Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 155: Experimental Pedagogy & Art — with Alessandra Pomarico

Speakers: Melissa Roach, Am Johal, Alessandra Pomarico

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Melissa Roach  0:02 
Hello listeners! I’m Melissa Roach with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

On this episode of Below the Radar, our host Am Johal is joined by Alessandra Pomarico, an artist and curator of different, alternative residency programs. She is one of the founders of Free Home University and works with collectives around the world. In this episode, Am and Alessandra discuss the role of art in politics, collaborative art making during a pandemic, and the influences of Jean-Luc Nancy and the Zapatistas on her work. I hope you enjoy the episode!

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Am Johal  0:46
Hello, welcome to Below the Radar. Delighted that you could join us again this week. We have a special guest, Alessandra Pomarico, who's joining us from, I believe, in Lecce Italy or somewhere in Italy at least. Welcome Alessandra.

Alessandra Pomarico  1:02
Hello everyone. Thank you Am. Very nice to be talking to you again.

Am Johal  1:09
Yeah, it's been... we haven't spoken in some time but really great to reconnect with you. I always enjoyed our conversations and seeing what you're up to. Maybe we can begin with you introducing yourself a little bit.

Alessandra Pomarico  1:24
Okay, that's always hard for me, you know. And as I was trying to prepare myself, breathe a little bit, I had a very intense day and, it's been weeks actually, that has been very intense. I was just trying to picture myself with you in your house with the beautiful books in your shelves and I was just trying to find a good glass of wine. So, I will not start to be anxious about talking and that was a very good time. I hope we can be in presence with our bodies very soon and share space. So about me, okay, I am, what do you want to know? There is, I am uncomfortable going with the usual Curriculum Vita or biography. I try to avoid the...

Am Johal  2:24
Who are you as a person in what do you do in the world? How about that?

Alessandra Pomarico  2:28 
Yes, okay, me as a person, I feel I'm connected with so many other persons as every one of us. But I think I'm especially moved by all those relations and the relations we all carry. And maybe one thing that I do I kind of multiply occasions. To multiply those relations to host space for people to be together think together, study, learn together and share space and time in ways that are different than what we are usually known functioning with. So, I mostly create what we call autonomous space of learning. So place where we can live and learn together in a different way than what the formal education system proposes, or suggest us to do.

Although I've been for many years also part of that system both as a high school teacher of Italian literature and history and then as a researcher in sociology of migration at the university, but then I decided to drop out and to create something on the side because I felt very oppressive to work within the framework of the formal institution. And similarly, I have a bit dropout from the art system as though most of what I do is with artist, involving artists, especially those who are politically engaged and socially engaged or grounded in in an idea that art can be one of the tool that we can deploy to change the world and make it a better place.

But similarly, I also kind of contest and sometimes refuse or reclaim different space outside of the art system, the art world that I also find very problematic. And of course, all these having to navigate both of those worlds or those institutions of knowledge production, those formal institutions, we are all implicated in that in a way or another but so, I guess my, especially lately, what I do is try to navigate the system to offer maybe temporary alternative moments where we are suspended from the usual business, having also to survive in these worlds sometimes trying to change those institution from within. And, but mostly against and beyond, I would say, but I admire very much people like you who I have witnessed being very tenaciously and even successfully changing this institution from within and making them more porous and inclusive and open spaces. So, all I've said, that doesn't exclude that time [. . .] for those who do that work from within.

Am Johal  6:18 
I know that for many years, you've been involved in a project called Free Home University. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about. I, of course, have a fondness and interest of experimental projects, things that function outside of universities and traditional systems, having been involved in various experimental educational projects in different frames over the years, but hoping that you could share a little bit about what that project was and is today.

Alessandra Pomarico  6:52 
Yes, thank you. Free Home University is something that I started with, again, a group of friends, comrades, artists, visionary, policymakers, farmers, refugees, or people in the migration experience, farmers, activist, we started in 2014. The idea was really to create a different space where we could learn from each other with our different stories and positions and knowledges that we have. And one of the tools was actually living together, literally under the same roof, in this hope that we could find that the space time where life, learning, process, studies, creative process could be embodied at the same time.

So, another desire in this project was also to be learning from and with the communities of struggles. That's why we connected with a group of organic farmers and land protectors, group of people in the refugee struggles, LGBTQI activist, because we were really trying to find ways in which we could share our struggles and support the learning across different experiences. And we try to work within a frame of regionalities. So very often, the sessions were emerging from whatever the group needed to work through and listening to what were the urgencies in the room. It’s been a very long process. So, every year is being different. We also work with a spectrum of different medias from sound, film, discourse practice, dance, and theatre. And lately, we made a collective book and radio and a number of medias that allowed different process to deploy. Because in a way, this is a pedagogical and artistic project at the same time. But most of all, it's been really an experiment in living together in common. And in also, using art as a tool to leverage and come together with communities that we feel need support a need to find ways also to self-represent their struggles, and very often, art is a tool that can be used in that way. 

And yeah, I mean, we also build together especially listening to the farmers, this group, Casa della Agricultura, which is a collective that exactly since the same time, as we started, started an incredible process of community building in their village. We moved in with them and together with them, we supported a number of processes which also was about building together, building material that were created during the agriculture work, exploring the possibility for them to have a flock of sheep.

So, we started also, many visit many kind of leaving cartographies with the community in this area. And lately, we have been working a lot on feminist pedagogies. We just actually concluded a residency with theories theory, political theories, then decolonial feminist activists Françoise Verges and a group of 25 women that work and are activists in this practice and this discourse. Which is continuing our work that we started also with Sylvia Federici, around social reproduction and violence on the body of women and the territory and the land.

So Free Home has multiple line of enquiries, multiple researcher and artist and community members that, that share their knowledge and their tool. And it's been really an ongoing, incredible journey where I had the chance to learn and meet extraordinary contributors and we hope this can continue. It was actually, I may add that, since you are calling from Vancouver, the project was supported by a Canadian Foundation, the Musagetes Foundation from Guelph, which surprised that a lot of the people that follow us are possible that the Canadian foundation is interested in something happening in the south of Italy, in rather small and very, peripheral small city or even smallest villages or peripheries, but I guess yeah, Musagetes was interested and, and it was a very wonderful and enriching relationship. I think for both of us, mutually developed, they also were actively informing and designing the processes and the sessions with us, especially curator Elwood Jimmy really helped so much.

And we were lucky to learn from the Indigenous perspective, which introducing also the aspect of ceremonies and the protocol of sharing, which often we are lacking in the West. And we suffer from that, and we also need to repair those wounds and those fragmentations that often emerge when you work in groups. You can really see how we are not used to being together in a collective way to work together horizontally to really dissenter and delink ourselves from exploitative way even among ourselves or modes of production that are you know, exhausting or modes of using the time in a way that is always, yeah. How to say, trying to make, you know, trying to fill up the time. With this project, we also learned a lot to slow down and to focus on the convivial aspect of learning. We cook a lot, we dance, we play music, we visit a lot of wandering and drifting. So a lot of unlearning.

Am Johal  14:34 
When I listen to you speak about your work and I've been thinking about you a lot because I've been working on a writing project with my friend and collaborator, Matt, around friendship, and community and solidarity and the kind of porousness of these things. You know, what brings people together, what drives them apart and the contingencies involved in in particularly in this, you know, very disorienting pandemic moment that has put all these questions back on the table, in terms of ways of working, of being together of bodies in space. In the various projects that you're involved in, it feels like you're situated in a very interesting way, because you were already working in that way already thinking through these questions. And I'm wondering how the pandemic moment and the way it's scrambled these things of what are the kinds of things that have made you think differently? Or how you've tried to approach this moment in terms of thinking through these questions of politics and the body of friendship and solidarity?

Alessandra Pomarico  15:54 
Yes, this is, thank you for this comment and prompting this question. Well, on a very personal level, I have to say that because we have been immersed and emerged in this process, since so long with values collective because Free Home University's just one of the spaces that I inhabit. Another one is the Ecoversities Alliance that work, for example, in a more global and especially what we may call the global south context, and where also the pedagogy was a pedagogy of encounters of sharing, meeting in gathering, global gathering, regional gathering, and so on.

Or other spaces, I think of 16 Beaver in New York, where I'm based or other collectives that I've been part of what, what was very evident in this moment of crisis and also these orienting during the time was to feel the presence of all these people and to see how much the work we have been done in this type of direction really held us together. And I say these really from an emotional point of view, from an intellectual point of view from a material point of view of solidarity, mutual aid.

It was amazing how we got together despite the suspiciousness about the various media that we are forced to use, and, and all resistance in this kind of tyranny of the screen, and which we all know how tiring it is also on the level of energy. But really, some incredible processes also started in within the Ecoversities Alliance. We started something called Learning with COVID, a series of conversation debates with friends and comrades of 16 Beavers. There was this other space that is being created, which is called the Society of the Friends of the Virus. And with them we started assembling every Sunday, since the beginning of the lockdown, and we still do we. Just yesterday we commemorated the departure of Jean-Luc Nancy and yes, we have been also organizing various process whenever there is something we need to reflect on as with the anniversary of Fukushima and now the moments that remind us or orient our inquiries and investigation when we need to basically be with each other and talk through this moment together.

So, this was really for me very strong to see this group coming together in another form which is not our preferred form and still finding ways that can keep that affect that can keep the body for example, are all group of healing through distance was created through another friend who is offering healing in the way she does tapping with the tone rang method, etc. Or are the friends coming together to dance etc. Holding this moment of conference and of yeah, assemblies basically trying to find a way.

And we have also tried to connect differently than from the video and the Zoom, for example, this is when the radio, we had this idea to start a radio. It's called Firefly Frequencies. And it's a radio online Firefly Frequencies dot org. And so there too, a cohort of the editors have been coming together, we have received 90, and more podcasts. And I hope I can, I can propose your wonderful podcast also there. It's again, a radio that we could start with the support of the Ecoversities Alliance. So we hope to get more and more nodes and people offering sound objects, not only podcast music, sound objects, readings, in many different languages and from different geographies. So, the radio, this idea to connect more with the sound, and with encouraging a listening, a deep listening was one way. The assembly was another way. And to work within, yeah, in solidarity was another way to really try to bring our help where it was possible.

And strangely enough, I happen to do that more with people who are far away from me than those with whom I was in the moment of the lockdown in New York. And there is something to think about that. How maybe this megalopolis in which we live really separate us to such a level despite I'm very present in my neighbourhoods and there are communities that I belong to, but that was hard. I think the only moment we had for was for the women's strike on March 8, where we finally decided to come together but there people was more afraid, I think, and more, yeah, anxious. I feel in Italy, despite Italy was hit so hard. People have a different sociability. And maybe we can gather more in the open air and reconnect through nature. Which brings, yeah, another form of healing that in the cities is really hard to feel.

Am Johal  22:46
I'm really glad you brought up Jean-Luc Nancy because he is such an important thinker on friendship and community and I saw his really interesting exchange with Agamben around the Coronavirus. Wondering if you could speak a little bit to how Jean-Luc Nancy has affected your own work? Or did you have a long term conversation with him or his work?

Alessandra Pomarico  23:15
Well, he was actually part of these assemblies, the very first one that we called. And it's a pity that I mean, it's both him and David Graeber were part of the first iteration of these Sunday gathering and yeah, I mean, of course, those are people and thinking and discourses and examples that been informing our ways of doing and with whom we have established our own internal dialogue. And we were so lucky to be in presence for the time being.

Well, communism, of course, and the idea of comradeship. It's certainly a dimension of that. Yes, comradeship, based on friendship and what that means in a kind of unconditional way to be comrades and to share struggles where we can also maybe sometimes disagree, but we keep we keep building together and also these possibility to think and feel ourselves for all always in a sort of way, relational and reciprocal possibilities. I think this is so important, because again, being socialized and instructed in kind of modern thinking, where there is always this binary, this separation from the self and the other from nature and culture and from the human and nonhuman. These type of thinking, I think repaired and created always in, in a western, declination, the possibility to think, the subject in relation with the larger subject, like to do to expand and multiply and create collective subjectivity. This is the part that I'm most interested in and fascinated.

And, yeah, it's, it's an exercise, and it's an exercise of the mind, as well as an exercise of the heart and the hands. And, yeah, I think, through writing, and just recently, just exactly for this kind of memorial, someone was reading a passage of Jean-Luc speaking about love, and it was really amazing. And love as in the romantic love, because it touched about also the transformation that that creates, in our mind, in our spirit, and love as a larger love, a love that we need to move and to incorporate and to be able to receive an offer as really a matter of life as a way to defend life and to continue life.

Am Johal  26:42 
You know, there's been a few times in the last few months without, you know, we had an entire town burned down with the forest fires here in in BC, you know, international events, the climate emergency. At moments, it feels like we're living through the beginning of the end of the world or something like this. And I'm wondering, in these projects of horizontality, these experiments and new forms of solidarity, this refusal to be enemies, to create something new together, what are, in the ways in the projects that you're working? What is it that the artistic and aesthetic intervention can do that other forms of political organizing, in and of themselves, don’t get to? What is this space that you work in?, I guess is the question of what motivates you inside of that way of working?

Alessandra Pomarico  27:46 
Yeah, we often say that we don't want just to stay in a space of resistance. So only to situate ourselves against something because that's very consuming and for whoever as experience, so is part of the activist circles, we all know, this sort of birth out and kind of energy that that take also to be always in this perspective of being against an enemy, which certainly exists. And so, these are space of revoking, but also reclaiming different ways of being, different ways of relating, different ways of knowing.

I love very much our friends and scholars and poets in the Abya Yala, in Latin America, speak of re-existence, merging the word, resistance, separating it and proposing this idea of re-existing, resisting through a different way of existing, through a different paradigm. And as you said, rightly so, the sensation we are really under these ruins that keep crumbling, and that you know, the capitalist Hydra as the Zapatistas call it, you know, these monsters with many, many heads that reproduce as soon as one is cut another comes down. I feel we are really somehow witnessing that and we all know and feel that this process will be very violent, and extremely, especially on those who are already in this low intensity war, and those who are more exposed to the ecological catastrophe, which is now touching all of our lands.

In any case, art, how art can be a tool to think and question about all these yet with the possibility of proposing another type of relationship. And not only because art is, I think, in the realm of the spirit world of spirituality, of spiritual activities, and can help us feel the sublime, even the sublime of the challenges and the struggles. And art is also something that can produce hope, which is a dimension that I feel is necessary, even if we are very lucid and rational about, you know, the catastrophe, but it's important to still hold hope. And to still try to maintain peace, rather than keep staying in the, in the war framework, no?

Also, the virus, also for the virus, it became immediately a war. So, art is not an escape.  Art, for me is a political tool. But it's different than the politics that can happen in purely activist space, although they are fundamental and very important. Because I think maybe there is more joy.

Also, I mean, I know, this is another thing you're interested in seeking and searching and providing, you know, the militant potency of joy, is something very important, otherwise, it's really becomes really impossible work. So I think art is a space that provides that, provides the possibility for a deeper connection, something that goes even, you know, beyond only cerebral and mental intellectual activities, really something that can connect our souls and, you know, this is the power of poetry, of painting and, but also, you know, I'm often, at least with the artists that I love to work with, there is almost no more a separation in between art and life. And yes, of course, we use certain tools or media, you know, we make films we make, or we use painting, or we write. But it's really a way of living. And yeah.

Am Johal  32:47 
I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about some sort of projects and things that you're going to be working on in the in the future?

Alessandra Pomarico  32:56 
Yes, I am. Well, right now, like tomorrow, I'm flying to Torino where we hosted our first real Free Home University exhibition. Because two years ago, just before, in 2019, our last session of Free Home together with the farmers of Casa della Agricultura. And France in the in the refugee struggles and younger activists we hosted the Russian collective Chto Delat, which works often with films and theater. And with them we did a learning film, which is called People of Flour, Salt and Water. So, the Torino Parco d'Arte Vivente Museum is been screening this film, and they ask us also as part of an exhibition called, Sustaining Assembly, if we wanted to install something, so we brought some of the material to situate our procedural work.

So, both material from what we have done with this community of farmers and land protectors, their seeds, and banners and flags that we have done with our friends in the refugee struggles and with Babi Badalov who is a visual artist and visual poetry artist, who is also themselves a refugee from Azerbaijan living in Paris. So, we brought elements and traces for our from our processes.

And so in the next two days, I will meet groups of friends in displaced community that are starting a nomadic school. So, they invited me to, to visit them and we will discuss together. We will share our experience around this idea of grassroot and diffused forms of learning. I’m really excited and also I will meet communities of different abled friends who have used the film and the stories of Subcomandante Marcos because the film is also taking the lands of Zapatismo beyond Chiapas. We use Zapatismo and Marcos fables in a lot of our processes, especially with certain community struggles, we find it's a great icebreakers to use the 13 demands of Zapatistas. And, and their incredible poetic and political process of autonomy. One of the only resisting revolutions that are still going on and actually, the next big project will be exactly with them, because as you might know, there was a Zapatista squadron that reversed the traveling, the colonizer journey and took the ocean on a boat called, The Mountain, La Montaña, to visit Europe. And when did Zapatista community announced these three, exactly in the middle of the pandemia, and after another long period of silence it was it was really kind of shocking, but it immediately created the momentum.

And in Europe, a lot of the movements have been influenced by the Zapatista imaginary in a very deep way. Many social centers here have been part of the caravan in Mexico, they have funded schools or projects or botanical garden with them. So, it's an ongoing friendship and solidarity and thinking with Zapatista. So, we got all very excited about that and then being part of different assemblies of different groups that will host the year locally in Italy the second squadron that will arrive from the sky, they're still working on their visa and their passport and their COVID procedures, etc.

But in Madrid, where the first seven people arrived, there is a convergence and we are having at Zapatista forum together with the Institute of Radical Imagination and various other, Ecoversities Alliance, and various other co activators of the space which will include Film Festival of Indigenous and Zapatistas filmmakers, an exhibition and a space of learning and I'm actually activating this pedagogical part creating a Zapatista coffee hours every day open to whoever wants to come, and then hosting process both on Zoom with the larger network of alternative forms of learning. And with those in Madrid.

And yes, we are launching our book, which is actually one episode, the one the first movement of a longer book. Another thing that we did during the pandemia was to, to write together and to commission essays and text. The book is called When the Roots Start Moving. And originally, we were investigating this question of belonging and displacement in a very broad way. And we discovered that one part, one form of belonging for us is belonging to the Zapatista. Somehow it's a sort of homecoming for many of us.

And so when we, when we got the news that the Zapatista were visiting Europe, as we add in this book, a couple of chapters dedicated to our artistic process in resonance with Zapatismo, we decided to expand that and it became this volume, where it became the first movement, which is called To Navigate Backward: Resonating with Zapatismo and there are different essays of people. Yeah, analyzing, investigating, responding to Zapatismo in different communities and beyond Chiapas, and a lot of artistic work, that has been inspired by the Zapatismo. A few beautiful interviews that we have with Subcomandante Moisés, which we met in the Caracol a few years back, because this is an ongoing, kind of artistic research around Zapatismo, that Chto Delat group has been doing and that I've been also following in their various visits. So, this is very exciting. And as been part of what I put my heart and spirit in lately.

Am Johal  41:08 
I love the line from the Zapatista about everything, everything for everyone, nothing for us.

Alessandra Pomarico  41:15 
Yes, yes. That's one of the wonderful motto. Yeah. Their language, and their art is so inspiring. And I guess it's also because they are, you know, is not only I mean, there is this incredible synergistic mobilization of both a leftist tradition and the Indigenous cosmovision and cosmopolitics, and I think it's one of the most interesting and inspiring set of options and yes, in the in the path of autonomy they are they have now 47 autonomous territories that they are managing. Not bad.

Am Johal  42:13 
Alessandra, it's so wonderful to speak with you. I love your use of language. It's so poetic and I could just listen to you all night but I just want to say thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Alessandra Pomarico  42:34 
Well, it's I'm glad I'm glad you say that because it's pretty late for me and yeah, it's been a long day. So I'm glad what to say I really can't wait to come and visit Vancouver and visit you. As I said you are one of the most inspiring activators as well and I remember the work we did together using theater and using the space you have opened up inside the university as one of the most inspiring moments and what to say let's be in touch. Let's find the more ways to collaborate because yes, I also was missing your voice a lot. And I hope we can find ways to be in touch for example, yeah sharing maybe this podcast feel free to also see what we are doing at our radio and maybe take some from us as we take some from you.

Am Johal  43:38 
Absolutely. Yes. So much for joining us on Below the Radar, Alessandra.

Alessandra Pomarico  43:43 
Send my love to everyone in Vancouver.

Am Johal  43:48 

Alessandra Pomarico  43:48 
All our common friends and Matt that you mentioned before is definitely someone I have carefully read and studied and had the chance to meet through you so thank you for being always this bridge, Am.

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Melissa Roach  44:08 
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. This has been our conversation with Alessandra Pomarico. Head to the links in the show notes to learn more about her work. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time on Below the Radar.

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Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
January 18, 2022

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