Consens?
    • How does the decision-making process function?
  • Communications
    • EcoVersities News, Radio, TV
    • Gatherings, Meetings, Laboratories
    • dissemination of our ideas
    • mutual advertising of our single initiatives
  • Activities
    • What common programs and activities do we have, or do we plan?
    • When will the next meeting(s), Ecoversities Gathering, be? Late August 2020 in Lecce (alternatively with UnaVision in Germany in August or September 2020 or some time in 2021)
    • What is our common vision?
    • What communication and documentation processes do we have?
    • Idea for Lac o Lemon – Ecoversities – UnaVision
      Conduct and Co-Design Workshop for the villa of Lac o Lemon with
      architects, artists, landscapers for the expansion of the location.
  • EcoVersities Meetings
    • What structures has an EcoVersities Meeting?
    • Meetings, Labs, Gatherings, Experiments
    • Participants of Meetings?
      • Guests, Outsiders, Experts, Artists, Philosophers
    • Finances
      • Budgets, Donations, Daily contributions, applying together/
        separately for Grants

Thanks to the Ecoversity Alliance to support our gathering!

Funds were made available by the Ecoversities Alliance, regional gathering and special projects initiative:
2.615 E, covering traveling expenses, food and hospitality.

Additional funds were offered by Free Home University:
600 E covering extra production expenses.

General Total: E. 3,215

Short bios

Fondazione Lac o Le Mon was established in late 2015 by artists Emilio Fantin, Luigi Negro, Giancarlo Norese, Cesare Pietroiusti and Luigi Presicce who have been working collectively as Lu Cafausu, in different contexts both in Italy and abroad, through performances, exhibitions and other actions.
www. lacolemon.wordpress.com

Free Home University (Lecce, Italy) is a pedagogical and artistic experiment focused on generating new ways of sharing and creating knowledge by experiencing life in common since 2014.
www.fhu.art

UnaVision
The UnaVision Initiative is coordinated by the ThinkCamp nonprofit cooperative based in Germany. The cooperative was established in 2008. We conduct Learning Journeys, Hiking Dialogs and Project Based Learning Activities. The core of our activities is to co-create a network of UnaVillages, which are prototypes of laboratories for future sustainable living in rural areas. The first physical location started in 2018 east of Berlin. A systematic Transformative Learning process and innovative learning approaches guides the initiative.

Ecoversities Alliance is committed to radically re-imagining education to cultivate human and ecological flourishing. Ecoversities seek to transform the unsustainable and unjust economic, political and social systems/mindsets that dominate the planet and are reproduced through colonial and neoliberal education.
www.ecoversities.org

Silvia Maglioni and Graeme Thomson are filmmakers and artists living mainly between Paris and Palermo. Their practice often makes use of cinema to reactivate lost or forgotten archives and histories and to create new modes of collective vision and engagement with contemporary politics. Aside from their film work, for several years they have been developing a research project, “common infra/ctions”, forging connections between strategies of unlearning and idiorhythmic play – which includes the Dark Matter Cinema Tarot and the Centre for Language Unlearning, both of which have become nomadic tools. They’ve collaborated with several collectives around the world.
The Centre for Language Unlearning (opening phase)
http://www.leslaboratoires.org/en/article/centre-for-language-unlearning
Artists’ website
http://cargocollective.com/terminal-beach

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