interview E. + x.

E Can you remember a moment when an issue or a problem came up?

X The difficult thing is to decide which one. I think the first moment was really in the beginning when it was only L, C and L and me, not yet connected to everyone else. We had a conversation about how we can work together here at erg, how we can invite other people and organize this project. And I think that L had big expectations to invite external people and people of colour. And it seemed that I was perhaps also the source of the problem – as someone you cannot trust with project organization. So a rupture happened already before the beginning. It made me carry strange feelings all along the rest of the project. Carrying the guilt, and not knowing if I still have a place here, carrying the guilt from the beginning, silently, during my holidays, and then it burst with the conversation with L, C and L. This conversation seemed like a moment of torture because I didn’t understand what was happening. This is still on, I am still carrying it. I think it still needs to be discussed with L, C, and L probably.

E The question was, “do you remember how it was solved?” I guess it wasn't solved, basically.

X I don't think so. I was so moved by the conversation that I was crying out. I even don't remember exactly what was said at this moment. I just remember the situation and being back to the trauma of my childhood, facing a fault that I couldn't understand. I couldn't say “yes” or “no” or “what” because I couldn't understand what it was about.

E Do you think it's a white fragility thing? I mean, sometimes it's really hard to distinguish between feeling guilty because you're white and have privilege, and feeling guilty because somebody says, “You are not good at organizing,” which is something you can work on and change. These are two different things.

X It was almost as if the fact that I'm not so good at organizing made me a sexist person or someone who doesn't care about who is doing the job. I felt depicted as a male person, you know, like a basic male person who doesn't care about organizing things. What to do and what is important, or that cleaning needs to be done… and that I am not caring about these things.

E What do you think should have happened in order to make this a proper conversation?

X I think that from the moment we knew that there were these problems around the project, we should have continued talking to each other… and we should have put the project on hold. I think, if we don't have the space to think about something, we need to take it.

And when we wanted to collaborate with you and the other partner, we have to try to not be in “traumatic mode”. I think we couldn't be ourselves because we didn’t entirely understand what we wanted. When we got the grant, and meeting with you guys… building an understanding and relationship – this could and should have taken more time. We could have started one year later, using the time for the three schools to put their hands in and work things out.

E It's interesting the suggestion to put things on hold, because in the first workshop week, here at erg (Brussels), we had similar moments. In the feedback moments that we did each morning – many points were brought up, and half of the group wanted to give time to these issues, and the other half said, “Oh, in half an hour, the talk by XYZ starts, so we need to move on.” How do you manage schedules? What do you give time? And how can you hold a complex, scheduled space with different partners and agendas and priorities? I don't have the answer. Can you think of other ways it could have been solved, your specific thing?

X I would say taking time is the only answer I really have…

E How would you have used the time? One way would be to say, “Okay, we need to specify the roles, we need to specify the tasks and responsibilities, and then we can hold each other accountable.” I mean, this is something Teresa mentioned a lot in her talk yesterday, to make oneself accountable. This is something we were quite bad at during the whole project: clear structures, specifying roles and responsibilities and holding each other accountable. I mean, the organizers can be held accountable, because they are paid. But how to hold a participant accountable? We missed out on talking about expectations and making agreements with each other right at the beginning.

X I think that still, as organizers, we need to have, I mean, it's not the ontology or moral, but something is carrying us for this change to happen. I don't think the hierarchy or binary structure between teachers and students is a real hierarchy. It's a hierarchy in a certain way. But it's a complex hierarchy with power structures that are mixing.

But the question of money, who’s getting paid, is sometimes difficult, I would say – because money creating knowledge is not a good friend. The question of who is researching would be the most efficient. How can we calculate the price of the impulse that someone is bringing to help something to develop. C as the person of trust said when she was introducing herself, that the etymology of the word school is important. The word carries for students the fact that they are taking time out of social life to spend on studying. School should embrace more types of function than the usual dichotomy teacher/student and would profit also from shifting the pyramid-like structure into different nodes of actions in the institution. Pleasure in pedagogical contexts needs to be improved still, and I mean, we need to carry that and to open up tools, liberating tools to make it happen.

E It's interesting, because I felt the same. I thought my role is facilitating. In a paid position, I would be the one who organizes stuff on our school side, coordinates all the parties involved, communicates to the outside and to the inside, trying to keep things together, find a structure, the small working groups, the big common space of all three art schools, organize meetings, understand the budget, find administrative support in our art school, etc. etc. But this work, at points, was seen by some group members as “paternalistic”. What do you make of this?

X I don’t know the context, but in a pedagogical situation, we can ask, “What are you doing here? What are your expectations of being here?” And from there, we can think and make adjustments, bringing out the needs at this moment, trying to understand what we are doing here, with sincerity.

E … asking the group where do you want to start, how do you want to do it? It takes time.

X From the beginning…

E This takes time, yes. It’s interesting because this paternalism thing came up in the anonymous feedback we did in the Göteborg group back in 2020. When we were going through the written feedback, people were too exhausted, too tired to follow this through. It seemed participants were not able to, or did not want to, make space for dealing with the topics addressed. People just started dropping out, some half, some entirely… It was emotionally draining for everyone. The question remains: how much collective groundwork can actually be done in such a project? Or is it perhaps rather a matter of care, being respectful of other people's time and not trying to figure everything out collectively?

X You mean, the accusation of paternalism made you feel like being accused of something that you were trying to avoid? And then that practice you understood as care was seen as paternalism?

E Yes exactly. From my perspective, doing all the communication work, connecting, setting up joint moments, timekeeping, etc. has to do with care. Not to burden everybody with too much work. I mean, a few people on our side dropped out because of burnout. So this taking care of the joint time, of schedules, being aware of people’s tiredness, exhaustion, etc. can and has been read as paternalistic, in the sense that I, as a responsible person, make decisions on others' behalf. Whereas for me, taking over responsibility, means also caring – given that you allow “response-ability”. It’s an interesting clash.

​​ > > Comment on transcript: Perhaps it's a matter of consent. If people agree to the care then they probably won't see it as paternalism. On the other hand, if it comes from above without prior agreement on the roles, it can be understood.

X Yes, Care could also be this awful practice when you’re applying rules and manners to someone or a situation, and you’re doing it out of beliefs.

E Yeah.

X And dealing with something is caring for it, in a certain way. I mean, “care” is a big word. And it's so complex that it cannot be connected to a statute. It needs to be situated anew each time. I learned this, and I am greatly inspired by Paulo Freire’s book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and by bell hooks books’ books in general. A “pouring space” is needed where emotions, psychological positions, stuff, come out. That's also the moment of the “brave space”, when first emotions are coming out, you know, like bursting. And at some point you can start grasping something or things are coming together. Paulo Freire’s practices on finding first the generating themes are helping a group to take distance and raise awareness on the needs at this moment, at this special place. In a pedagogical situation, everybody can be harassed. So if we want to make school a liberating place we have to make room for this violence or critique to burst. And not taking the feedback as a personal attack, but trying to understand it and situate it in its context.