Student Show: You Are Here (COP21)

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Parsons Paris proudly presents the student show You Are Here. This show is our response to COP21 climate change conference held in Paris.

You are here. We are here. We are in Paris in the weeks after the November 13th terrorist attacks and in the days of the COP21 conference on climate change. This is our city. This is our moment. This is a global moment. We are tired. We are outraged. We wish for a better world. We question the extent to which we may effect change, but we do not want to leave the conversation about our future in the hands of a few. The crisis of this moment has left us feeling helpless, but not hopeless. Here, we bear witness to this moment. We speak as a community for our city and for our planet. We create. We cultivate. We continue. We are here.”

What was supposed to be a COP21 exhibition has become something else.

Following the night of November 13th, and the subsequent state of emergency which has seen a worrying curtailment of the right to protest, the students of Parsons Paris have been more than ever determined to keep the debate going. They have designed and curated a place for them and for our community to voice our concerns and our hopes.

This project is the result of a collaborative process. Our goal was clear: providing our community with the means to voice its opinions about the COP21 conference. More specifically, we wanted to express our doubts as to the ability of the conference and its political framework to foster and implement actual change.

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How it worked:

This project was made possible with the partnership of RISO France.

4 stacks of pre-printed A3 posters, each bearing one of our selected sentences, were placed onto a table.

Participants could either pick up some of the posters as they are, or intervene on them using the RISO machine – very much like a photocopier.

To do so, they would place various elements of their choice onto the RISO glass – blank shapes, press clippings, packaging, leaflets, photographs –, thus creating an additional layer that would be superimposed onto the existing one that bears the sentences.

Each “design” had to be printed in a number of copies.

Some were archived.

The rest were for participants to pick up, and paste wherever they would find appropriate.

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Our questions were simple:

How are we to engage with the official discourses around COP21?

We had no choice but to reuse and reappropriate. In a context where citizens were denied the right to participate in the discussions on their future, we were compelled to intervene as commentators.

I HAVE NO VOICE SO I MUST SHOUT

Since the slogan as a literary form has been comprehensively recuperated by advertising, marketing, and mainstream politics, how could we craft a discourse in opposition to the coercive nature of the slogan? Given the circumstances, we also wanted to focus on the ideological nature of “sustainability” by addressing the issue with the proper term: pollution.

POLLUTION IS IN FASHION TODAY. Guy Debord, The Sick Planet, 1971.

We are well aware that this statement is ambiguous, especially when issued by a school like Parsons. This ambiguity is intentional.

Our intervention had to be a refusal of greenwashing politics; not necessarily a loud and proactive refusal, but rather a snarky and lazy one which we believed to be even more potent. I WOULD PREFER NOT TO, Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener, 1853

While it is commonly accepted for artists and poets to express criticism, negativity, or even simply reluctance, curators are usually expected to celebrate, praise, and promote an object of study. In this, curation has much in common with merchandising. We wanted to criticise a framework – the COP21 conference – through the creation of an alternative one based on our discussions. Here is what we chose: Poetry as a tool to repurpose language. Unclear messages. Open ended statements. In a word: literature.

THE OLD OCEAN ITSELF CARES NOT. Guy Debord, The Sick Planet, 1971.

Do you?

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Curation is also a strategy for action and, as such, cannot start from theory and ideas before moving to means and practice; instead, it must constantly consider both aspects throughout the process. Looking for strategies of disruptive commentary, we reflected on graphic design, printing techniques and on our local history in Paris. The use of silkscreen printing during May 68 in the Ateliers Populaires of both the École des Beaux Arts and École des Arts Décoratifs allowed for the production and dissemination of posters and designs protesting in a vast range of tones and on a vast range of topics. Together, they created an alternative discourse, in opposition to the heavily censored official and mass media. Combining this practical experience from the past with modern equivalents of silkscreen printing, we came up with a framework for people to apply whatever content they saw fit onto the ambiguous phrases we had selected – and which we hope people will change and renew as necessary.

Neither content nor display, we saw in the framework a site where intellectual, design, and political work can be produced. It was a means for our own Atelier Populaire to immediately adapt to the new circumstances in Paris: the state of emergency and the curtailment of freedom of speech which immediately followed the November 13th attacks and which – there is no other word for it – conveniently preceded the COP21 conference.

What started as a discussion on non-conventional curatorial practices ended as an experiment in local history, design practice and protest tactics.

It’s our state of emergency too.

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It has been important for our community to reflect on the challenges of format and structure when it comes to curating within a shifting context. The curatorial practice we are most familiar with indeed relies on processes of editing, selection, and exclusion. Here, we have imagined what a completely different approach would look like, one arising out of ideas of community action, of solidarity, of agency, and of outrage. This exhibition, with its fully open format, was an exercise in inclusion, an experiment in what happens when every voice, every point of view and every project proposed is accepted and opened up for discussion and debate. The COP21 climate talk largely consisted of concessions, bargaining and compromise in the hope of reaching some kind of deal. At Parsons Paris, we chose to respond to this model of representation and negotiation by investigating the notion of collective problem solving: does it really exist, and if so, what might it look like? It meant putting “Humanities” into action and theorizing curatorial practice. At times we struggled to move forward: the process was sometimes slower, more ambiguous, and more frustrating. Yet what emerged out of this open format that included over 80 members of our community was a self-organized system, one of interdependence, of small groups formed around specific problems and tasks. In this ‘super-local’ approach, under a unified banner, different groups clustered together to solve the parts of the problem within their reach. In this way, engagement became instinctive and resistance became irresistible.

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Show opens Monday 30th November and continues until December 11th.

Follow along with sustainable initiatives from The New School by following #ClimateCitizen.

 

Learn more about the MA in History of Design and Curatorial Studies and the MFA in Design and Technology.

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