ESR 9 Blog June/July 2022: Sophie Mak-Schram

 ESR 9 blog July/August 2022

Image 1: Walking through the wetlands of Zakole with ZAKOLE, as part of Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s New Alphabet School (Warsaw)


These past months, I have joined people on partial journeys through their practices, whilst on secondment/residency with Biennale Warszawa. Slowly following strands of association, recommendations and various networks, I spoke to artists, activists, collectives and more, in the process of developing ‘Vest of Tools’ (Warsaw). Below is an extract from my conception for the project, as I begin to think through its future form, material traces and possible uses, and continue to dream about further iterations in other localities. I’m drawn to continue to think with and through tools – perhaps you’d like to join me?



How do we learn together? What can we learn from each other?


Amidst the rise of continued urgencies (war, fascism, poverty, the climate crisis), education and activism are increasingly the concern of local communities, who might be experiencing their access to learning restricted, their resources limited, large influxes of people in need arriving, or their prior ways of living as now impossible. In Poland, for instance, the war in Ukraine incited many cultural institutions, local centres and individuals to design, with great speed and generosity, means of accommodating those arriving into the country. These collective actions were often very localised – collaborating with venues, resources, individuals with spare rooms or language skills – but also translocally networked, as solidarity groups shared information, sometimes funds, and, less commonly, rebuttals to the narratives being peddled on a state or European level. In the wake of state oversight and failures, initiatives such as these provided essential services whilst simultaneously developing the infrastructure and resources to do so.


So too, on a different timeline, one can think of LGBTQI+ activist groups and their alternative schools, spaces and programmes that blend community building, activism, and creativity. These groups often respond to specific contexts and communities, whilst also operating translocally in terms of their alliances and impact. In Warsaw, they operate within a context of conservatism and contradictory visibility: Vogue can put up posters celebrating Pride Month, but they are subsequently defaced, same-sex marriage is not possible and abortion remains illegal.


The ‘Vest of Tools’ seeks to draw on the learning that occurs within and through these forms of collective work, that happens in specific localities, contexts, and communities. From negotiating ways of living together through to how to organise marches and protests, collectives often develop specific strategies and methods for this mutual learning. These strategies are necessary, sometimes even urgent, for enabling conversation, mobilisation, bringing in further groups or participants, and for sustaining group-centred work that attempts to be equitable or long-term.

Image 2: Sketch by Atelier Planeta in the process of co-creating a wearable item for ‘Vest of Tools’ (Warsaw), in which the tools would be put in the pockets of the vest


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