Gasworks presents Playing Truant, the first major UK solo exhibition by Libyan Italian artist Adelita Husni-Bey.
Husni-Bey’s practice is built upon research and collaboration and encompasses drawing, painting, collage, video and participatory workshops. Her work often looks at social relations in different political contexts, from late capitalism to other alternative social imaginaries. Set against current controversies about the role of state education in England, her exhibition at Gasworks sets out to compare today’s neo-liberal understanding of ‘free school’ with past and present models of self-run or ‘anarchist’ education.
The exhibition branches out from Husni-Bey’s recent video Postcards from the Desert Island (2010–11, 22 min.), which documents a 3-week workshop that the artist organised with students from the École Vitruve, a self-run primary school in Paris. Borrowing scenarios from William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, pupils were asked to build a desert island in their school hall. The video shows them grappling with some of the key principles and unresolved problems of self-governance, such as: imagining a life without institutions, questions of punishment and the struggle for power, how to deal with immigration and civil disobedience, and where to draw the distinction between public and private.
Postcards from the Desert Island is presented alongside two newly commissioned works that interrogate differing conceptions of ‘free school’: one having emerged in the United States in the early twentieth century and another currently unfolding in England.
The first is a sound work made in collaboration with members of New York experimental theatre groupThe Living Theatre, which explores how to embody the history of an anarchist model of education now, as a group. Developed during a series of workshops with the actors, the piece uses material from the archive of the Ferrer Colony and Modern School in Stelton, New Jersey. Initially founded in New York in 1911 by followers of Catalan freethinker Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia (1859–1909), this was one of the first anarchist ‘free schools’ and set a precedent for later schools such as the École Vitruve in France and Summerhill in the UK.
The second piece is a large-scale wall drawing which traces key moments in the development of educational policy in England from the 1970s up to the present day, culminating in the emergence of a new type of ‘free school’ at the hands of the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
Husni-Bey’s exhibition therefore addresses the gaping discrepancy between two ‘free school’ models: one rooted in anarcho-collectivism and the other stemming from the increasing privatisation of education in England since the 1970s, packaged up with the current Conservative party’s much contested notion of the ‘big society’.
Playing Truant will be accompanied by a programme of events placing Husni-Bey's work in context. Please check back here for further details.
Please note Gasworks is closed for Christmas from 22 December 2012 and re-opens on 3 January 2013.