In the past year CCW Graduate School and CCC/HEAD in Geneva have been developing a partnership between staff and students. From 10-13 November students and staff from Geneva came to London for the first collaborative sessions. David Cross, Reader in Fine Art and Graphic Design, is leading CCW’s side of the partnership and wrote about the recent visit.
‘The aim of this partnership is to compare and contrast our approaches to the emerging field of practice-based research degrees. Rather than approach this in a generic way, we decided to develop a specific focus on the research interests we have in common. Some shared research interests are a critical engagement with the contested ideal of “sustainability” and the problematic notion of “resilience”… The production of situated knowledge through action research and radical pedagogy… And of course, the central importance of artistic practice as an intersection of content, form and process.
When I was asked to lead a collaboration between CCW and CCC, I imagined a regular institutional exchange, and I expected my rusty French to be put to the test. But when we connected between London and Geneva via Skype, it was clear that communication wasn’t going to be a problem — our Swiss collaborators’ English was better than mine! Even better, from the moment our collaborators from Geneva arrived, our interaction was more sociable, creative and unpredictable than I had hoped. We began with an introductory show-and-tell session of research by staff, led by Professor Catherine Quéloz (CCC/HEAD) and Professor Liliane Schneiter (CCC/HEAD); and by PhD candidates Aurélien Gamboni (CCC/HEAD), Janis Schroeder (CCC/HEAD), Joana de Oliveira (CCC/HEAD), Manoela Afonso (CCW), Karel Sidney Doing (LCC), and Vanessa Saraceno (CCW). After this, our wide-ranging and critical dialogue was so absorbing and challenging that spontaneous action began to change the plan.
That evening, we went to Wimbledon for the launch of the new “sustainable” studio building by the architects Penoyre and Prasad, and the award of a Soil Association Gold Catering Mark to Baxter Storey, the caterers at UAL. We had been invited to announce the collaboration between CCC and CCW, but the computer stubbornly refused to show the presentations we had prepared. Faced with a blank screen, I invited the audience to participate in the work of picturing sustainability as a paradoxical and ambiguous idea, an urgent challenge that distracts us with technical problems when cultural transformation is the goal. Completely undeterred by the technical failure, our partners from Geneva stepped up to give a delightful collaborative speech performance that described their research interests while demonstrating their shared values of collectivity and participation.
The next day, we visited the inspirational MayDay Rooms in Fleet Street, a “safe haven for historical material linked to social movements, experimental culture and the radical expression of marginalised figures and groups”. Co-founders Anthony Davies and Iain Boal generously hosted us, and presented the collections of radical material held in the archive. I think we were all impressed by the elegant architecture, but what really inspired us was the MayDay Rooms’ ambition of going beyond critical engagement to activation — handling the historical archive material and interacting with the people who produced it, in order to energise current struggles.
Our final day together was to be devoted to a seminar. Before their visit to Chelsea, I had corresponded with Professor Quéloz to agree the choice of material. I proposed, The Three Ecologies by Félix Guattari, which identifies the compound ecological, social and psychological nature of the crisis. Catherine and her colleagues came back with, How Big is Big? by Peter Sloterdijk, which considers the revolutionary implications of Buckminster Fuller’s identification of the earth as a spaceship, and Mike Davis, Who Will Build the Ark?, which offers a thrilling image of a “mental tournament between analytic despair and utopian possibility”. We also planned to discuss artworks: Hans Haacke’s Rhinewater Purification Plant (1972) in relation to Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project (2003-4), and Ursula Biemann’s video piece, Deep Weather (2013).
But the group was keen to pursue the ideas sketched out in our introductory session and developed at the MayDay Rooms, so rather than use our seminar to discuss artworks and writing, we discussed our options for action. Encouraged by the sense of shared possibility coming from our time together, I outlined my aim of persuading UAL to switch banks away from Royal Bank of Scotland —the fossil fuel bank— and to put our money with a bank that supports our aim of becoming a more sustainable university. Our fellow researchers from Geneva were really supportive, and went so far as to propose making divestment from fossil fuels a focus of our future collaboration. Geneva is home to an extraordinary network of financial institutions and international civil society organizations, so with creative and critical input, it seems we could make something exciting happen.
The collaboration between CCW in London and CCC in Geneva is going ahead: we are planning further meetings at Chelsea, a Skype session from London to Geneva on 27 January, and a visit to Geneva from 9—13 March 2015. If you’d like to get involved, please get in touch!’
Image: in the archives of the MayDay Rooms, photo by Marsha Bradfield