Gasworks presents Playing Truant, the first UK solo exhibition by Adelita Husni-Bey.
Husni-Bey’s practice is built upon research and collaboration and encompasses drawing, painting, collage, video and participatory workshops. Her work often looks at social relations in different political contexts, from late capitalism to other alternative social imaginaries. Set against current controversies about the role of state education in England, her exhibition at Gasworks sets out to compare today’s neo-liberal understanding of ‘free school’ with past and present models of self-run or ‘anarchist’ education.
The exhibition branches out from Husni-Bey’s recent video Postcards from the Desert Island (2010–11, 22 min.), which documents a 3-week workshop that the artist organised with students from the École Vitruve, a self-run primary school in Paris. Borrowing scenarios from William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, pupils were asked to build a desert island in their school hall. The video shows them grappling with some of the key principles and unresolved problems of self-governance, such as: imagining a life without institutions, questions of punishment and the struggle for power, how to deal with immigration and civil disobedience, and where to draw the distinction between public and private.
Postcards from the Desert Island is presented alongside two newly commissioned works that interrogate differing conceptions of ‘free school’: one having emerged in the United States in the early twentieth century and another currently unfolding in England.
The first is a sound work made in collaboration with members of New York experimental theatre group The Living Theatre, which explores how to embody the history of an anarchist model of education now, as a group. Developed during a series of workshops with the actors, the piece uses material from the archive of the Ferrer Colony and Modern School in Stelton, New Jersey. Initially founded in New York in 1911 by followers of Catalan freethinker Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia (1859–1909), this was one of the first anarchist ‘free schools’ and set a precedent for later schools such as the École Vitruve in France and Summerhill in the UK.
The second piece is a large-scale wall drawing which traces key moments in the development of educational policy in England from the 1970s up to the present day, culminating in the emergence of a new type of ‘free school’ at the hands of the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
Husni-Bey’s exhibition therefore addresses the gaping discrepancy between two ‘free school’ models: one rooted in anarcho-collectivism and the other stemming from the increasing privatisation of education in England since the 1970s, packaged up with the current Conservative party’s much contested notion of the ‘big society’.
Saturday 8 December, 11am – 1pm
Workshop: Schooling Tomorrow
As part of Gasworks' Participation Programme, Adelita Husni-Bey leads a collaborative workshop inviting participants to share experiences and opinions on how schools are run today, and to work as a group to imagine the structure and functions of the schools of the future. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book as places are limited.
Saturday 8 December, 3 – 4.30pm
Group Discussion: What is the Sound of Radical Education Today?
Janna Graham (Projects Curator, Serpentine Gallery) and members of the Radical Education Forum will use their recently published Radical Education Workbook, to discuss and enact histories of radical education and their relevance to issues such as academies, free schools and the English Baccalaureate.
The Radical Education Forum is a group of people working in a wide range of educational settings who meet monthly to discuss radical pedagogical theories and techniques, and contemporary issues of interest to those involved in education. The Forum supports social justice in education, linking practitioners within mainstream educational institutions, community education initiatives, social movements, arts organisations and self-organised groups.
Originally trained as a Geographer, Janna Graham has initiated a number of critical pedagogy projects in and outside of the arts. She is currently Projects Curator at the Serpentine Gallery, where she works with others to create The Centre for Possible Studies, an education and research space in the Edgware Road neighbourhood of London where artists and local people develop ‘studies of the possible’ in response to social inequalities of urban space and local histories of critical education, community organising and radical research.
Tuesday 22 January, 7pm
Screening: Paideia, Escuela Libre (Manuel Larrea Guíon and Josefa Martín Luengo (Colective Paideia), video transferred to DVD, 1994, 45min.)
Please join us for a one-off screening of Paideia, Escuela Libre, a short observational documentary about the Paideia anarchist free school in Merida, south-west Spain, founded in 1977 by a collective of anarchists, teachers and child psychologists. The video has been translated to English for the first time and provides a document of Paideia in the mid-1990s, giving an insight into how the school was and continues to be run. It also highlights questions around the representation of education, and anarchist education in particular, which are key to the work included in Playing Truant.