The Great Pedagogical Project, 2019

The Artist visits the institution in which the Student is enrolled, and presents The Great Pedagogical Project for the upcoming Nth-ennial. All the pupils are invited to be part of a dialogical process, directed at designing and executing site-specific interventions in the city. Their proposals should engage with the topic of migration while accompanying the Thing, an itinerant wheeled sculpture the Artist is about to produce.

Before submitting a proposal, the Student writes a letter with questions oriented at opening up a discussion with the Artist. What are the terms and conditions of the proposed collaboration? How do you intend to deal with the topic of migration “beyond a narrative of suffering and displacement but through a narrative of journey”? Isn’t it problematic to involve young artists with the argument that they will “benefit from the experience afforded by their engagement”? The reply letter includes interesting (although not completely satisfactory) elucidations, so the Students keeps following the process.

The Nth-ennial kicks off and some of the pupils start executing their projects. The program for the upcoming months is discussed in a meeting, during which troubles with the authorities, encountered when moving around or “park” the Thing, are reported. There seems to be consensus, among the participants, in considering these difficulties as symptoms of the rigidity of the public space, unable to deal with the strange, nomadic character of the Thing. The Thing is, in turn, praised for its ability to reflect the condition of migrants, whose mobility is restricted by geo-political as well as socio-economical boundaries. While acknowledging the importance of addressing the poor conditions often experienced by migrants, the Student expresses concerns and argues that uncritically-repeated narratives that associate migrants with precarity risk to reinforce a rather romanticised view, preventing the affirmation of new modes of perception, and ultimately flattening the specificities of the individuals. That said, migrants do need forms of protection and support, and the same goes for artists. The Student insists on the importance of having the necessary permissions, seeing the struggle to move the Thing as a counterproductive obstacle, and argues that the institutional framework provided by the Nth-ennial should facilitate the execution and the focusing on the individual contributions. The Student goes on describing his proposal, and the compatibility of the latter with the overall approach of The Great Pedagogical Project becomes a matter of discussion. At the end of the meeting, everyone seems to agree on the fact that the Artist should have the last word in deciding whether or not to include it in the program. As asked by the Artist, the student prepares a project description and send it in, but gets no answer back.

The proposal is nonetheless included in a blog dedicated to the The Great Pedagogical Project put up by some pupils. Assuming a favourable response, the Student takes contact with the Nth-ennial’s office to start production. Do you have the Artist’s approval? Well, I think so but, um, as you are doubting, um…. I saw it published in the blog, I assumed… Otherwise, I would expect someone to give me notice of the refusal!? Um, I might be wrong, um….

Should I get in contact with the Artist directly? Should I “fight” for my project? If I don’t, does it mean that I am not so serious about it after all? Or, could my withdrawal function as a statement, the refusal to perpetuate the “struggle for existence” logic, so often misused to justify poor living and working conditions and the exclusion of unfit actors? Isn’t this experience revealing the complexities and the limitations of collaborative processes that take place within contexts characterised by the interplay of actors with different levels of engagement, and with a different access to the processes of decision-making? When and how is it appropriate to set limits and parameters of a collaboration? How rigid are those parameters? Is it really possible to understand each other when it comes to a clear distinction between what is allowed and what is not? What about those who decide to cross the boundaries? And what about the ungovernable, that which cannot by definition be contained within boundaries? When and how does a dialogue ceases to be such?

The Student writes another letter, withdrawing from the The Great Pedagogical Project, and offering those thoughts for reflection. Aren’t they more important than the mere execution of the original proposal? If we admit that the involvement of students should be motivated and justified by a pedagogical value, how to consider The Great Pedagogical Project, in the light of the decision to not participate in it? As a failure? Or as a paradoxical success, insomuch as it has triggered an emancipatory gesture, and prompted critical reflections around shared responsibility, mutual trust, solidarity, and the power imbalance often at work in many similar situations?

As of today, the Student is still waiting for the Artist’s answer. Actually, no, not anymore.