INVITATION TO IMAGINE LEARNING OTHERWISE
"A multicultural and liminal learning landscape where one learns from multiple sources of knowledge, such as the scientific, the traditional, the decolonial and — above all else — the relational!"
Cēsis Pluriversity is the official New European Bauhaus ambassador and transformation of learning place. It is a school without an address, an experimental and informal education research & design project - liminal learning landscape where the whole city becomes school and education is poetically experienced without borders.
We are mapping the arriving futures and thereby conceptualizing learning environment where knowledge communities (learning communitas) can collectively imagine, articulate, generate and integrate knowledge and skills appropriate and adaptive in the futures more and more characterized by:
climate crisis (including unprecedented epidemics relational to the anthropogenic load on natural ecosystems);
subsequently emerging geopolitical tensions and socio-economic catastrophes;
displacement, migration and refugee crisis of millions;
unprecedented urbanization in the form of refugee camps, slums, megacities — all becoming the dominating urban environments;
above all — the globally local impact on Latvia and each on of us.
Not a SCHOOL in the city, but the city as a SCHOOL
Cēsis Pluriversity is an educational-activities-based initiative exploring approaches to adult education that strengthen the community, and, instead of erecting a new building in Cēsis, it seeks to create such urban conditions and communitas that transform the whole of Cēsis into an alternative learning environment.
The idea of Cēsis Pluriversity is rooted in the "Urmadic University" and "The Studio at the Edge of the World". Their learning communities continue their journey on different parts of the world, including Latvia and Cēsis.
Cēsis Pluriversity asks a simple question:
“What futures are arriving to us and what do we need to learn to adapt (within) them?”
Given the context of what is happening all around, there are reasonable grounds to believe that, University as an institution is experiencing crisis in every sense of the word. Cēsis Pluriversity is intended to, by the use of de-re-construction(to unlearn in order to relearn), transform the generally accepted higher education approaches and create circumstances (environment of knowledge and landscape of care), in which the whole town of Cēsis becomes an alternative educational environment by connecting the existing and, if necessary, creating new sites, making them into the auditoriums of Cēsis Pluriversity.
For this purpose the chosen time frame is 30 years, divided successively into four phases of the project:
Imagination (2020 - 2027);
Cultivation (2028 - 2035);
Construction (2035 - 2042);
Dwelling (2043 - 2050) .
In August 2019, the first phase of imagining (research and conceptualization) commenced, during which, in tandem with local and global community, publicly-open lectures, discussions, workshops, seminars, forums and summer schools are organized, to create such educational content that in return creates itself.
This being so, Cēsis Pluriversity is nothing but a respectful invitation to imagine learning otherwise!
Cēsis Pluriversity is a place of gathering for Geography, Design and Philosophy
Geography is a science that investigates and describes the world. Reasonably, a question could arise — what is there to be investigated today when the entire Earth has already been mapped both in nature and through satellites to the accuracy of a few meters?
Yet, in the dynamic world that is today, once again, mapping has become a crucial task, like in the epoch we call the Great Exploration. We are seeking to better understand the processes in nature and their interaction with society, analyzing routes to development and the dead ends. We are also looking for ways to inventory and map the values that the Earth offers.
Already traditional geography has involved the natural, social, and humanities aspects of science and research methods, but the challenges of nowadays require a new, integrated – transdisciplinary approach.
Cēsis Pluriversity could be a way to implement it.
Going beyond the usual definitions, we can move nearer to the understanding of design by viewing it as one of the basic characteristics of our human species.
The design manifests itself as our ability to imagine what does not exist yet and then, in the course of a structured process, to combine it into artefactological systems with the capacity to further develop not only themselves, but also the rest of the world.
Which artefacts and their systems brought into the reality the cultural and sociomaterial environment that you were born in? How have the artefacts created in that culture and lifestyle been shaping and continue to shape their creators?
The hand guides an instrument and touches the world with it, just as the world touches us through this instrument.
Design is an open question: what is natural at all? If it is in human nature to create, doesn't everything artificially created become something natural?
Cēsis Pluriversity begins its journey at times characterized by monumental, unpredictable changes. Although the origin of Philosophy has been associated with Socrates, before him were Herakleitos and Parmenides, who often — possibly by misunderstanding — are described in contrast to one another.
The first one is remembered with the observation that everything is constantly flowing and changing, and the second — that nothing really changes. Perhaps, now is time to think again which one of them had seen the reality more clearly.
Philosophy, for all its indefinability, predominantly revolves around issues like “what really is?”, “how to know anything?”, and “what should we do?”.
Familiarity with the best answers that have been found to these questions in the history of humankind, can offer helpful guidance in the times of uncertainty. Therefore, Philosophy's role in the triad of the faculties of Cēsis Pluriversity seems essential.
The last three years have proven impossible can become possible. We now live in conditions unimaginable just a few years ago. Though as much as we still struggle to cope with this new normal, there is no point to return to. We can’t stitch the future to the past. We won’t even try to get back to the behaviour that actually led us into this mess. As Tony Fry says: "We need to learn thinking that thinks other thinking". We need to redirect our greatest collective intelligence project — education.
We do not take care - we make it!
City as Pluriversity
What happens to the city when it is experienced as a diverse learning environment? What happens to a school when classrooms are expanded and dissolved into the urban fabric?
Indian author Suzanna Arundhati Roy in her essay "The Pandemic is a Portal" writes:
“Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality."
Suddenly the impossible has become possible. The invisible is visible and vice versa. At the same time, what once seemed so obvious and accessible — 'within a hands reach' — has become impossible and unreachably far. If we look at today from the vantage point of merely two years ago, from the places where we were individually and collectively, highly likely, many of us would find what is happening today unthinkable.
Our places have turned upside down and switched purposes. Bedrooms have become disco rooms, balconies have become movie recording studios and living rooms — everything else and nothing at once. Parks and forests have become our havens that, like rockets, promise to take us out of the cities which have become the bridgeheads of any military tension. Amidst it all, the greatest leadership we see is in adolescents who scream in our faces:
"STOP! We want a future with a future. Not a future, loaded as a weapon with nothing but destruction pointed at ourselves."
If, from yesterday's positions, today can seem unrealistic and make us long for the normality (whatever it is), then looking from tomorrow's positions, today is full of possibilities to imagine the unimaginable and create preconditions for exactly the different, not the accustomed to become the norm.
At the epicenter of such mapped thinking-area is education as one of the fundamental features of our human species. With the help of it, humanity has built a world in the world, namely, all the artefactological systems of our creation that ontologically continue to create (transform) not only themselves but also their creators – us.
Which artefacts and their systems brought into the reality the cultural and sociomaterial environment that we were raised in? How have the artefacts created in such culture and lifestyle been shaping and continue to shape their creators? In the context of such questions, education, which is inextricably linked and, in return, derived from all of the above, is, at a fundamental level, considered to be a design project. Consequently, the question — what education really means— gains particular importance.
Presumably for the majority of the society is clear — what is happening will leave deep traces and make us rethink how we are learning, why we are doing that, what is approaching us from the future, and what type of collective intelligence project (education) is needed to make society as a whole and individually able to adapt to the future and mitigate its negative effects, by confronting its challenges in a sustainable and meaningful way. Cēsis Pluriversity is an attempt to respond to these challenges.
The aim of the project is to collectively imagine, through a variety of design research methods, an education that is informed in global relations and physically situated in local problems. Its content must constitute critical, surroundings-based pedagogy that is unmediated and fits in the local landscape and seasons. Thus creating the preconditions for the development of sustainable, self-sufficient and alternative economic, societal and cultural models.
The project is run by "Cēsis Art and Design education center" in cooperation with the placemaking team "nēbetjā", creative industries centre "Skola6", and artist residency center "Rucka".
Cēsis Pluriversity is a glocally situated community of scholars, researchers and practitioners that defines itself as an "experimental non-formal education research and design project that, at times when it isn't attached to specific spaces, at its deepest level, is attached to its place — Cēsis".
Cēsis Pluriversity materializes itself as regular on-site and online learning events with the annual central activity — a summer school during which a plan for the next year curriculum is mapped. From this outlook, it is an iterative process that, in addition to the above, studies the public open space and maps those sites of Cēsis where, the creation of outdoor “classes” in the form of learning – community gardens would be possible.
This being so, Cēsis Pluriversity is nothing but a reverent invitation to other-kind-of and non-formal learning, which aspires to establish a Universitas or a learning community! To create an adaptive but definite academic structure, Cēsis Pluriversity is a place where Geography, Design and Philosophy meet.
Cēsis Pluriversity is not a project of Cēsis, or a project that is in Cēsis — it is the project Cēsis. It's an idea, it's a secret, it's an atmosphere and it's the facades of buildings and a starry sky. It is a thinking that, at the center of the city, puts plurality as the path to the future of sustainment, environmental politics and critical learning.
Learning for us is an act of art - it’s poiesis. Through this process we bring into reality something that did not exist before
Poiesis is making. It is work of the hand. And work of the hand is to make care. It is making of making that recognises learning as becoming. It brings forth poiesis as doing the making of oneself. The everbeing-lasting-expanding relational complexity we can simply call the web of life is available to us not exclusively but fundamentally through the hand.
As everpresent makers of the worlds we easily recognise the outward movement of the work of the hand - to bring things into the world. We master this one way, although it always works (!) both (all) ways and relations at all scales at the same time, all the time. The where of here is relational.
Learning as poiesis happens only under conditions in which we do the making of ourselves not only indirectly but in ontologically directed thought and action. To learn from the perspective of poiesis is to make oneself.
The pinnacle of the church tower (on the left) symbolises the Faculty of Philosophy of Cēsis Pluriversity, which is an insistent landmark towards the top and the bottom, towards what lies outside and inside of us.
The West Tower of Cēsis medieval castle (in the middle) symbolises the Faculty of Design of Cēsis Pluriversity, which is our ability to understand the world while simultaneously actively creating it.
Riekstu mound (on the right) is the earliest inhabited site in Cēsis and it symbolises the Faculty of Geography of Cēsis Pluriversity, which is the primordium of any thought or deed. To think or to do, we first need to be somewhere.