Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

A prelimary report by Hatto Fischer

At 12:53 PM +0200 2/21/11, Hatto Fischer wrote:
Note: this is but a prelimary report, and while working towards a >memorandum of understanding, it should give you a first impression >as to what we discussed and experienced while in Gent.

Athens 21.2.2011
Dear all,
even though not all of you have returned home let me begin to thank BrechtDemeulenaere for the dinner and Bart Verschaffel for hosting us at the University of Gent.
Manuel, please extend also our thanks to the alderman for the reception at City Hall.
All of us were impressed by the city of Gent and our eyes will still wonder how many architectural discoveries we made or what details we noticed in the Van Eyk painting in the cathedral.
Since we had professional photographers among us, including Adam Chmielewski and Kevin Cooper, I hope that we receive these images in order to create on the web a sort of diary. The purpose would be to tell the story of our meeting in Gent to those who could not be present.

- Bart Verschaffel showing us the etchings by Piranesi and Olga Sienko her own works inspired by Piranesi
- the school children talking to us about their experience when painting the mural and here Brecht Demeuleneare please extend our greetings to Sophie, the teacher, as she did a marvelous work. Indeed, she should be encouraged to take her experiences further and make another Kids' Guernica mural with much more time available but also now in connection as to what has been learned out of the previous experience. It would be good for the memorandum of understanding to draft a document which entails a synopthsis of what the students did say. Brecht, since you took some notes for translation purpose and also formulated the questions, perhaps you could draft it into a kind of 'talkative questionnaire' to be send to the students in order to let them respond more fully to these questions. It would be good if we can have a full document both in Flemish and English.
- I found very important the introductory remarks made by Bart Verschaffel as it underlines the importance of memory work - including the concern how to let children enter memories about things they have not experienced as of yet and what was reflected later upon when discussing with the students their understanding of violence compared with children who have experienced directly war and conflict situations.
- crucial was the presence of Takuya Kaneda who gave his overview of Kids' Guernica activities during 2010 when the 15th anniversary was celebrated. I think the memorandum of understanding should very much include his understanding of Kids' Guernica as the meeting in Gent has helped to make some things very clear as to where we all stand with regards to Kids' Guernica. Obviously Takuya Kaneda has his point of view according as to which principles have been upheld by Kids' Guernica over the past 15 years
- the film Manuel Gonzales showed us along with the story of his father is a true element and linkage to Guernica 1937 and reveals what it means to live in the shadow of Guernica. His father was one of the two hundred children evacuated from Guernica after the bombardment in 1937 and brought to Gent for adoption. Over and beyond that it was most important that Manuel emphasized that his own story or the story of his father should serve as powerful reminder that the world is filled with refugees and that the traumas resulting out of seperations of children from their families are in need to be dealt with
- Monique Kissel in her presentation reflected upon a world made up of people attempting to live together and some lessons can be drawn for this purpose from such an attempt to paint together a peace >mural of the format of Kids' Guernica. She recognizes as well the need to reflect upon this linkage between Kids' Guernica at informal level and what it entails when university people take up this project. She has some further going views in terms of aesthetics and what amounts to a new concept of art education. In that sense she perceives Kids' Guernica as a practical project by which students can gain insights into what will help them in their later life to distinguish the different roles they can play aside from being artists e.g. facilitators of such projects which allow for informal learning to take place.
- Alexandra Zanne and her husband Sylvain communicated their experiences with Kids' Guernica in Gezoncourt. The film Alexandra made of this action reveals so much sensitivity but also practical wisdom in how children can gain through such an action about their role in history. They can explore the memories of First World War but only once they are really free to express themselves. Sylvain explained that there were involved six adults all of them not really knowing when they risk to say 'too much' or 'too little'. Important was that he took notice of Alexandra not being at all happy once she felt the one artist in the group was intervening too much. They took a decision and finally told the artist to leave the project. This decision let the children be free in their expressions.
- Jad Salman departed from his experience in the Kids' Guernica action in Picasso's atelier in 2009 and explained how it came to the children making in secret a smaller mural as counter position to the official one which was completely imposed by the adults upon the children. Significant was the use of colours and also what symbolic expressions found their way into the smaller mural. (For instance, later on, when the small mural was shown to the students they recognized immediately the circle of children being depicted as all holding hands as a circle was drawn in the Gezoncourt mural when all children stood in a circle and each one extending his or her part of the circle to the next one waiting for the pencil the point from where it was possible to continue drawing the circle.) Being from Palestine, Jad could also communicate to the children in Picasso's atelier his own personal experiences with war i.e. First and Second Intifada in Palestine. His experiences differ so much from children and students who have grown up in Europe and never experienced violent conflicts close by.
- Everyone was intrigued by Boudewijn Payens 'imaginary boat' he created with those stuck in an area declared to be safe from radiation when it was not. He put a great emphasis on radiation being a problem of not smelling or seeing it, but knowing once everything is contaminated, then even the food being eaten is not healthy. His project together with other artists, including Insa Winkler, was a very strong example of how with very few means but a willingness to give an uplift by artists coming into such an area something like a Spring feeling can be communicated. Since the images of the boat in which all sit tells more than what can be described, it would be best if Boudewijn provides us with some of these photos in order to show it to others.
- Bernard Conlon gave then an outline of his reflections contained in the discussion paper he wrote for the purpose of linking the meeting in Gent with the previous discussion about Kids' Guernica when everybody met in Florida. For such an internal discussion about principles and forms of organisation there is never given sufficient time but it is also difficult to discuss these things when together as not everyone is prepared to reflect upon the most crucial question, but in which direction should Kids' Guernica develop in during the coming next 15 years? Bernard stressed in his reflections the term 'community' and would like this to be distinguished into what makes all to become members of the wider sense of the Kids' Guernica community and what difference is makes if an active coordinator engaged in Kids' Guernica with the wish to attain as well some financial sustainability for all of this work being done. Obviously there is the main position that so far Kids' Guernica as expression of a world wide action initiated by professors at university never conceived this as a means to make money while doing this work. Hence a memorandum of understanding is needed to bridge this difference. For issues connected with 'making money' out of Kids' Guernica are quite different to the issues to be faced if Kids' Guernica continues in its practice as it has done so over the past 15 years. Thanks to Bernard Conlon, there was brought into the discussion some clarity on the basis of which this 'memorandum of >understanding' can be produced. There should be included after Gent the responses from everyone i.e. not only from those who were present.
- Kevin Cooper as journalist and photographer underlined in his speech how deeply emotionally one is affected if a close friend dies in a conflict zone. He would say that this is one of the hardest part, namely to go through such a mourning and still remain impartial. As he underlined and emphasized, he wants through his photography to show a human understanding of the conflict. This means learning to observe is also a matter of observing how we learn. It should mean to know how to work towards a peace process i.e. use of resources for such a purpose. Since his presentation was filled with content in which images depicted and indicated significant changes long before they became known to the public or took on a concrete form like the peace accord itself, this art of observing in anticipation of things to come resonated with a general feeling that Kids' Guernica must concern itself as much with things to come as with dealing with the past. Kevin Cooper emphasized this over and again for if you do not deal with the past but also do not develop the courage not to repeat the past mistakes, then the past will impose itself again in near future and then it might be impossible to deal with all the mistakes human beings tend to make e.g. thinking that engagement means entering a conflict with the readiness to become violent as if only such a response is something the other side understands when in fact it negates all human understanding.
- The discussion with the students and their teacher Sophie became later on a major reference point for everyone. They revealed how much they had benefited from having entered such a collaborative learning process. At the same time, a lot of the discussion centred on the concept of violence and what difference there is when confronting a policeman who punishes an offender for riding a street car without having paid compared to what violence is entailed in a war and in which people are killed or protesters suppressed by use of violence as just now the case in Libya or in the earlier stages of the revolt in Tunisia or Egypt. Crucial to themselves is that they appreciate each other more than ever and that as a whole group they move together differently with everyone being at home in the group. As said at the outset, Brecht Demeuleneare is asked to make available the notes he made of this important discussion and perhaps through a further interaction with the students obtain a written follow-up as to what they think has changed in their lives now that they have gone through such an experience of painting a mural together? Important is above all what Sophie, the teacher has underlined, namely as a wish to have more time and not to be pressed so much as was the case the first time. This pressure was created by the police which supported the action but under the premise something needs to be done quickly. Thus it seems that there was not given sufficient time to let the process go deeper. As this is an important lesson for all actions which enter a collaboration with a formal body like the police which wants to see results or an outcome rather than valueing the process itself, this kind of impatience means as well not all experiences are shared in a way that both sides draw lessons out of the experiences made. Naturally for the police it was crucial to see how the students perceive the police and for them it was the first time that they had even some contact with the police. Here a civil dialogue could reduce some of these misunderstandings or misgivings especially if the result of a lack of knowledge and therefore understanding between youth and police. A memorandum of understanding should touch as well on this point.
- Brecht Demenleuneare wrote three questions on the blackboard before he showed us a short film the Belgium Ministry of Education had initiated to underline the importance of art and education: 1) what do you see? 2) what do you feel? and 3) what do you think? The film was about a boy who created his own imaginary world where with the help of boxes he created a couch for friends to sit, and some other places. When the friends joined him, one asked him, but where is the place to sleep. This he had forgotten. So rapidly he went to correct this mistake. But most important was that he created a truth telling post. Once there he began to tell his own story, including that he misses his father and how much he wished to have one last chance to do something together with him. Brecht asked then all participants to express themselves with regards to these three questions. There unraveled as a consequence quite different viewpoints especially on how to understand this boy. The film gave in a very powerful way deep insights into the importance of art to understand such a boy.
- the presentation by Takuya Kaneda about Kids' Guernica can be included in the memorandum of understanding since many informal discussions took place not during the one day conference itself but afterwards. In other words, the future of Kids' Guernica depends on what principles this world wide movement shall evolve. It was a key focal point in the presentation by Bernard Conlon. To see something evolving means also the ability to let go when something takes on a definite direction. It is like letting the children paint freely rather than intervening. Obviously the problem as underlined by the police of Gent when acting as formal partner in the process can be duplicated overall with the risk of Kids' Guernica becoming such a formal organisation that it will not allow informal learning processes to take place and still have an impact upon the overall self understanding of Kids' Guernica. Thus it is best to describe in details the dilemma this formal-informal relationship entails for if Kids' Guernica is an open learning process, then its organisation must be guided much more by content rather than formal principles, if Kids' Guernica is to know where to invest next in order to make these actions possible. And clearly one dilemma is once some rules have been established, how to enforce them if they are violated? Kevin Cooper made the point that even if no problems had to be faced so far, there is a need to anticipate such a case that instead of having a peace mural, the very same form of expression can be misused to propagate war.
- since the one day conference was dedicated to link Kids' Guernica with the European Capitals of Culture, the presence of the philosopher and director of Wroclaw 2016 was an important step to put the forth coming actions of Kids' Guernica into the greater context of such an understanding of culture. Adam Chmielewski gave a brief history of Wroclaw and why it is so important to tell that story linked to the German population being ousted in 1945 and Polish people like himself moving in so that this city has become one of refugees and of migrants. He pointed out that in that in the vicinity to that city, about 50 kms, there lived the man von >Richthoven who was made responsible by the German military to develop new strategies of destruction and he was the one who devised the plan for the attack on innocent civilians in Guernica 1937. Later one he deployed similar concepts on other cities now known as places of utmost destruction by use of technology and no regard for human lives. Since Adam advocates as well the concept 'spaces for >beauty' as key framework for the bid by Wroclaw to become European Capital of Culture in 2016, a lot depends now on him rewriting the original bid in need to be handed in by mid May with the decision pending on June 21st. Since he was just recently in Spain to visit the cities short listed as well and which are attempting to become the European Capital of Culture as well in 2016, he proposes cooperation with San Sebastian, a city which is but 50 km away from Guernica. This would mean even more tasks ahead for Kids' Guernica if both cities would be successful in their bid to be European Capitals of Culture in 2016.
- Nicole Hohmann reaccounted her experiences as a writer spending one entire year in Essen, her former place of childhood to which she returned after years of absence in order to join the concept of Jochen Gerz 2 - 3 streets over. It meant writing about changes observed over this entire year. It is another way of describing and evaluating the impact this one year of being a European Capital of Culture has upon a city and its people.

Now, all of this can be extended and deepened by observations and contributions of those who participated. I invite you to send me photos, notes, reflections since Gent and also what else you think should be included in this 'memorandum of understanding'.
As the latter is to be conceived as stepping stone for a White Paper on Social Communication by Kids' Guernica, it is important that we are able to position ourselves in such a way that we can clarify the issues faced by Kids' Guernica.
Obviously the current model is linked to Kids' Guernica not concerned with how the money is collected to finance actions as this remains the sole responsibility of the local actions. It means there is no provision to finance the entire work in need to be done to uphold the world wide network and even to come together as we did in Gent. Everyone came at their own costs even though some like Takuya Kaneda himself had a travel grant from university to cover his expenses.
Hence an alternative model which foresees the possibility of covering the expenses incurred while working for Kids' Guernica has to be developed as it will help clarify the issues.
This should be the main purpose of a memorandum of understanding.

Thanks for coming, thanks for all your contributions and in looking forward to your contributions so that we can communicate then the outcome of Gent to all those who could not come but are interested >in what we did discuss and decide upon.

Hatto Fischer
Poiein kai Prattein
("to create and to do")
Lycabettoustr. 23
Athens 10672
Tel. 003 0 210 36 17 792

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