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Artisans of Meaning

Artisans of Meaning

Posted by on Aug 13, 2014 in all posts, on the road | 1 comment

So… we decided to write from the present and share the journey of what it has been like to transform the materials from our year of visiting all of these amazing innovative places of higher education around the world into a series of films. We plan to continue writing about places further on in our trip that we still have not blogged about – to write about them as we are finishing drafts of films.

This ‘making of’ has been quite a ride in itself because of the breadth and amount of material: we recorded over 140 hours of film, with over 80 interviews, visited 21 places in 10 countries. But… it has also been an adventure because rather than editing this material just from our perspective we wanted to involve friends and kindred folk in the making of the films. We also really wanted creative input from people we visited and met along the way, to bounce off our experiences and interpretation of the places visited against the views and experience of those who founded them and of the young people who had gone through them.

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We also want in this project to learn and experiment with a different way of creating knowledge and a story — together — that is collective, rather than so individually-focused. We felt that co-creating would mirror the learning that is occurring in each of the places to be represented in each film. We want to embody in the making of films some of the principles we learnt along our journey: mainly the power of openness, serendipity, co-creation and gift culture. We want to tap into the synergy of having diverse minds and hearts and eyes crafting together stories which are about learning and living and sharing in a different way.

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We are now in rural southern Oregon, a dry region of high desert. It is the height of summer and a thunderstorm has just rolled by and breathed some cool air into the valley giving us some rest from the wildfire-induced smoky air. I look out of the window onto the garden where we have been growing some vegetables and herbs since we arrived. The garden keeps us connected to rhythms of nature’s growth and the life of plants are a nice reminder of the living things that are all around us — providing much –needed breaks from the screen and computer that are the tools of an editor.

Our intention is to make these films within a community of friends.

Nothing substitutes the power of face-to-face interaction when we make things together. We were lucky to have experienced this on numerous occasions during our journey – the intensity of being in the same place and intimately sharing ideas, feelings and intuitions, drawing and sketching ideas, building models and mindmaps, moving pieces of paper around, pointing at a screen or photo, sticking notes on a wall, going for walks, cooking and eating together.

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Enlivened Learning Map by Manuela Pereira

But we ended up in a small rural town where Kelly was born, slowing down with the birth of our first baby —- the friends we met or re-encountered along the way are scattered around the globe.

So we devised another way of maintaining a creative community that would nourish each other and participate in the making of these films. Experimenting with various online tools and platforms we are navigating places of co-creation. Our friends from India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, USA, Canada, UK and France have been participating in this co-creative process. A syncretic mix of emails, online meeting groups, Skype group chats, a vimeo page to host our interviews and work in progress and a website where we share transcripts, ideas and conversations – provides the architecture where we meet and work.

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This has meant adapting a working environment and editing workflow so as to make it available online and distributed across people, places and timezones. It has also meant opening up the making process out of the ‘editing room’ so that others are watching, transcribing and annotating the interviews, and discussing early drafts of the films together. Beyond this, we have also become a creative community, making maps and images, animations and posters all which are further enlivening the stories we are telling.

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Enlivened Learning Logo Animation made with Madhur Anand

Thinking about this process of editing and finding the threads significance across the range of materials – interviews, action sequences, shots of places, people, events, photographs and sound recordings – we came up with the name of the group as ‘Artisans of Meaning’. This name emerged because we are crafting and weaving the meaning of each film through the strands which stand out for each of us, which move us and which we all find significant. The films then emerge as a tapestry of this process.

We also see and have experienced the group as a way to learn together through the materials. Again we took on board a lesson from our journey of the importance of creating situations whereby we can learn together whilst connecting this learning to real issues happening in our lives. We saw the wonderful opportunity of learning together around the making of a film, as well as learning of the topics that the film covers.

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Enlivened Learning Poster
created by Ali Hodgson

For Kelly and I this community has been invaluable. It has been a tremendous source of nourishment — rather than a typical editing process that is often quite lonely and isolating as editors, writers, filmmakers and many others with a ‘making craft’ may recognize. But much more than that, co-creation has often opened up many wonderful new avenues and perspectives on these stories we are telling, helping us to shape them in a way that is more clearly expressed and relevant.

Now we have been some 10 months into this process. We are about to finish a draft of our fourth short(ish) film. We still have some way to go, we plan 6 films of 6 of the places visited before tackling the feature film which will be a story of the whole journey. And this is before the second stage of editing next year which will be on films of the places we visited that are focused on arts and cultural expression.

I think back to something I wrote some months ago under the title ‘Meeting Hospitality and Friendship on the Road’ (http://enlivenedlearning.com/2013/01/06/). This post was an expression of gratitude for the generosity, hospitality and friendship we met along the journey. I also described here an experiment of the open sharing of ideas amongst academic friends whilst living in the UK, in the ‘amateur academic adventurers club’. Amateur because we were engaged in something we loved and enjoyed, as the Latin roots of the word imply, an adventure’s club because it sounded fun and suggested that the pursuit of ideas and social inquiry can have the quality of an active running forth, an investigation and act of discovery. As I also wrote, the group was an attempt to create a place outside the atmosphere of institutional and often interpersonal toxicity that haunts the walls of the academy, to cultivate the opposite, an environment of hospitality, friendship and the nurturance of ideas. Something that would enrich our own enquiries and enliven our sense of possibility of making, relating and thinking. The Artisans of Meaning has also been an extension of this beyond the world of film-making. It has been an exploration of a way of making a film beyond an industrial model of filmmaking to one whereby the making is also an opportunity for learning together and cultivating relationships as a priority, rather than a by-product. As a friend once put it ‘making is connecting’.

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Imaginary Struggles

Imaginary Struggles

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in all posts, Brazil, ESPOCC | 0 comments

I started writing this post a few weeks ago. Since then the bubbling discontent we witnessed across Brazil when we were there in January and February in relation to a number of social and political issues including the huge costs of the upcoming World Cup has spilled out into the streets.

People across the social spectrum have got fed up with the way the World Cup costs have spiralled up, sucked public money into private coffers and at the same time, across the country, displaced people and destroyed parks and other common spaces for the building of new facilities. In some cases like the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, this historical stadium will be operated by a private company in the first time in its history.

People have also got fed up with the rising cost of living in the country (in part a consequence of the Games), with the rise in public transport costs, but most of all they are fed up with corruption, with the failure of the rising economic growth to tackle the problems in the health and education system in the country.

Brazil has not seen such mass protests in twenty years and it looks like the government is going to have to listen. The post I write here, is about the struggle of media spaces and the images and stories which are produced about, and now increasingly from, marginalised places like favela communities. The post relates to the present struggles in Brazil in as much as the media continues to be a place of contest where a battle over stories and imaginations is also waged.

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Mural outside the Popular School of Critical Communication (ESPOCC) in the Observatório das Favelas, in the Maré community of Rio de Janeiro, photo by Udi

Imaginary: Existing only in the imagination () Origin from Latin imago which in psychoanalysis is an unconscious, idealised mental image of someone, say a parent, that influences a persons behaviour.

 

Favela: a group of dwellings with high density occupation, the construction of which is carried out in a disorderly fashion with inadequate material, without zoning, without public services, and on land which is illegally being used without the consent of the owner

(Official Bulletin of the Brazilian Secretariat of Social Services quoted in Perlman The Myth of Marginality 1979:13).

 

Imaginary of Marginality: An imaginary about historically marginalized populations, held by dominant social groups (and sometimes internalized by the marginalized themselves) often containing prejudiced representations, images, stories, sometimes connected to stereotypes around race, poverty and gender. These negative representations tend to circulate in the dominant mass media and in certain forms of research and educational systems. Un-confronted, these representations come to be widespread amongst the population and perceived as the main narrative, the norm.

 

We often come to see and know places and people we do not personally encounter through stories and images that others create about them. These stories most commonly come to us through the media – through television, the news, the internet, etc. At the scale of a city, the media helps to virtually weave an imaginary web linking separated places and lives. We are often not very mindful of this web – this matrix of images and stories, feelings and attitudes, but also a landscape we walk through in our day-to-day lives that provides a sense of meaning to us and the world around us.

The nature of this imaginary web is shaped by those who weave it. Those weavers, often the most privileged sectors that dominate and own the media, have little experience or willingness to convey the stories and perspectives of the less powerful in those communities, especially through their own voice, their own point of view and experienced reality. Here in Rio de Janeiro, places and communities like favelas for instances.

 

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Globo logo, Brazil’s largest media network, still from TV

The democratization of the media has been an important area of mobilization amongst civil society and social movements in Brazil for several decades. Especially since the end of the dictatorship (in 1984) gaining access to the institutions of mass communication has also come to be seen as an important right to acquire, that is intrinsically linked to the identity and practice of being a citizen in Brazil. This right-to-acquire has come from the growing recognition of the media as a force that shapes society and public opinion and, as such, something that ought to be more equitably distributed and controlled. The theme of media and citizenship, or what has been referred to as ‘visual inclusion’, has also gained importance in Brazil’s public sphere over the last two decades.

Visual inclusion here means the inclusion of a more diverse and representative presence of Brazilians and their stories across the national media. Indigenous people, Afro-descendants or else regional cultures are infrequently or else stereotypically depicted in the media which is dominated by the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo axis (and a particular upper middle class culture and perspective from these cities).

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Posters of different film festivals organized by the Observatório das Favelas, ESPOCC, Maré community of Rio de Janeiro, photo by Udi

Visual inclusion also involves the more equitable distribution of the means of image production amongst the population. Though community radio has been around for much longer in favela communities, what we now see in Brazil is the intensification of alternative media production centers and dissemination networks, in particular through new forms of technology such as social media, digital video and photography and the Internet. Such initiatives are often aligned with grass-roots and community organizations across a number of historically marginalized groups and communities.

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An example of this kind of work is a project I came across in Rio de Janeiro around 2006, the Observatório das Favelas based in one of the citys biggest favela Complexo da Maré is large conglomeration of 16 different communities and has a population of around 140,000. The Observatioro das Favelas is a large community-NGO responsible for a number of different projects inside favela communities focusing on research, policy development and capacity building.

Observatório das Favelas and others like it who, to varying degrees in scale and success operate in different favelas, see a major part of their role as involving the formation of technically competent and politically aware individuals and groups inside low-income communities. A key element in many of such initiatives is what is often referred to asCritical Communication, involving the telling of stories and conveying the perspectives of those who live in these communities, especially from members of these communities themselves. Essentially – their own narratives, stories, voice.

A pioneering project of the Observatório das Favelas is the Escola Popular de Comunicação Crítica ESPOCC (Popular School of Critical Communication) which had its first class of forty-two students in 2005 and is now in its 8th year. This project is a one-year vocational course with the aim of training young people mainly from Rios favelas and peripheries, but now also from the middle classes, to become critical communicators, to learn how to engage with and challenge the imaginary of marginality prevalent in the city.

For example, favela communities are often depicted in the mass media as violent spaces, lacking in all the things the other parts of the city have – education, work, culture, organisation, safety, and so on. Such representations mean that these places, and those who live there, bare the stigma associated with these images and stories. They have an identity imposed on them emanating from these images and stories, which have no part in creating themselves. Residents of favela communities, which as we saw in the previous post on the Museo da Maré have in some cases been here for three generations, live under and cultivate their identities under these adverse conditions, and not only this but they are also discriminated in day to day relation to others across the city and to the state.

You could say that the young people in ESPOCC learn to read the web, the matrix, the media landscape in an acute way so as to subvert it and create their own narratives and media spaces. They learn to weave different imaginaries across the city, contributing to the transformation of the imaginary of marginality into more inclusive imaginaries. I will write more about this in the next post.

We witnessed an example of the prejudiced media landscape in the city and how people have been trying to combat this during our time in Rio. Though not directly involving ESPOCC, I point to these events here as they occurred whilst we were in Rio and clearly show the kind of mass media logic that places like ESPOCC are engaging with.

The city has been busily preparing for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 building many new sporting facilities. For the World Cup the city has been converting the 60 year old Maracanã Stadium (in its time the biggest stadium in the world with a capacity of 100,000) to the international criteria of FIFA demolishing some surrounding structures and buildings for new parking facilities. One of the buildings to be destroyed was the former Indian Museum which has been unused as a museum since the 1980s but which has been occupied by a group of indigenous families since 2006 in protest of plans to demolish this historically significant building. After a number of standoffs with the police Rede Globo, the dominant media conglomerate in the country, did a news piece to discredit the indigenous protesters by saying that they had been selling drugs at the premises. Armed with their own video cameras indigenous filmmakers filmed the reporter and confronted her with the lies being told about them. The clip went viral on the Internet and Globo was forced to retract their story.

Mural outside the Popular School of Critical Communication (ESPOCC) in the Observatório das Favelas, in the Maré community of Rio de Janeiro, photo by Udi

As Salvador Passos, analysing the incident put it:

The objective of this type of comment was to disqualify the families that were there. When running such news-story without due verification, the channel does a disservice to democracy. The news item provides the perfect alibi for a violent intervention and removal of the indigenous families. Suddenly, there is no more talk of real estate speculation and profits, but rather of drug trafficking and vandalism on the part of the natives, all based on images that prove nothing. [my translation from http://www.advivo.com.br/blog/luisnassif/acusacoes-da-globonews-sobre-as-tribos-do-museu-do-indio?page=1]

The story encapsulates the overlap of media interests and the imaginary they attempt to weave with the corporate logic and profit motive that pervades these mega sporting events with full endorsement of the state. Both attempt to transform the city without much concern for those whose stories and lives have no place in their imagination. That the ‘natives’ now have a camera and access to alternative media networks, like those associated with ESPOCC, means that such dominant interests cannot weave their own imaginary of the city unchallenged.

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Still from video posted online showing the confrontation between indigenous people occupying the Museo do Índio and a Rede Globo reporter

To see clips of the story around Indigenous occupation of the museum and Globo and its response see:

http://revistaforum.com.br/blogdorovai/2013/01/15/globo-news-se-desculpa-por-ser-leviana-com-indigenas-da-aldeia-maracana/

For a friends’ (Nayana Fernandez) short film on the story see:

https://vimeo.com/62336744

For an excellent article on the recent protests in Brasil written by the same friend see:

http://lab.org.uk/uprising-in-brazil-an-extraordinary-moment-for-change

 

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Arriving at the Marvelous City, a cidade maravilhosa

Arriving at the Marvelous City, a cidade maravilhosa

Posted by on May 23, 2013 in all posts, Brazil, on the road | 0 comments

Over the past few months we have written a lot about land and landscapes and forms of learning that emerge from these. It might then seem strange to write about enlivened learninga learning that tends to reconnect to place and communitywithin an intensively urban and highly unequal setting which is the city of Rio de Janeiro.

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Rio sunset, Copacabana Beach, Leme, photo by Udi

We have also been writing about identity, often about indigenous identity, about the traumas of colonialism and the role of learning in healing, in re-signifying and strengthening identities and providing the space and tools for creating other stories and possibilities. All these ingredients, in their particular way, can be found in this vast and complex city of Rio. As groups, say for instance those living in shantytowns, who have been historically marginalized seek to be more fully a part of the city, of its economy, its infrastructure, its culture and its production of knowledge, innovative forms of organization, social action and culture have been created which provide possibility and inspiration.

Of importance to us in our visit here were exciting initiatives emerging in Rio de Janeiros favelas or urban shantytowns, the occupied settlements that pepper the cityscape climbing up the granite hills or stretching outwards in the peripheries. In Rio around 1 million people from its total population of 6 million (1 in 6 people) live in these settlements, some of which date back to a hundred years ago.

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Rio, classic view from Cristo, photo by Udi

I have worked with different groups in favelas since my postgraduate work in Rio more than ten years ago. During this time I focused on children and young people who were living or had lived on the streets of the city, with the incentive of understanding more about how they managed to leave this way of life. I then focused on how young people living in the favelas organise in different groups and projects and create art, media, music in their struggles against inequality. Over the next few posts we will explore an initiative that has been at the vanguard of innovation in developing creative forms of media literacy and production from favela communities and in broadening access to higher education, for its residents.

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Rio, Cristo in the clouds, photo by Udi

I was very excited to arrive back in Rio. It is also my home, the place I grew up. The city could not have contrasted more to the loud animated tranquility of the forest we had left just a few days before at the Peru/Brazil border. There in the National Park we walked through rain-drenched jungle paths in search of giant otters, stayed in an eco-lodge with a tarantula hanging out in the bar and had one of my socks stolen by a forest rat in the night. (I still imagine fondly my disappeared sock serving as bedding for a rat family somewhere in the jungle).

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Rio city map

Landing in Rio the murmurs of the forest were replaced by hum and beat of city life, increased manyfold by the coming new year party which draws hundreds of thousands of people from across Brazil and beyond.

On the night we arrived we attend another ceremony, this time with around two million other people, gathering on the shores of Copacabana beach to greet the new year under a shower of fireworks.

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New Year at Copacabana beach, photo from http://www.emirates247.com/news/emirates/world-welcomes-2013-in-style-2013-01-01-1.489400

This ceremony started decades back when a few groups from the city’s Afro-Brazilian religious communities (Candomblé and Umbanda), predominantly living in the favelas, gathered dressed in the traditional white to lay offerings to the sea deity Yemanja to bring good fortune in the coming year.

Although members of the Candomblé and Umbanda communities have declined in numbers across Brazil, in particular due to the growing strength of evangelical churches, the outer form of the ceremony remains as most people still dress in white and many light candles in the sand and offer flowers to the sea. Despite the mass concentration of people and the loud music thundering from the stages and the mesmerising firework display, all sponsored by the city council and various corporations, a calm prevails in the sandy stretch as we wait for the Gregorian calendar to tick over at midnight.

I imagine a great global penumbra, a sweeping shadow of time, of midnight, traversing the planet greeted by cheering crowds, each place at midnight. A festive Mexican wave of fireworks and champagne and hugs and kisses. I imagine that festive wave only works in places with a Gregorian calendar or the mass media has penetrated. I guess we all celebrate the passage of big cycles of time somehow and here in Rio we have the help of Yemanja. Maybe that is why people come here, to feel her gentle embrace along these shores as we send her gifts in the hope of a good and peaceful coming year.

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Rio downpour gets people off the beach during Carnival, photo by Udi

For me it also feels good to be where I grew up, know people, feel embraced by the language and recognise the thickness of the air, the smell of sea, plants and car fumes. Actually, I am reminded now that at least two people in this journey, both carvers, one a First Nations person from Canada the other a Maori from New Zealand, have told me of how the thickness of the air gives them a sense of home. I suppose it is the same for me, shame it had to be such a strange mixture of fumes! But despite the chaos, the inequality, the pollution and lack of security something creative stirs in this place between the hills and the sea and animates the city and its vibrant and hospitable people.

 

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