Sandra Niessen in Residency at the Jan van Eyck Academy, part 7 (wrapping up)

By Sandra Niessen

The Climate Intensive for 2019 at the Van Eyck Academy is over. We are winding down, assessing what transpired, and considering how we can construct a follow-up event next year. The Van Eyck Academy is taking the climate problem responsibly and wishes to continue with its goal of being an effective agent of change. As Kate Fletcher said during our closing session: it is time to say ‘yes’ to options. Time is very, very short. Every bit counts.  In that regard, I was so pleased that many students attended. Their role during the next ten years is the most crucial and they have the most to lose.

Many people expressed their appreciation for the day. They found it thought-provoking, time well-spent. Nevertheless, our wrap-up discussion was inconclusive. I hope that I am not just being charitable when I posit that we all needed more time to digest what transpired.  With this blog, I wish to share some further ruminations about all of that.

As organizers, our task was not an easy one. We had to make the link between fashion, climate urgency and decoloniality. The discussion often strayed into one about fashion and sustainability; this is on everyone’s mind. It was harder to keep orienting it to the factor of decoloniality.

The day impressed upon me that decolonizing is a process and that the 4th of November was only a beginning, and a good one at that. It is difficult to imagine a decolonial world; it will emerge iteratively, gradually, with plenty of internal dialogue. I have taken some direction — and solace — from what was written on the website constructed for the Decolonial Summerschool in Middelburg in 2016:

“The decolonial option doesn’t offer a global blueprint that pretends to be good for the almost 8 billion people in the planet. It maps the decolonial as an option and leaves the door open to be enacted by emergent decolonial processes. The decolonial option encourages pluriversality and rejects universality; it comes to light and materializes when collective and diverse construction of pluriversality—in doing and thinking, sensing and believing—is embodied in decolonial actors and institutional agencies.”

I celebrate the fact that multiple voices were present on 4 November and a variety of opinions were expressed. Our event seems to have provided a needed and appreciated forum. One of our primary aims was to create a safe space for voices and discussion, and clearly it was the concerned and sincere participants who carried the day and made it worthwhile. They made a stimulating brew that bubbled and steamed from beginning to end. Everyone present partook and stirred the pot. Hopefully we opened a door for the decolonial ‘to be enacted by emergent processes’.

Leading up to the event on 4 November I was nervous. How would it go? Would it be successful? It  calmed me and gave me confidence to know the calibre of our participants and having experienced the power of minds coming together. When Angela Jansen and I visited the classes of art students in ArtEZ (Arnhem) and iArts (Maastricht) to garner student participation for our event, we were ‘carried’ by the students’ insights and classroom dynamics, which gave us just as much food for thought as it hopefully gave them. I have experienced comparable dynamics in North Sumatra when visiting weavers, and I have grown to highly respect a particular skill that Indonesian people have of creating ritual and acting and speaking ‘in the moment’.

The question is how to channel the energy that emerges? What next? One of the challenges for us organizers was to achieve the right balance between ‘feeding’ our participants the framework of ‘decoloniality’ while offering that safe and constructive space for exchange, never restricting the latitude for pluriversality. That the Jan van Eyck wishes to continue to focus on climate urgency into the future opens the door still wider for the conversations from 4 November to achieve their potential. To quote once more from the 2016 Middelburg Summerschool on Decoloniality, “the decolonial option is a way to entering the process of delinking”. Surely our focus next year must be on the praxis of decoloniality and we must move beyond discussions. How to realize this? It becomes clear that for the next step we must turn to the participants from 4 November. Just as they carried that day, they collaboratively shoulder our past, present and future. I will contact them to poll their wishes and dreams. Readers of this blog may also get in touch. Next year will be upon us quickly enough — and the next 8 -10 years will also go by in a no doubt tumultuous twinkling. We have work to do; we can only reconfigure our world collaboratively.


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