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The Body Politic

Art, Social Justice, Activism, Education

The 2004 course: outline and students' work

This pioneering course was offered for the first time by Birkbeck in association with PLATFORM

See here for an introduction to the course, the current year's course outline and details of enrolment

Some key questions the 2004 course addressed
Course Outline in 2004
Hopes for the course
When have you really listened to someone?
Political and artistic epiphanies
Listening, questioning and communities
The relationship (or lack) between facts, engagement and action
Walking, thinking, activism

A PLATFORM reading list



Some key questions the course addressed:

  • What are the deep aims and hopes for such a course for each of the students, and for PLATFORM?
  • What are our politics? How much do we all share definitions of “social and ecological justice”? Who are we influenced by?
  • When have we felt moments of political ‘epiphany’? What is the relationship between such moments of intense politicisation or creative revelation and the cycles of our lives? When are the greatest risks taken?
  • What can an artistic sensibility bring to political work and political thinking bring to the impact of art?
  • What does it mean to be politically “effective”, and what might the differences and overlaps be between coming from an arts background and politics?
  • What are the tensions of working interdisciplinarily?
  • What is the relationship between an activist/artist’s public life and their private life? Is the personal always political?
  • Is there a shared issue of creative/political ‘burnout’ which affects individuals in these fields? Is it possible (or even desirable) to aim for a ‘sustainable’ life as an artist, campaigner or activist?
  • Why do so many committed people give up at a certain stage of life? What do you individually need to support you in your work?
  • What does it mean to look back on past work? What are the tensions in ways of looking at political journeys?
  • What is the relationship between individual creativity and collective organisation?
  • How can a group keep thriving over time?
  • What is the role of listening in creativity and activism?

Course Outline
Please note that this outline highlights the key subjects and practitioners that will be discussed - there are more that we haven’t mentioned here. The outline may change according to how the course develops, which is why we have kept it in outline form only.

We have devised the programme according to our particular experience and knowledge over 20 years’ work, but we are not attempting to be comprehensive, covering all practices and methods. Of course there are absences and holes: we can try to address these, according to students’ needs and desires, and expertise within the group.


‘Art lets us think in uncommon ways.’
Wolfgang Zinggl, Wochenklausur

1. 14th Jan Introductions and political ‘epiphanies’ (JT/DG)

2. 21st Jan Inner Ear: listening as a prerequisite for any act of creation; learning to listen to ourselves, trust ourselves; under what circumstances do we stop listening? (DG/JT)

3. 28th Jan Outer Ear: listening to places and communities, and what happens next?; ‘others’, ‘othering’ and ourselves - through writings of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Paulo Freire; the Forum Theatre practice of Augusto Boal (JT)

4. 4th Feb Tongue: the use of silence and the use of speech; articulation of language as political danger - including the films of Claude Lanzmann and Patricio Guzman; writings of Osip and Natasha Mandelstam, and Susan Griffin (DG)

5. 11th Feb Frontal Cortex and Solar Plexus: the limitations of using facts alone to effect change; connecting information to experience, and going beyond the rational - through PLATFORM projects Carbon Generations, Some Common Concerns, and killing us softly. (JT/DG)

6. 18th Feb Lungs: endurance and stamina; how can you keep focused, evolving and working over time without burning out/becoming cynical; reflective practice; networks - through the writings of Suzi Gablik, Malcolm Miles, John Berger; the Littoral social practice arts conference 2005 (JT/DG)

7. 25th Feb Benevolent Viruses: NB to be held at PLATFORM’ s space;
An exploration of other contemporary collective/collaborative practitioners, including the work of Ala Plastica, Apsolutno, Ground Zero, Helix Arts, Littoral, Social Sculpture Research Unit (Oxford Brookes Univ), Wochenklausur... Plus mid-course review (DG/JT)

8. 3rd Mar Legs: experiencing breakthrough through walking/exploring real space; land/cityscape and dialogue - through PLATFORM projects, and writings of Rebecca Solnit (JT/DG)

9. 10th Mar FREE SPACE - for development of new subjects or deepening of ones covered already - content to be decided in weeks 7/ 8.
OR Feet: ‘The path is made by walking’, a critical walk through the City.

10. 17th Mar Knee and Heel: Facing the other direction, the path less travelled, courage in difference; invisible histories and untold stories; the acupuncturist’s needle and the rhinoceros’s hoof - through the work of artist Joseph Beuys and writer WG Sebald (James Marriott, PLATFORM/DG)

11. 24th Mar Hand and Fingertips: co-operation and solidarity; how do we find each other - seeking collaborators; the huge challenges of working collectively and/or through consensus; overcoming conflicts/acknowledging differences; when to stop and when to push through (DG/JT)

12. 31st Mar Review: summing up and feeding back; what have we learnt

Hopes for the course
In weeks one and two, we asked the group to do some writing about what they are hoping for from the Body Politic course. It was an open brief with no constraints on length or style. What follows is a digest of three hopes from each person. We will all return to these hopes at the end of the course to see what the group and individuals thought was achieved or not, or which hopes changed as the course progressed. As a result of this exercise, a few people challenged Dan and Jane to envision where the course would be in 5 years' time. This will be presented during the last session.
Read a PDF file of selections from the students' writing

When have you really listened to someone?
In weeks two and three, (the Inner and Outer Ear), we concentrated on listening as a prerequisite for any act of creativity. In one activity, the group discussed the three questions below, having written down personal notes first:
i) When in your life have you really listened to someone?
ii) When in your life have you really been listened to?
iii) When in your life have you really listened to yourself?
A supplementary question discussed orally was "When do you stop listening?"
Read a PDF file of selections from the students' writing

Political and Artistic Epiphanies

Participants discussed moments of profound revelation, related to either political awareness/change and/or artistic impact/effect. These were then written up and expanded on. The full scripts from each participating person follow. Open these PDF files to read the work (largest file 226kb).
Peter; Karen; Becky; Brian; Patricia; Linda S; Mary; Eleanor; Elena; Ivonne; Mette; Rufus T. Firefly; Sarah
; Federica; Linda G.; Jennifer; Alona

Listening, Questioning, Community

The group read and discussed a section of Paulo Freire and Antonio Faundez' book" Learning to Question" which focussed on the premise that it is "a profoundly democratic thing to learn to ask questions", and talked of the "castration of curiosity". Coming out of this was a range of writing hovering around these issues. What follows is a collation of all the in-class written answers. Open these PDF files to read the work (largest file 223kb).
; Karen; Becky; Brian; Alona; Patricia; Linda S.; Mary; Eleanor 1; Eleanor 2; Murilo; Elena
Karen's card game came out of the community and listening session

"Community Voice: a game of listening for all the family!"
A multi-dimensional game that challenges your perception of yourself and others. Pack contains Rules and Instructions. It may not be easy but that's why it is fun! [Tiffany Stardust Productions]

How to play:
1. Pick a card from the bag (each player)
2. Using the personality outlined on reverse, attempt to justify position on any artistic, political or ecological issue decided by the player on your left.
3. Players must all reach a consensus before playing another round.
4. There is no winner (or loser)
5. Remember to take food and drink breaks to prevent starvation/ dehydration

No one voice speaks for all.
Every voice has a right to be heard BUT not all will exercise that right. Those that don't, may still end up feeling unheard or misrepresented. Never assume you have understood - always check. Remember not everyone is able to explain self. Many will not feel they can/want to ask for clarification for fear of looking stupid. Beware of projecting own voice onto others. Some may only give opinions once action has already been taken.

The relationship (or lack) between facts, engagement and action.
This writing came out of the Frontal Cortex and Solar Plexus session (5). The following three questions were asked:
- When has a fact or mere information (like news) about a social, environmental or political issues engaged you so that you acted, and why?
- When has a fact or mere information (like news) about a social, environmental or political issues NOT engaged you, and why did it fail?
- Can you think of an example where art helped or blocked this engagement with an issue?
(largest file 312kb)
Kate (457kb); Alona (222kb); Mette (142kb)


Walking, thinking, activism
Session 8 focused on Legs, and people were asked to come having thought about the role of walking in their lives, and to have responded in any form - written, oral, visual, musical, performative ... The session was incredibly rich, utilising all the forms just mentioned. Material in written form is visible below, and we are working on how to record the musical and performance elements on the web.
(largest file 312kb)
; Karen; Mary; Sarah; Peter


A PLATFORM Reading List
Arendt, Hannah, (1994) Eichmann in Jerusalem, London: Penguin
Becker, Carol, (1994) The Subversive Imagination, New York: Routledge
Berger, John - all writings but 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
Carson, John and Silver, Susannah (eds), (2001) Out of the Bubble, Approaches to Contextual Practice within Fine Art Education, Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design
Davis, Mike, (2001) Late Victorian Holocausts, Verso
Deutscher, Isaac, (1987) The Prophet Trilogy: Trotsky, Oxford: OUP
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, (1991) The Reenchantment of Art, London and New York: Thames and Hudson
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
Miles, Malcolm, (1997) Art, Space and the City, London: Routledge
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
Sampson, Anthony, (1995) Company Man, London: Harper Collins
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
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

Print Journals etc
Adbusters, Corporate Watch, Ecological Design, Ecologist, Ethical Consumer Magazine, London Review of Books, New Internationalist, Peace News, Red Pepper, Resurgence, Third Text...

We are grateful that research and development towards the 2004 course has been funded by the Lipman-Miliband Trust.