PLATFORM was founded in 1983, as a meeting place for imagination, discussion, contemplation and action. Involved in political theatre, peace campaigning, and left/green activism, the initial grouping attracted people from a diverse range of disciplines and experiences to create street-based interactive performance work which provoked debate and awareness on a variety of issues - from supporting striking cleaning staff at a local hospital whose services were to be privatised (‘Addenbrookes Blues’, 1983), to working with activists lobbying against the privatisation of a local historic community resource (‘Corny Exchanges’, 1984), to protesting against the abolition of student maintenance grants (1985), to intimate performances exploring notions of personal locatedness, responsibility and belonging (‘Transformation’, 1986/7).
Since that time PLATFORM has evolved a complex interdisciplinary practice, influenced variously by artist and ecological thinker Joseph Beuys, ‘live art’ and ‘performance’ practices, feminist theory and practice, the writer John Berger, the engaged and critical pedagogical practices of bell hooks and Paulo Freire, critiques of global corporate culture, and the wave of ecological and social practice artists and activists of the past twenty years as written about by Carol Becker, Nina Felshin, Suzi Gablik, Grant Kester, Suzanne Lacy, George McKay, Doreen Massey, Malcolm Miles. We have worked (amongst others) with Amnesty International, Black Environment Network, Corner House, Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Watch, Environment Agency, Friends of the Earth, Green Alternatives (Georgia), Greenpeace, Intermediate Technology Development Group, Kurdish Human Rights Project, London Rivers Association, Rising Tide, Sensory Trust, Waterfront Center (USA), Za Zemiata (Bulgaria).
Some current practitioners/cultural activists who have influenced our thinking include: Ala Plastica, Apsolutno, David Butler, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, Critical Arts Ensemble, Peter Dunn - Art.e@the art of change, Peter Fend, David Haley, David Harding, Grupo Escombros, Wallace Heim, Helix Arts (formerly Artists Agency), John Jordan, Suzanne Lacy, Loraine Leeson - C-Space, Littoral (formerly Projects Environment), Sarat Maharaj, Malcolm Miles, Ne Pas Plier, Barbara Steveni - O&I, Alan Read, Jane Rendell, Heike Roms, Shelley Sacks - Social Sculpture Research Unit, Oxford Brookes University, Wochenklausur. Many important connections were made at the seminal and pioneering international ‘Littoral’ conferences, organised by Projects Environment in 1994 and 1998.
PLATFORM describes itself as artist-led, but this is only part of the picture in that we are also (variously) teachers, naturalists, campaigners, trade unionists, ecologists, activists. This practice of multiple identification serves to challenge territorial notions of knowledge or understanding, and creates situations where recognition of common aims and desire for shared, although distinct languages is fostered : this is what we promulgate through our collaborative practices beyond PLATFORM’s core members. We believe such an approach creates thought and activity which benefits from and honours specific expertise whilst broadening the sensibility and reach of the work and its participants.
So how is PLATFORM’s vision applied to the world as it exists at the moment? 20 years of experience, learning from failures as well as successes, have lead us to understand our approach in seven stages. This is not to say that we slavishly follow these steps as some kind of formula, or that these steps necessarily follow the sequence outlined below, more that these stages are often key elements in the successful realisation of projects. One other aspect should be emphasised here - for us the end never justifies the means. The integrity of the process has always been more important than anything that may, or may not, result from it. Therefore, if we need to slow down, re-think - we’ll slow down and re-think; if we need to solve conflicts - we’ll solve conflicts. Over the years many people have been struck by the strength of our integrity as an organisation - this is our engine, our most valuable resource.
The role of research
PLATFORM has likened its political strategy to the acupuncturist's needle: a tiny instrument placed critically and almost imperceptively into the body, yet able to have an impact out of all proportion to its size. The skill lies therefore in studying deeply, attempting to understand the body in question - becoming aware of the strong points, the vulnerable points of that body.
Therefore, research is a core function, and often a painstakingly patient one that can go on for several years. We began our investigation into the deep cultural meaning of corporate culture in 1996, yet it has only been in the last year or so that we have begun to feel confident, fluent in the language of this new territory. Some people find it surprising that we as 'artists' have become specialists in our fields such as BP and Shell, corporations and the Holocaust, yet for us it is the minimum pre-requisite before embarking on such work.
Sometimes we prefer to use the term 'listening' instead of 'research'. This term is useful in that it suggests that one might learn from many sources, and not necessarily the ones you predicted. It also suggests that you really want and need to hear, which gets away from the connotation that research can be somehow detached and academic. Thus, listening to London as a city of buried rivers necessitates walking along their courses, observing passers-by, engaging such people in conversation, reading in libraries, surfing the internet, as well as talking to targetted specialists.
Indeed, almost every project has contained the act of walking: placing yourself in the shoes of others, in the air that is breathed, among the sights that are seen and the sounds that are heard. This is a vital process of animation and implication: you are literally placing yourself in the picture, and through this you learn about yourself, and about what you think of the other, be they animate or inanimate. By integrating such unexpected and intuitive insights with more orthodox research results, PLATFORM believes that it can provide complex understandings of the body in question, and, as a result, create a discursive space where people feel included, and in safe hands to reveal more subtle, even dangerous, thoughts.