Pills and Seeds and Death: What We Did

Last week’s workshop was in the context of a weeklong, countrywide event of workshops for students in master’s of art programs. This happens twice a year, and when Mas and I were master’s students, it was sort of the bane of everyone’s existence. I always thought of it as losing a week of my life, because in most of my (and Mas’s) experience, the “workshops” were didactic lectures or else someone presenting his or her portfolio, all in a very hierarchical sort of way, a bestowing of knowledge upon us, and the students attending generally didn’t interact much. There was room for so much more experimentation and creativity in the fact that for these two weeks out of the year, students have opportunities to go to other art schools and see what’s going on there, to meet people from other programs, to do things together. We felt this was not happening, so we decided to organize a workshop in the hopes that it would. I think I can say that the project succeeded in many ways, with some areas where there could have been room for improvement.

This is how it went: We decided to propose a sort of reading group of Felix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, which did not mean read Guattari for four days. We wanted to propose the text for reading and discussion, but to focus on how the theory could be used to act and to create. This is the course description that students saw:

This workshop is inspired by Félix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, which maps out the author’s vision for a uniting of the ecology of the mind, social ecology, and the ecology of the environment. The fundamental integration of the three ecologies – creating what Guattari calls ecosophy– is the key toward reversing current trends toward individual alienation and isolation as well as looming environmental disasters. The themes in The Three Ecologiesare arguably even more relevant and pressing today than they were when the text was first published in 1989; it is for this reason that we have chosen it as our foundation and starting point for discussion.

Over the course of three days (with an optional fourth day for those who wish to go further in the activities and discussions), we will explore the main themes in The Three Ecologies through theoretical discussions as well as hands-on experimentation involving in large part the practices of permaculture and the politics of seed sharing and saving. Modeling our approach on Guattari’s proposal of ecosophy, this experience has as one of its goals the mingling of theory and practice, of theoretical exchanges and concrete action.

One of the desired outcomes of the workshop is the creation of a collective project or intervention, to be determined by group members. We work according to principles of nonhierarchical organization, including consensus-based decision making. As such, we do not consider this experience as an occasion for us to “bestow knowledge upon” participants, but rather as an open platform for dialogue, debate, knowledge sharing, collective action, and collaboration among peers. We also believe strongly in a transdisciplinary approach to research and creation, and strongly encourage participants to come to the workshop with any texts, stories, images, or other tools and objects that they believe will help foster a richer exchange.

What will we all gain from this? Aside from new friends, a sense of glowing optimism for humanity, and a deeper connection to the cosmos, we hope that this experience will lead toward a greater understanding of Guattari’s thought, as well as provide inspiration for individual and collective work in the future.

It was obviously us who wrote that. But we were really serious. So were the students, it turned out, which was a good thing because since we were going with the idea of consensus-based organizing, the whole thing could have blown up in our faces if the students who signed up weren’t particularly passionate about permaculture or seeds or Guattari. Luckily, they were!

The first day we discussed the text and pulled out what for us were the main points, one of which was the sanitization of the individual, homogenizing desires and actions. From that we started a brainstorm list of all the sorts of small daily things we do that we only do because that’s just how it is. Constructed. Such as: brushing teeth with a toothbrush, dusting, cleaning in general (what do we consider dirty?), personal hygiene habits. When, why, and what we eat (how did the concept of mealtime come into being, and why?) and what we consider natural and industrial. This led to the decision that for day two everyone would bring something(s) to show and tell, including particular knowledge, images, videos, stories, etc.

Thus day two was a sort of show and tell of the tactile and the theoretical. We learned about homemade toiletries, the local impacts of mining in Peru, traditional medicine in South Africa, bread (from Erica, whose knowledge about wheat and baking caused an abrupt paradigm shift in my way of baking), and plenty more. At the end of day two we came to the decision that all of our sharing that day could be turned into a small publication, and that this small publication would take the form of those information notices you find in packets of medication. Information cure for alienation.

Day three and four, then, were busy putting together the publication through a mix of original text, detourned text, drawing, and collage. We were all quite happy with the end result, and if anyone reading this wants a copy , just let me know and I can email it to you. (It’s in English and French.)

Photos of the week.

Mas and I and a few friends of ours have been talking for several years about someday putting together a collaborative research/study/art institute focusing on ecology issues. This week was like a microcosm of what could be at that institute in the future. We must do it.

Pills and seeds and death

I’ve disappeared this week — Mas and I hosted a workshop on Guattari’s The Three Ecologies for a group of master’s students from Swiss art schools. Awesome week, there has been so much sharing and good conversation and learning. I’m coming away from this awed and inspired, and will have so much to say …. once the week is over and I wake up from a very long nap. For now, here’s the collective blog that the group started, which is already being rapidly filled with articles, videos, DIY projects and recipes:

Pills and Seeds and Death

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Catching up on some reading & whatnot

I’m working my way through all the articles big and small (plus some videos) that I let linger during crazy week last week…

Also this weekend I discovered the work of the New Zealand-based artist Xin Cheng. Sounds like my kind of stuff. I shall follow up. After coffee #3.