Free Home University: Experimenting with Learning

Organization: Free Home University
Project:

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by Musagetes

A project of Loop House (Lecce, IT) and Musagetes, curated by Alissa Firth-Eagland, Luigi Negro, and Alessandra Pomarico, Free Home University (FHU) is a pedagogical experiment grounded in experiencing life and creativity in common. FHU is a response to the need to generate new ways of sharing and creating knowledge. Created in collaboration with a pool of diverse international artists and thinkers, FHU is based in the city of Lecce, in the Puglia Region of southern Italy.

FHU approaches the possibilities of education by producing collaborative artistic projects and coalitional knowledge. A positive alternative to the neoliberal and service-oriented system, FHU provides a home for radical thought, experimental action, learning-by-doing. It opens up existing competencies and encourages personal enrichment. The name Free Home University (FHU) refers to how a horizontal, inviting, energy-liberating environment (Free), within a protected and intimate space (Home), can provide an alternative, yet universal experience of sharing knowledge (University).

The FHU includes a series of Classes in 2013, 2014 and 2015.  Each Class has a group of Mentors (teacher-students) who propose a direction of inquiry and a group of Fellows (student-teachers) who explore and continue the inquiry. Our definition of inquiry is open and includes alternative forms of research, artistic processes, and experimental practices. Mentors and Fellows live and work together in short, intensive Classes of 10 consecutive days and, in some cases, are invited to continue their inquiry throughout the year.

The form and contents of each Class is determined collaboratively by the invited Mentors and Fellows: each person will be both a teacher and a student, sharing the responsibility of contributing and nurturing each other’s perspective. The Class will live, cook, and eat, and experience the local context of Lecce together.

Class One of Free Home University is called “HOW WE WANT TO LIVE” and is led by a group of mentors: artists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, artistic collective Lu Cafauso (Emilio Fantin, Luigi Negro, Giancarlo Norese, Cesare Pietroiusti, and Luigi Presicce), and artist Adrian Paci. Intimacy, immersion, mutual learning, collaboration, and hands-on practice are fundamental values. FHU will be an experience building on many kinds of knowledge or saperi from the intersection of different disciplines and perspectives.

The following are a few selections from Free Home University blog, available at freehomeuniversity.org.


 

by Yeti Agnew

Subito, now, I understand why my high school Latin teacher had us converse in that language. It was a portal to another world and other communities.

“Community” is a word derived from the Latin “cum” meaning “with” and “munio, munire…” meaning “to fortify, defend, protect”. So an original community was a group gathering, one with the other, to have safety in numbers.

Castiglione, where Free Home University is convening this week, is a small community—one of three, all located within about five kilometers of each other, that compose the local governing unit, the Commune of Andrano.

Castiglione is the kind of community that doesn’t need signs on its grocery stores, florist, community centre and park. Everyone knows where they are. And the church with its bell tower is on the high side of the main square and visible from much of the community.

But times are changing. The primary school, located at the main crossroads, has a sign on it identifying it as such. The pharmacy has a green neon sign (the only neon sign here) and numerous metal signs throughout the village indicating how to access it from any direction on the maze of narrow one-way streets. The two trattoria in Castiglione, located near the main square, have signs identifying themselves to passers-by.

Someone thought the main square should have a clock tower. Now there is a plain, nondescript, block building with a clock tower on a corner, which obstructs the formerly gracious entrance to the main square and the view of a side of a lovely old chapel facing the church across the square. To no one’s surprise, the clock tower’s two dials show different times, both wrong.

This (Easter Saturday) early morning’s processional from the church and down the hill was small and earnest, with singing amplified by a truck’s loudspeaker. The procession should have occurred last night, but it was raining.

Sixty years ago, the procession would probably have included almost everyone in the village. At that time, the local priest would have been included (or would have included himself) in a community’s plans to institute a Fruit Orchard Common. Not now. Communities are changing.

What will define tomorrow’s communities? What challenges will convene future communities? How can “artistic thinking” (the way artists view and question the world) help shape healthier communities? How intentional will tomorrow’s communities become? How can Free Home University contribute to the creation or re-imagining of new communities?


Image by Danica Evering.

by Alissa Firth-Eagland

Picture a noisy, uproarious, colourful hoard—a mess of swirling scarves, twirling drumsticks, and whirling limbs—that descends on public space and cuts like a knife through the train of thoughts of anyone passing through. Add wild yet painstakingly synchronized body movements fueled by raucous folk-inspired tunes. The backbeat to the boisterous performance is a political awareness that pulses within each step of the choreography and each word of the lyrics. This is La Murga: a musical theatre performance in public space that brings us out of the individual lives we so often lead in our heads and into a shared space of collective action in the present moment.

La Murga is a popular musical theatre tradition performed in Argentina and in Uruguay during the Carnival season. Lyrical content and choreography are inspired by particular social issues, chosen by the group, so each performance comments on the political underpinnings of current events. Those involved are not professional dancers, singers, or musicians; La Murga is a form of resistance taken up by people of many walks of life.

Performers dress in elaborate, bright, jester-like costumes. Each La Murga group has its own identifying colours. The newly formed group in the neighbourhood of Santa Rosa in Lecce has chosen purple, yellow, red, and pink. In order to make visible contemporary struggle in a public way, this group of friends, neighbours, artists, musicians, and residents practice and perform together to bring current causes to the public sphere.

Image by Francesco Lefons.

Free Home University encountered La Murga on December 10, 2013, also International Human Rights Day: the day when we recognize, support, and promote the protection of individuals who have suffered human rights abuses. On this same day, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association circulated a statement signed by Canadian doctors, writers, musicians, artists, activists, union organizers, and rights advocates about Canada’s role in protecting the civil liberties of all, especially refugees:

“Once a world leader in refugee protection, Canada is closing its doors. Fewer refugees are being resettled to Canada. The federal government recently made dramatic cuts to basic healthcare for refugees… Some refugees now face mandatory detention and a five-year bar on being reunited with their family in Canada. Others have even less time to present their cases and are denied the right to an appeal because their countries of origin have been arbitrarily deemed ‘safe’. We live in a climate of fear and negative rhetoric. Canada is now a less welcoming country. Canada can and must do better.”

This is the type of battle La Murga performances fight with their bodies and voices. They criticize powers of oppression with humour, play, gesture, facial expression, music, and chant. Political manifestations in public space are typically reactionary and facilitate and ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dialectic. Instead, La Murga is a group of everyday citizens creating positive, poetic public actions that lure us into their seductive fold.

This type of work—which draws us in using play and jest, then reveals a larger political message—evokes another theatrical tradition called bouffon. Bouffon was the main methodology used by French Canadian artist Miriam Cusson in her once-in-a-lifetime, multi-lingual theatre performance called Nowhere du Nord in the public spaces of Chelmsford, located in northern Ontario, Canada.Nowhere du Nord was produced and presented by Musagetes (part of the organizing and co-curatorial group for Free Home University) and told interwoven stories of the North and Canadian identity.

Much like La Murga, there was nothing tidy about the theatre performance or the story it told.Nowhere du Nord imbued some of the most sensitive subjects and sacred cows with humour, while also deeply and fully challenging the audience of nearly 400 people.

The bouffon theatre tradition featured in Nowhere du Nord is a type of performance work focused on the art of mockery. This genre of theatre originated during the French Renaissance. Those who were considered to be excessively ugly people, lepers, and those with disfiguring scars or deformities were “banished to the swamp.” They were relegated to live in the swamp away from those considered to be beautiful people and people of power. Once a year they would be invited to perform for the public. During these performances, the bouffon’s goal was to get away with insulting or disgusting the beautiful people as much as possible, revealing their most hideous qualities through jest. Typically, the bouffon would target their attack on the leaders within the mainstream of society, such as the government or the Church. In both traditions—bouffon and La Murga—performance is a moment of celebration that opens to criticizing unquestioned norms. Addictive music tells the story of at-risk communities, captivating theatrics are also heartfelt expressions of freedom, and wry smiles hail our compassions and tell us about imbalances of power within our human family that shares this earth.


 

December 8 - Istituto Tour

 

by Danica Evering

We began the day with a field trip to Istituto Tecnico Agrario San Pietro in Lama, a farm and high school for students learning about agriculture engineering and hospitality services. In the spirit of learning from each other, Alessandro, one of the high school students, told the Free Home University (FHU) participants about some of their aspirations for slow cooking. He talked about some of their new research with hybrid varieties of olives, as well as some experiments with returning to old ways of growing food. The interrelation between food and people became the focus for the FHU participants as they shared thoughts.

The long term aspiration of the farm is to become a space for both living and working. A bike path, currently decommissioned, between downtown Lecce and the farm might allow the people of the city to more easily access the site. With this rural-urban conduit, they hope to connect the residents to a new social space for living, playing, and working in close contact with the land.

Giuseppe Pellegrino—who also joined us on the tour of the farm—shares this idea of living with the land instead of just on it. He’s a co-founder of Agricola Piccapane, an organic farm that reappropriates abandoned land for urban agriculture. He spoke with the FHU participants about how the farm works closely with the village of Cutrafiano; it provides both education and produce for the village and the neighbouring city of Lecce. Piccapane works with the theory that we should start by worrying about satisfying a need within our community. Instead of competing with a larger global market, we must physically and metaphorically connect people with land.

This is a very practical philosophy, and one that can be easily applied as a way of living. With mounting environmental concerns—salination of the fields, shifting water sources, global warming-induced storms—we need to consider how we will grow food sustainbly. In order to survive and adapt to change, we cannot think alone.

There is an artistic element in thoughtful agriculture that is often not recognized. There is a creation in planting and harvesting. The soft silences of the fields, the thundering rush of rain, or the birth of a calf can be moments of poetry. The relationship between the beings who live in and on the land has inspired a new generation of those who integrate both agricultural and poetic aspects into how they live. Farmer-Philosopher Wendell Berry writes about his work in the soil in a poem called “The Farmer, Speaking of Monuments”:

“He remains in what he serves
by vanishing in it, becoming what he never was.
He will not be immortal in words.
All his sentences serve an art of the commonplace.”

As a farmer, one melds into what one grows. The shape of the trees and cultivated plants not only bear witness to one’s labour but are a part of oneself. In the olive groves of the Alberghiero Otranto, it is easy to see the many farmers who have “vanished in” the trees. Though pruning and tending, they have formed the olive orchard into something that supports and resembles the community that it feeds, blurring the boundaries between people and land.

The olive trees are twisted and gnarled, with many openings in their trunks. Sometimes the holes are big enough that you can see a small piece of sky poking through the encircling bark. It is as if the trees are in their own way softening this boundary as well—trying to breathe in the land—to keep as much of the sun and the soft breeze in their bodies as possible.

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