The 5th year of the course The Body Politic: Social
and Ecological Justice, Art, Activism
commences in March 2009, run by interdisciplinary group PLATFORM
at Birkbeck, University of London.
The Body Politic, March - May 2009
There are increasing tensions in the world situation - not least
the war in Iraq, AIDS epidemics in Africa, increasing corporate power, mass migrations, terrorism, and global
ecological issues such as climate change. This course discusses
these, and addresses activism, in all and any of its meanings, from
solo meditative acts through to mass action, from campaigning to
education. The course also examines how art and cultural strategies
can play a unique role in social and environmental change. Throughout, the course considers how working
collaboratively contributes to the development of the wider Body
In 2004 PLATFORM ran a pilot for the course with 22 students, entitled
The Body Politic, Social and Ecological Justice, Art, Education.
Go to www.platformlondon.org/bodypolitic.asp for details of the
pilot course and students’ responses. An article on the pilot
course was published in New Practices, New Pedagogies, Editor Dr
Malcolm Miles, (Routledge 2005). We are grateful to the Lipman-Miliband Trust supported
the development of this course in year 1.
Who's it for?
1. Do you have an interest in or are you working
in the arts, community activism, campaigning, environmentalism,
human rights, cultural work, policy making, or education?
2. Are you concerned about the state of world
politics, its power imbalances and economics, and how to further
social and ecological justice?
3. Do you want to learn more about the value and potential of interdisciplinary
working through discussion and participatory workshops?
This course will equip you to be more articulate about your position in relation to these issues, as well as giving you a grounding in the fertile and sometimes difficult relationships between campaigning, art, activism, personal development and action.
Please note that this highlights the key subjects
and practitioners that will be discussed – of course
there are more that we haven’t mentioned here. The outline
will adapt according to students’ needs and desires.
1. Wed 18th March, 6 - 9pm. Inner Ear: Introductions to PLATFORM and each other; political and artistic "epiphanies". Listening to
ourselves as a prerequisite for any act of creation; learning
to trust ourselves; under what circumstances do we stop listening?
2. Wed 25th March, 6 - 9pm. Outer Ear: what’s
happening now in the world – who are we listening to?
Listening to places and communities, invisibilities, “others”,
“othering” and ourselves. Egs. The work of Arundhati Roy, Ziauddin Sardar, Paulo Freire.
3. Wed 1st April, 6 - 3 pm. Eye: witness, bystander, perpetrator? go and seeing / analysing for yourself: dangers of empathy. Eg Arundhati Roy.
4. Sat 4th April, 12pm - 5.30pm. Legs: (12 - 1pm) experiencing through being there. Whose place is it? Walking real landscapes/cityscapes. Set frame for afternoon. Through PLATFORM projets, and writings of Rebecca Solnit.
Workshop 1: (1.30 - 5.30pm) Group/individual research, projects, explorations. reconvene for feast.
5. Sun 5th April, 12 - 4.30pm.
Workshop 2: (12 - 3pm) Feeding back on yesterday.
Frontal Cortex and Solar Plexus: (3 - 4.30pm) the limitations/possibilities of using facts alone to effect change; connecting
information to experience, and going beyond the rational.
Egs. Clown Army, PLATFORM’s
6. Wed 22nd April, 6 - 9pm, Heart and Sex: where is the drive
to do this work? What is ‘activism’ feeding off?
Is there an “ecstasy of protest”? What role does sensuality,
pain, love and dysfunction play when working on difficult and distressing issues. How do we take care?
7. Wed 29th April, 6 - 9pm, Tongue: how do we speak? and how do we learn to speak together? the use of silenceand the use of speech; articulation of language as political
danger. Egs. the documentary films of Claude Lanzmann and Patricio
Guzman; writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Susan
8. Sat 9th May, 12 - 5.30pm, Benevolent Viruses: (12 - 2pm) what can collaborative practices uniquely bring to this work; cooperation and solidarity; how do we find each other? how do we begin to work together? The importance of networks. Planning for rest of weekend.
Workshop 3: (2.30 - 5.30pm) open session, building towards whole day workshop tomorrow.
9. Sun 10th May, 12 - 4.30pm, Workshop: 1-day workshop
10. Wed 20th May, 6 - 9pm, Lungs: endurance and stamina;
how can you keep focused, evolving and working over time without
burning out/becoming cynical; resistance; reflective practice. Egs. writers bell hooks and John Berger, artist Joseph Beuys. Plus: REFLECTION- What have we learnt? And final Feast
Coursework and Assessment:
Overall assessemnt is equivalent to 5,000 words comprising of:
Assignment 1: Informal Assessment
Engagement: as well as in-class discussion,
some reading, writing or research will be set every week. Students
will be asked for a response to ideas that have come up, through
writing, drawing, music, performance.
This work will be monitored and form part of the overall assessment
of engagement with the course.
Assignment 2: Formal assessment
1 major or two smaller
creative projects will be set, which will form the essential
work for formal assessment. This work could be collaborative
or done alone. Your proposals will be discussed with your
At the end of the course, students will be asked to complete an evaluation form.
“It’s not an ego trip, it’s
serious, it’s politics, it’s economics, it’s
everything. And art in that instance becomes so meaningful
both to the artist and to the consumers of that art”
Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa,
interviewed 1994; executed 1995
Body Politic bibliography
Achebe, Chinua, (1958, 2001) Things Fall Apart, Penguin
Arendt, Hannah, (1994) Eichmann in Jerusalem, London: Penguin
Becker, Carol, (1994) The Subversive Imagination, New York: Routledge
Berger, John - particularly: And our faces, my heart, brief as photos,
London: Writers and Readers (1984); Pig Earth, London: Chatto and
Windus (1985); Selected Writings, London: Bloomsbury (2002)
Beuys, Joseph - all writings but particularly: Kuoni, Carin, ed.
(1990); Energy Plan for the Western Man: Writings by and Interviews
with the Artist, New York: Four Walls Eight Windows
Boal, Augusto, (1979) The Theatre of the Oppressed. New York: Urizen
Books. Reprint Routledge Press, New York/London, 1982.
Brecht, Bertolt, (1994) Poems 1913-1956, London: Minerva
Brook, Peter, (1968) The Empty Space, London: McGibbon & Kee
Conrad, Joseph, (1902, reprint 1995) Heart of Darkness, London:
Davis, Mike, (2001) Late Victorian Holocausts, Verso
Deutscher, Isaac, (1987) The Prophet Trilogy: Trotsky, Oxford: OUP
Fanon, Frantz (1967) Black Skin, White Mask,
Felshin, Nina, (ed) (1995) But is it Art ? The Spirit of Art as
Activism, Seattle: Bay Press
Freire, Paolo, (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin
Gablik, Suzi, (1995) Conversations before the end of time, Dialogues
on Art, Life and Spiritual Renewal, London and New York: Thames
Griffin, Susan, (1993) A Chorus of Stones, New York: Anchor Books
hooks, bell, (1994) Teaching to transgress, Education as the Practice
of Freedom, London and New York: Routledge
Hampton, Christopher, (ed) (1984) A Radical Reader, London: Penguin
Illich, Ivan, (1973) Tools for Conviviality, Fontana
Ishiguro, Kazuo, (1991) An Artist of the Floating World, London:
Faber & Faber
Itzen, Catherine, (1980) Stages in the Revolution, Political Theatre
in Britain since 1968, Methuen
Jarman, Derek, (1992) Modern Nature, London: Vintage
Jennings, Humphrey, (1985) Pandaemonium, The coming of the machine
as seen by contemporary observers, Andre Deutsch
Kastner, Jeffrey, (1998) Land and Environmental Art, London: Phaidon
Kester, Grant (1998) Art, Activism and Oppositionality: Essays from
Afterimage, Duke University Press
Kundera, Milan, (1984) The Book of Laughter & Forgetting, London:
Lacy, Suzanne, (ed) (1995) Mapping the Terrain, Seattle: Bay Press
Levi, Primo, (1994) The Drowned and the Saved, London: Abacus
Levi, Primo, (1979) If This Is A Man/ The Truce, London: Penguin
Lindqvist, Sven, (1997) Exterminate all the Brutes, London: Granta
Mandelstam, Nadezhda (1971) Hope Against Hope/Hope Abandoned, London:
Collins & Harvill Press
Mandelstam, Osip, (1991) Selected Poems, London: Penguin
McKay, George, (1996) Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance
Since the Sixties, London: Verso
Mies, Maria and Shiva, Vandana. (1993) Ecofeminism, London: Zed
Morrison, Toni, (1993) Playing the in the Dark, Whiteness and the
Literary Imagination, Picador
Orwell, George, (2001) Political Writings, London: Penguin
Orwell, George, (1979), The Road to Wigan Pier, London: Penguin
Papanek, Victor, (1995) The Green Imperative: Ecology and Ethics
in Design and Architecture, London/New York: Thames and Hudson
Ross, Christopher, (2002) Tunnel Visions, London: 4th Estate
Said, Edward W (1993) Culture and Imperialism, Vintage (UK)
Sampson, Anthony, (1995) Company Man, London: Harper Collins
Sardar, Ziauddin, (2004) Desperately Seeking Paradise, Journeys
of a Sceptical Muslim, Granta
Saro-Wiwa, Ken, (1995) A Month & A Day, London: Penguin
Sebald, WG, (2002) Austerlitz, London: Penguin
Sebald, WG, (2003) On The Natural History of Destruction, London:
Semprun, Jorge, (1998) Literature or Life, London: Penguin
Sereny, Gitta, (1998) Albert Speer - his battle with truth, London:
Sereny, Gitta, (1995) Into That Darkness, London: Random House
Solnit, Rebecca, (2000) Wanderlust, a history of walking, London
and New York: Penguin
Solnit, Rebecca, (2004) Hope in the Dark, Untold Histories, Wild
Steiner, George, (1979) Language and Silence, London: Peregrine
Steiner, George, (1978) In Bluebeard’s Castle, London: Faber
Trotsky, Leon, (1930) My Life, New York, Charles Scribner
Wolfe, Tom, (1987) Bonfire of the Vanities, New York: Bantam
Yergin, Daniel, (1991) The Prize, The Epic Quest for Oil, Money
and Power, Simon and Schuster
Zeldin, Theodore, (1994) An Intimate History of Humanity, London:
Websites: interdisciplinary collaborative practices
A sample of artist-led groups working
on issues of social and ecological justice*.
Ala Plastica (Argentina) www.alaplastica.org.ar
Apsolutno (Serbia/Voyvodina) www.apsolutno.org
Art not Oil www.artnotoil.org.uk
Common Ground (UK) www.commonground.org.uk
Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army www.clownarmy.org
Critical Art Ensemble (USA) www.critical-art.net
Ground Zero (USA) www.gzpgh.com
Grupo Escombros (Argentina) www.grupoescombros.com.ar
Helix Arts (UK) www.helixarts.com
Institute for Applied Autonomy (USA) www.appliedautonomy.com
Kuda (Serbia/Voyvodina) www.kuda.org/e_o_kuda_info.htm
Littoral (UK) www.littoral.org.uk
Ne Pas Plier (France) www.peripheries.net
Social Sculpture Research Unit, Oxford Brookes University (UK) www.brookes.ac.uk/schools/apm/social_sculpture
UHC Collective (UK) www.uhc-collective.org.uk
Sarai (India) www.sarai.net
3 Rivers 2nd Nature (USA) http://3r2n.cfa.cmu.edu
Virtual Migrants www.virtualmigrants.com
Welfare State International (UK) www.welfare-state.org
Wochenklausur (Austria) www.wochenklausur.at
* The main focus in this list is artist-led groups
using visual arts, design or live art/performance methods, working
on social justice and/or environmental issues in collaboration with
practices and people who have knowledge/skills/experience in those
LIMITATIONS: This website list has been compiled from
organisations and groups that PLATFORM has met through practice,
networks or conferences and who we feel a political/artistic overlap
with. This is already a limitation on the breadth and depth of the
list. The website list is by no means aiming to be comprehensive,
and could never be, not only due to the way it is compiled (as stated),
but also due to the plethora of practices happening locally, nationally
and globally without internet/media coverage and the inequality
of access to digital technology/website design for many artist-campaigners-activists
globally. This is illustrated by the relatively poor coverage from
groups and practices from the global south. It is also not strong
on covering music, dance and theatre-based initiatives, due to PLATFORM’s
arts contact and context mostly being with visual art or performance/live
If you are aware of other practices (from any artform!)
whose websites should be on this list, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org