Train of thought, steam of consciousness

Issue no4
Aug - Sept 2020

Speelplaats is a program in Werkplaats Typografie which was termed by former participants as ‘a kind of school within a school’. A room in the school building with the same name served as a playground where ‘open-ended sessions were proposed, organized and realised by individuals and ad-hoc groups that created shared experiences with uncertain outcomes’.

We proposed a specific formula for this year’s program based upon the concept of emancipation found within Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster (1991). The prevailing notion that the transfer of knowledge (the act of explaining) produces equality is radically contradicted in this famous book. Instead, Rancière proposes that equality has to be a practical assumption from which one speaks and acts.

In our case ‘the formula of emancipation’ or ‘the axiom of equality’ is applied within the particular research domains of participants. New ways of perceiving or doing things, which are triggered by ‘assuming that a certain x = a certain y’ tend to encourage thought, experimentation and invention. In layman’s terms, what would for example happen if one assumes the night is a school day?

The British architect Cedric Price suggests in the ‘Potteries Thinkbelt Plan’ (1965) to accommodate a university in trains, which then would travel around in a neglected industrial area. The school here was not a fixed symbolic building, but an interactive and social device in which the subject could undergo a transformation. In other words: the school as an elastic apparatus.

This way of thinking is closely related to our approach. So last Wednesday we decided to assume that the train was our school. A fixed building was thus turned into a mobile carriage, a literal illustration of what a school could and should be: minds in motion, travelling through a variety of thoughts and connecting them together.

But to what extent did the practice correspond with the theory?

We took our first train in Arnhem on firstday #4 at 8pm speeltijd. We kept on returning home for 14 hours and 51 minutes ( By locking ourselves in train compartments, we created a situation wherein we had a sea of time to study and work without being disturbed by external factors: no ‘meetings’ about ‘projects’, no client phone calls and no exorbitant e-mail traffic.

Between Groningen en Leeuwarden, the north of the Low Countries, we encountered the stoical conductor. While carefully punching commuters tickets, he didn’t seem to be bothered by a group of travellers that were using the windows as a blackboard.

Our session, which included a short introduction on Cedric Price and a discussion on how to refurnish our speelplaats-room in the ‘real school’, occurred in the space of the other, at a place that was already ‘taken’. We didn’t behave in real conformity, but managed to do so without coming into public conflict.

This school is thus always in a state of becoming. Nothing can be permanently achieved because of the inherent mobility of a train. Therefore it’s a perfect environment for tactical appropriations and reconfigurations.

Always remember to use non-permanent markers.

A big pot of tomato soup was prepared for lunch. It was meant to be cooked and eaten on the train. In order to achieve this, we carried a heavy electric cooker with us the whole day. Due to one of the biggest shortcomings of the Dutch railway system (and consequently an almost insurmountable problem for train-schools), namely the lack of power supply in compartments, we had to find a different spot to have our meal.

After exactly 670 minutes our school reached the end of the railroad, Zandvoort beach. Surprisingly enough, we found a socket there and after a long delay we could finally strengthen our bodies to continue our intellectual journey.

Back to school...

Honestly, we have to admit that this 1011 minute intellectual adventure also included boredom, drowsiness and lack of inspiration in between those latter moments of excitement. Yet the silence we experienced in our classroom between Heerenveen and Steenwijk (secondday #4, 02:36am till 02:58am) was exceptional.

On the last part of the journey, between Utrecht and Arnhem, we wrote a letter to ourselves. Recording all the thoughts that each of us had while drifting back home was a way to round off the day. The letters were posted immediately after getting off the train in Arnhem. Arriving at our immobile school two days later the past managed to catch up with us, without any delay.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2020