Learning Learning - A continuing discussion about learning, in relation to a practice
Creative Time Summit, Cooper Union, New York, October 2010



1. Intro


Learning Site focuses on: the act, process, and activity of learning.

We are in a continuous process of learning learning.

To begin, we must make some comments from Learning Learning, a text we have worked on since Learning Site was founded


2. From Learning
Learning - A Learning Site Text

This text has been discussed within Learning Site and between Learning Site and other persons
… it is not finished
… it cannot be finished
… it is, permanently incomplete

Learning is different from Knowledge
For something to count as 'Knowledge', it must be:

- clearly identifiable,
- verifiable,
- repeatable,
- exchangeable and…
- transferable.

Therefore it has the qualities of an object. 

Knowledge can't be separated from the dominant power structures, such as:

- markets,
- corporations,
- governments,
- laws and states.

To have access to knowledge, and to replicate it, is to participate in, replicate, and enlarge, existing power structures.


Thinking about Learning as Learning

In contrast, we think of learning as less object-like.
It cannot be separated from the persons who enact it, and the places in which it is enacted.

Learning is:

- …an act of understanding
- It can be banal or profound
- It is easy to redefine, add to and subtract from
- It can be muddled and remade
- It does not exist within fixed boundaries

It is a way of being, an attitude to experience

Learning can be developed, but its character resists being directed.

The Problem of Directed Learning

For us, “directed learning” entails the production of knowledge or the acquisition of knowledge

That kind of learning is very purposeful.
It knows where it wants to go, and what it wants to be.

Learning Learning

In contrast, we try to learn learning.

That consists of:

- observing,
- listening,
- comprehending,
- redefining,
- adding to,
- and remaking

Learning is a form of awareness

It is not object-like

It is not a commodity

It doesn't sit within definable boundaries

It doesn't like being directed – that way leads back to objects, commodities and exclusion.

Learning learning includes failure in its own process

Learning Site exists to learn our own process of learning


3. Learning and Pedagogy

There is currently a debate about artistic pedagogy

A large part of that debate developed because of the role universities play in the economy.

Mostly, it assumes art functions in relation to professional educational institutions

For us, that discussion can’t be divorced from ‘directed learning’ …
… and the exclusions it makes…
… the costs of doing a degree, examination performance, social confidence etc.

For us art is learning, but learning is not always about “education” – the possession of knowledge codified by a set of rules…
…nor is “education”: the same thing as “a degree”


4. An Example: Poster Dwelling for Land, Market and Economy

To explain our approach to learning we must end on an example.

We made this work in New Delhi in 2008.
Its called Poster Dwelling for Land, Market and Economy
It existed for 10 days as part of 48 Degrees Public-Art-Ecology
…the first public art show in India,
…and dealing with climate change


How We Work

The praxis we deploy draws directly from the specific situation the work is made in.
That entails a period of residency

The places we work in are always subject to different power dynamics, regulations, ideologies and histories

We don’t know before hand what we will be learning – though Learning Site brings its own history and interests with it…
…our earlier projects examined the aesthetic, political and economic issues a-rising from the way land is owned and occupied.

Here, that history mingles with what we draw from this place and this time


The Process for this Work

We were given a site in a public park
Beneath the park, is an underground market

The fact a public space is also the roof of a marketplace suggested a relationship between public space and private economy…

…these concrete ventilation shafts bring natural light and fresh air into the market…
…They seemed to mediate that relationship
…Also, many goods on sale in the bazaar are ‘pirated’
…suggesting other themes

We took aesthetic inspiration from the local tradition of hand-painted posters – which suggested ideas of craft and labour…


The Importance of Conversation

Our praxis also entails conversation with people who have a direct, personal relation to the place we work in….

In Delhi we met activists, who were critical in forming our ideas for the work

We talked to Navdanya – the NGO founded by Vandana Shiva
Nav-danya is internationally known for its work on eco-friendly farming and against the privatisation of public assets.
… they suggested ideas, and agreed to work with us

We met the urbanist Arunava Dasgupta…
… Arunava told us about the way Green Belts and cultural heritage sites are used to evict the poor from the city

We could also see something was happening in India’s “Special Economy Zones”…
… here national laws are suspended and the land given over to unregulated market activity.
… these changes to the landscape entail evictions and the destruction of farming cultures.

From those conversations a work emerges…

We decided to build a low-tech, recyclable structure
Its form was ‘appropriated’ from the concrete ventilation domes of the market
… we built a 1:1 scale ‘copy’ in papier mache
This doupple ganger speaks about what we had learned, to the people who use the park.

Finally, we brought in Jaime Stapleton
…a legal academic and critic of intellectual property laws…
Jaime drew together our learning, and some of his own ideas, into a text

Moving Around the Dome

The dome has eight sides…
…dictating the number of themes to be communicated

As you move around the storyboard, the narrative moves from…

… the enclosure of the English Commons to the enclosures of the British Empire…

…to the economic concepts drawn from those historical actions…

…to prevailing myths, that economists have about markets…

…to globalisation and spread of intellectual property

…to the effect that has on farming, culture and ecology…

…finally, moving full-circle, to the new enclosures of Special Economy Zones

Who we are speaking to is very important

We cannot escape the fact that our context is an art exhibition
But, the work is not addressed to the art audience…
…rather, it addresses the place and the situation, which always ex-ceed the space of art

A project allows us to learn, and to redistribute what we have learned.

The people we are trying to converse with are those who come into the park
… those who stumble across this temporary doupple ganger


Of course, failure is endemic to this strategy

The literacy rate in India is 65-70% …
…hundreds of languages are spoken …
…mainly Hindi and English …
But, the dome speaks only English - the language of business

We resolve some of the communication problems by collaborating with local groups
…Navdanya conducted workshops on seeds and eco-farming with local school children…


To Sum Up

Our pedagogy is grounded in what place and moment can teach us

It is about learning and redistributing

Redistribution is the conversation the work has with that place and moment
… it exists as long as “the work” exists in that place and that moment

But, where the work is recorded, we move back toward ‘directed learning’.
…the publications we make are object-like, they are knowledge…

Learning learning thus entails contradictions that can never be fully resolved



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