PLATFORM works across disciplines for social and ecological justice. It combines the transformatory power of art with the tangible goals of campaigning, the rigour of in-depth research with the vision to promote alternative futures.


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The Body Politic

Social and Ecological Justice, Art, Activism
with PLATFORM and Birckbeck, Stratford, March - May 2009


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 interdisciplinary working ?

The 5th year of our course The Body Politic: Social and Ecological Justice, Art, Activism commences in April 2009, with Birkbeck, Stratford.

33 hours over six Wednesday evenings plus two weekends.
Schedule as follows:

Wednesdays 6 - 9pm: March 18 th, 25th, April 1st, 22nd, 29th, May 20th

Weekends (Sats 12 - 5,30pm, Suns 12 - 4.30pm): April 4th and 5th; May 9th and June 10th

Tutors: PLATFORM - Jane Trowell and others at PLATFORM
Location: Central London - TBA
Birkbeck Course Code: FFAP011UACA (Accredited course)
Fee: £170 full, £85 concessions
Enrolment: www.bbk.ac.uk/ce/courses/enrolment/ce.shtml
You can enrol by telephone 020 7631 6651 (full fee, debit/credit card enrolments only), 9am–5pm, Monday–Friday.


Who's it for?
Course Outline
Assessment for this accredited course

Body Politic bibliography
Websites: interdisciplinary collaborative practices
Download these details in pdf format (47kb)
See here for 2004’s course outline and students’ work



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 Politic.

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.

Course Outline

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.

FEAST (evening)

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 project Gog & Mago.


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 Griffin.

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 tutors.

Module Evaluation:

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: Penguin
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 and Hudson
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: Penguin
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 Books
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: Penguin
Semprun, Jorge, (1998) Literature or Life, London: Penguin
Sereny, Gitta, (1998) Albert Speer - his battle with truth, London: Phoenix
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 Possibilities, Penguin
Steiner, George, (1979) Language and Silence, London: Peregrine Books
Steiner, George, (1978) In Bluebeard’s Castle, London: Faber & 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: Sinclair-Stevenson

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
Mongrel www.mongrelx.org
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 fields.

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 art practitioners.

If you are aware of other practices (from any artform!) whose websites should be on this list, please contact: info@platformlondon.org