By Sandra Niessen
It has been a steep learning curve of a new type here at the Jan van Eyck. Coming from an academic background where peer judgement and control are the expected norm, structures are defined, the rules of the game have been deeply inculcated and the logic is linear, the Jan van Eyck enables a novel kind of freedom. You feel it the minute you walk through the door.
It is an institution that facilitates the creative works of artists. Here learning is experimental and experiential; peer contact is about manifold sharing, processes of learning are diverse, thinking is strikingly associative. Judgement, control and linearity are unexciting. Sleeves are rolled up; it is not about ‘knowledge creation’ per se, but knowledge digestion, self and social discovery in light of.
The world needs thoughtful, critical voices and facilitating them is the obligation of civilization…. and the RCDF!. That is our challenge as we seek to deliver our programme for the 4th of November, Conversations to Redress a Fashion Disaster, to reveal the link between fashion, climate urgency and coloniality here at the Jan van Eyck. We are academics and a large portion of our audience is of the creative ilk. Our programme needs to speak to all.
Unsuspecting at the outset, we have dived in at the deep end and art students have been our guides. We are endlessly grateful to them for introducing us to a different thought world and thereby helping us prepare for 4 November. Our plan was to involve fashion students in the programme. To foster their involvement, Angela Jansen and I were to visit their classes to share some of our learning about fashion and decoloniality (read: top-down, lecture-style). However, we found ourselves in what amounted, for us, to an environment in which we had to learn to facilitate different kinds of learning and processes. Hands-off, not programmatic or formulaic, creating room for ‘it’ to happen and then standing back, accepting and celebrating ‘it’ with all of the unexpected, and the differences and the flow — a far cry from the structures in the classroom with which we were familiar.
Yesterday, Wednesday evening, the Van Eyck had its traditional weekly gathering to listen to an artist in the residence and then sit down to a communal meal made by the residents. By chance, the man who took the empty chair next to me at the long table was the President of the Board of the Jan van Eyck and former President of Maastricht University. A kind and accessible man, we enthusiastically shared our thoughts about the wondrous creation called the Van Eyck Academy. We had obtained our PhDs from the same faculty in Leiden and we shared an outsider’s ‘academic view’. We both had a kind of awe for the different way of thinking/being/acting that prevails here. His pride in the Academy was almost palpable. In my turn, I felt proud of him for standing up to be a passionate ambassador/protector of the Academy. He was delighted that fashion as an experimental, critical and thoughtful art, has been welcomed into the fold of the Van Eyck.
The RCDF challenges itself to put on a programme on 4 November that will be meaningful to its communities, that offers space for experiential learning and reflection, for moving ahead to deal with the climate crisis in our respective ways. For the past half century, and due to a certain coloniality of thought built into the capitalist system, arts and social programs have been ‘dispensable’ during every economic crisis in the Western world. Our current deep, existential crisis requires systemic change and all hands on deck. There is an important role for the Van Eyck Academy. And the RCDF is excited to be part of that exploration.