The Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Graduate School’s Year of Resilience (2015/6) united the three colleges in asking: ‘What should the cultural response be to the economic and environmental “shocks” of our time?’ This query applies to our internal culture and social relationships in CCW Graduate School, as well as our roles in producing, forming and analysing culture outside the university. In the CCW Graduate School Year of Resilience, we were testing new relationships between teaching and research and new structures for internal and external collaboration. This is an approach that was new for us; we had never attempted to bring together the teaching, research and administration of these three colleges under one umbrella before. So this is new territory, we have taken steps towards the goal of realising an entire year dedicated to this activity, which we launched with Shock City: Resilience and the Anthropocene.
‘Resilience’ is a contested term. At one end of the scale, resilience sounds like coping with whatever is being flung at you, the idea of taking on board and putting up with difficulty or hardship. On the other hand, resilience can be understood as thinking radically, a capacity to encounter change and continue to thrive—from the very act of living itself, of breathing in and out, to having meaningful lives or living in a community with others. How do we carry on doing these fundamental things? We have to be resilient, using shocks and disruption to trigger creative regeneration.
Anyone who looks at the University of the Arts Research Strategy (2015-2022) online, there for the public to see, will notice that the university has declared its intention to address the following internationally shared research challenges: Community Resilience, Living with Environmental Change, Lifelong Health and Wellbeing, and Digital Futures. Shock City: Resilience and the Anthropocene covers all of these aspects, so we dutifully aligned ourselves along with the university’s research strategy. But we were also taking the university at its word—if this is what you want, well this is what we’ll do!—and we did it as a community, as the three colleges of Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon.
The Year of Resilience clearly drew from and learned from existing work such as the preceding Cultures of Resilience (2014), a university-wide project lead by Professor Ezio Manzini with the goal of building a ‘multiple vision’ on the role of culture in creating resilient systems, constructing this vision with a set of narratives, values, ideas and projects. I want to mention how grateful we still are to Professor Manzini for providing the basis of what we have been doing, because the Cultures of Resilience project has meant that we started to really think through exactly how we might want to define ‘resilience’ in a meaningful way without avoiding some of the pitfalls I mentioned earlier.
Shock City: Resilience and the Anthropocene, examined the current relevance and the future direction of the four Graduate School themes (community, environmental change, health and wellbeing and digital futures) through the lens of the three key concepts that have come from the learning that took place within Ezio Manzini’s Cultures of Resilience project: Communities and Resilience (that is, community-building and place-making), Empathy and Proximity (resilience as the quality of deep human interactions) and Making and Repairing (or taking care of our material environment). I think that these ideas were important as they took our Graduate School thematic to a more practice-led approach than they had been up until that point, to another definition of resilience that is workable, as can be seen across the three colleges in the projects that are represented here: Look at the Estate We’re In (Camberwell College of Arts), #TransActing: A Market of Values (Chelsea College of Arts) and Wilding the Edges (Wimbledon College of Arts). Manzini’s three thematics, examined in the panel discussions for Shock City, produce grounded arenas that demonstrate the possibilities of resilience, producing a practice-based lens through which we can work.
I am going to end with a quote from Dr. Marsha Bradfield who coordinated and shaped this event: ‘This year resilience will weave together research and teaching across Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon. Shock City aims to create an ethos for supporting this integration’. So, we did not just have an event, but we were developing an ethos to provide a community response to broader change that is shaping the foundations of cultural production, including art and design education.