Creating a new University

No less, than creating a new university is our goal. Writing from Paris, here the third day of conference/workshop is getting hot. Bellow an update on what is happening with a short intro on the concept of the Urmadic University project. Memefest is collaborating with and supporting this project. Also I am leading (together with Anne-Marie Willis) a radical communication workshop in support to the project of the Urmadic University.

The University is in crisis. Can we create something that is a new form of a University and helps at the same time the current Universities to appropriate knowledge, ideas, networks that will help them to redirect their institutional politics? Have a read, get back to us if you are interested and drop by if you are in Paris now.


Institutional Change & Design Leadership
Breaking Into, Up and Out
Paris Hothouse July 10 – 13th 2011, American University Paris

Welcome to the HotHouse. We are more than pleased you have come and are excited by the prospect of the next few days. The event we have set out to create is not simply a gathering of kindred spirits for a few days but rather an ongoing and unstoppable process of affirmative change. Can this gathering create this momentum? Absolutely. We can be a collective entity, a network, a community, a force and an attractor if this is what we make ourselves. For this to happen everyone has to actively produce the activities that we have organized – all we have done is put a structure in place. What is built on it depends on the collective effort of ‘the company of producers’.

We have a very specific ambition. This is to build on the experience of the first HotHouse in Brisbane last year and thereby consolidate a change community that can move towards the forms of action we are about to explore. The global situation, in so many ways, has deteriorated over the last year. We are truly in an age of unsettlement. Any attempt to think and act in the present has to take this condition, as it spans the social, environmental, economic and psychological, into account. This imperative frames our time together.

These can be stated simply, but engagement in them is another matter:

• the remaking of education
• the remaking of design as a praxis beyond its professions and their restrictions of it as practice
• the mobilization of design remade against the nihilism that negates our future and life itself
• the building of a global change community of focused thinkers, activists and leaders
• confronting the price of taking action

Grounding the Conversation Framings via the Group Topics
The group topics have been selected to enable the larger conversation to be grounded in specific practices that can be questioned, explored and then relationally connected.

• Information and Radical Communication asks: what can ‘now’ be deemed radical and, thereafter, whether informational content itself can actually be made radical.
• Political Action invites the very nature of politics and action to be named and examined prior to the designation and undertaking of a ‘political act’.
• Transformative Education Content asks questions of what is to be transformed: how is education to be understood, and does content imply institutional context.
• New Practices asks of design: do such practices assume a failure of the old, what are they, how are they created, what do they aim to do?
• Change Communities, here discussion goes to what actually is community, what is to change and how can a community be constituted on the basis of acting toward change.

Making relational connection requires forming, ordering, examining and then reordering a question such as: how can a change community create and adopt new radical practices of communication that are able to transform educational content and context in line with a clear and progressive political intent understood through a rigorous situated analysis.

Last year, a long and over-ambitious elaboration of the ‘state of the world’ was presented. This year we will do the reverse, we will be brief. Whatever the problems named – environmental and ecological destruction, growing economic inequity within and between nations, increasing social dysfunction, the technological colonization of everyday life, a spreading political lacuna, or proliferating violence and injustice – all of them are relationally linked, they constitute a problem without a name, and they are subordinate to a causal vector. We, as the ‘most violent of animals’, are that causal vector from our very coming into being. Our violence is unbounded and touches everything.

In our unfolding age of unsettlement, there is a line running from Nietzsche to Heidegger, Fanon, Mignolo and beyond. It inscribes one clear message: ‘we’ in our difference have to change. Here then is the meta-design task to which one can argue that all designing must lead – the being that is not one, the animal that is human must be ‘redesigned’, recreated. Obviously this is no mere instrumental task but rather a massive ontological exercise.

Whatever we are, ‘we’ live in the space of what we were (and cannot continue to be) and what we need to become (and currently do not know how to create). Part of what we will be doing is trying to look into and beyond this space of in-betweeness.

It is the voice of one and the imminent conversation, qualifications and contributions of others. The utterances are openings.

The opening evening: getting a sense of the Urmadic University as a project

Opening sessions Day 1 and 2: presentations that place design education in the context of radical change, the idea of Sustainment and the experiments of breaking into, breaking up and breaking out; these to ‘feed’ group discussion.

Second morning session Day 1: getting to know your group and the issues it will deal with.
Afternoon session Day 1: group workshop on the group theme and its relational connections to other themes. To assist in both sessions see notes on the urmadic below.

Second morning session Day 2: Looking at an existing project and Q&A
Afternoon session Day 2: group workshop on institutional change – reformist and radical

First morning session Day 3: presentation by Oliver Feltham and Q&A
Second morning session Day 3: a design exercise
Afternoon session Day 3: group presentations and plans for 2013.

The intent of all this activity is to gain the means to move on. HotHouse number 3 will be a new project based format that builds on the attainments of this one.
This will be posted on the project website (www.theodessey.org). It will include a project pool –to be discussed.

These brief notes are very much about the orientation of conversation via the prompting of questions. They are clearly not a developed exposition of the complexity that each of the topics listed embodies.

1. On ‘ur’
As it has strayed over geography, time and language the word and prefix ‘ur’ appears to be firmly located in the uncanny.

Etymologically, the prefix ‘ur’ brings enormous paleo-historical, philosophical and linguistic complexity into play. Getting to the heart of this story would be a substantial research task in its own right. So what you are about to hear is a brief and limited account to expose why we have given its use so much weight.

First there is a geological narrative. ‘Ur’ was the name given to the primordial single continental landmass of a cooling planet Earth 3 billion years ago (the claimed actual age of the planet varies from 3.5 to 4.6 billion years).

Narrative number two starts at the world’s oldest city, Uruk, situated 250 kilometres south of Baghdad, on an ancient branch of the Euphrates in Iraq. It was the first major city of Sumer and was built around 7,000 B.P. As we move on the story gets richer. The use of the proper name and the prefix ‘ur’ starts to slide into the domain of the uncanny.

We can note that the first extant manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek have been designated Urtexts. The most significant of these is claimed to be Ezekiel 36-39. There are three versions of this manuscript with a number of theological positions contesting which was actually the true copy of the original. In this context we should also register the significance of the city of Ur in the Jewish faith. Named in Genesis (11:28-31: 12:1-4) as the birthplace of Abraham some four thousand years ago, who it is said (because of his Covenant with God) established the origins of what was to become the Torah and thereby the foundation of all Abrahamic monotheist faiths.

Perhaps the next linguistic appearance of ‘ur’ was the Roman Empire’s naming of the city ‘urbis’ and its inhabitants ‘urbs’. Yet there is no known link between ‘ur’ in the Indo-Iranian language’s names of the first cities of Southern Mesopotamia, and Rome, with its language in the Indo-European language group. But knowing how an ecology of mind transports ideas, this does not mean that no connection existed.

Next we find ‘ur’ used as a prefix in German for all that is ancient; for example, ‘urmensch’ (ancient/primitive people), ‘ursprung’ (origin), and ‘ursprache’ (primitive or ancient language).

Narrative number three of the ur prefix weaves through a variety of discourses and moments.
It starts with the notion of Urforms designated by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe through his contemplation of ‘abstract gardening’, and his ‘discovered’ ‘ur-plant’ – an ideal form that fused the qualities of all plants past and future. His way of seeing the ‘ur-plant’ centred on seeing it simultaneously in time and space. He named this ‘urphänomen’, an archetype, which he sourced in a ‘pagan view of nature’ and posited in ‘history.’ He believed he had revealed a convergence in time between the knower and the known.

Walter Benjamin, in what has been called his anthropological materialism, was influenced by what now might be called Goethe’s speculative realist ideas and by something far older. He linked Goethe’s notion of ur-forms back to those urtexts embedded in the birth of the Jewish faith. He then projected this forward to the confluence of photography, cinema, technology and history in a composite moment of appearance.
What was actually present to be seen for Benjamin was never just the image of one represented moment, but a gathering in one moment of past, present and potential. This is most easily grasped through cinema wherein image, movement, time and technology all converge and flow. Yet rather than trying to contain this understanding to any particular medium, Benjamin generalised it as a way of seeing everyday life, history, technology and change. In doing this he attached the ‘ur’ prefix to history (ur-history) to characterise how origin, history and phenomenal forms could all be viewed.

Echoing Goethe on archetype and Plato on seeing, Benjamin recognised that the transformation of a form of thought was also a transformation of sight. However, seeing was not taken to be neutral but subject to determinate forces – historical, economic and political. Here his thinking was inflected by his engagement with Marxism (especially his understanding of the relation between a mode of production and superstructural cultural forms, but without abandoning his mystical disposition as it was grounded in Hebrew ur-texts).

This strange mixture of thought shaped Benjamin’s work and his sensibility. This state of mind became most evident in his Arcades Project where what he saw was never simply of their moment of construction or encounter but the time of everything from the ancient onward that brought them into being. Now of course to bring something into being is equally to create what is concealed. This can be confirmed in various ways. Most directly, all things designed hide as well as reveal – this is a fundamental quality of design aesthetics. More generally all appearances travel with what they conceal. As for instance, as Martin Heidegger observed a number of times, reading a text is always an encounter with the said and the unsaid.

The very nature of the flow of narrative hides the unsaid. The implication of bringing together a thinking of presence and absence, time and space, past, present and future, in Benjamin’s hand produced a revelatory mode of making the world of everyday objects appear strange and mythic. Benjamin’s mode of relationality brought everything associated with origins and futuring to the present moment of ur-historical interrogation: not however, as transparent figures but as clues to be found, deciphered and read. His thinking exposed that the materially present of a particular moment of history is a gathering buried in human (designed) artefacts or events. The revelation, or as Benjamin called it ‘rescue’, of these objects or events he named as Jetztzeit – the act of exposing the ‘everlasting now’. This has been likened to the Nunc Stans of Aquinas and obviously the ‘Urphanomen’ of Goethe, but it equally resonates with the Nietzschean notion of eternal return.

2. On the ‘urmadic’
The urmadic names the fusion of the urban and the nomadic. It is based on the proposition that the foundational condition of our being is nomadic; we Homo sapiens have only been settled for about one sixteenth of our Earthly habitation. That we survived at all was predicated upon our ability to move when the environment became inhospitable. This puts into question the viability of cities as we current know them.

A trace of nomadism still remains and is being recreated in contemporary forms. It may again become the key to our species survival. But nomadism needs to be recreated in the context of existing and imminent circumstances, especially how we settle and live ‘in place’ in a growing condition of vulnerability. Three often inter-related factors are increasing the risks of many urban populations.

• Cities have often been built in inappropriate places (on flood-plains or geological fault lines, exposed to cyclonic weather, and so on) for what seemed sound pragmatic reasons: good fishing, excellent agricultural soil, the immediate availability of material resources like stone and timber.

• There has been a massive expansion of the land area, population size and density of many cities (at the extreme are mega cities of twenty and thirty million people, with the prospect of regional cities of over one-hundred million people). A great deal of this growth is ‘informal’, i.e., unplanned, lacking in services and infrastructure and functioning without the fabric of civil society.

• As their land area and populations expand, cities are at increasingly greater risk from ‘natural’ disasters and climate change related extreme weather events.

The mid and long term implication is that some major cities are likely to be destroyed and abandoned; others will be abandoned before they are impacted, some will be badly damaged, and some will, in whole or part, be moved. Effectively, the age of human settlement can no longer be taken as assured, with unsettlement becoming a widespread human condition (this is already the case in many Pacific Islands, Bangladesh and parts of sub-Saharan Africa).

3. Why talk of an urmadic university?
This conversation moves in two directions.

First, the Urmadic University is politically positioned as a response to the endgame of the modern university which has become ever more instrumental and bonded to service provision for hegemonic capitalism. It has become the post-Enlightenment institution without a project other than its pragmatic function. The endgame is likely to be a long and in this game there is a huge void – an acknowledgement of the attainments and the horrors of the Enlightenment. Yet it is out of this ‘university in ruins’ that the building of the new has to come. For this to happen there has to be an appropriation of energy and a transformative project from outside it. To say this is simply to draw on the lesson of how the modern university was created in the first place; it grew out of the first European juristic-theological university as this university appropriated reason as an emergent discourse.

Second, the actual form of the Urmadic University is based upon it being an institution ‘to travel with’ (rather than attend as a fixed place of learning) – this is to say it is an institution without a place. As such, a collective (‘this collective’) would be brought to situated problems so that the understanding to deal with them could be learnt. The intent being a nomadic accumulation of transformative engagement and understanding informed by critical enquiry of the problem in its immediate, relational and historically situated form. To this end the university becomes the catalyst in the building of a new culture of learning that is ‘futural’ – effectively a neu bildung based on taking action that makes time in the face of the negation(of time) by extant ‘defuturing’ anthropocentric action. Here then is not only a truly political university but one through which a new political imagination could be crafted.

4. What would be the ‘spirit and form’ of the urmadic university?
The spirit would be a mixture of fear and excitement, challenge and adventure, determination and rigour - all in the face of massive and deepening dangers. The form would be fluid and smooth. It would not be fixed, spatially contained and thus striated. Both the institution and its educational model would be nomadic. It can be pictured in cycles of arrival, work, and departure that produce a condition of continual learning.

5. How can the Urmadic University be positioned within a contemporary global context?
It would stand over and against ‘the crisis without a name’ (the un-named convergence of environmental, social and economic problems that constitute the force of the destruction of time). It would be positioned to challenge what is taken to be an inevitable growing condition of global inequity, while creating a space of imagination in the face of the unimaginable. Rather than protest, it would strive to establish a praxis that leads, inspires and attracts via ‘change action’ and its results. In this respect it can be viewed as a mobile ‘change platform’. Rather than bringing people together to establish consensus, it would work on the basis of ‘commonality in difference’. That which is common is agreement on the making of time (the process of sustainment) as the absolute priority directive of all actions. By implication, all who come to this university would subscribe to this as its operational ethos. It follows that single-issue modes of politics are seen to be non-relational and thus without efficacy even when they attain their objective.

6. What is the difference between the Urmadic University and other actions and institutions striving for change?

It’s mandate would be underpinned by redirection: recognition that no past political ideologies (including the plural forms of currently existing democracy) have the conceptual ability to take us to the future; that the creation of a new political imagination is a pressing imperative; that, as thinkers as diverse as Heidegger and Fanon realized, humanism has to be displaced by a ‘new human’; that ways have to be found to replace the ‘restrictive’ mode of exchange (exemplified by capitalism) with the ‘general’ economy (the condition of exchange of that which makes the very nature of Being possible).

Urmadic politics is the other of political gesturalism, which it deems as striated (and thus always contained – to occupy is thus is to be held in containment). In contrast, a dispersed politics of action in flow claims appropriateness in the face of the determinate power and agency of the problem without the name.

So framed the Urmadic University is a leading out (the essence of education), a gathering event beyond place (the essence of its spirit), situated action (the essence of learning that learns otherwise), and is nomadic (the essence of its contingency and availability to be appropriated).

The program for Hothouse Two has been structured to ensure that as much as possible is achieved over the course of the event. The Paris Hothouse is as much about creating a strong change community as it is about establishing new projects, design practices, educational content and political strategies; all this with the aim of changing institutional education.
HotHouse 2 will begin with the examination of three projects that are already underway, facilitated by the Urmadic University. This will provide an example of the kind of project the Urmadic University facilitates as well as give participants the opportunity to become involved in the projects. The three projects and their group leaders are - Kerala Ethnocidal Action: Anti-globalization counter cultural creation – with Tony Fry, Transformation City: The Detroit roadshow - going nowhere/going somewhere – with Chrisstina Hamilton & Kiersten Nash, Port Hedland: Launching the urmadic overplan – with Eleni Kalantidou & Bec Barnett. Following this introduction, groups will be formed to work over the entire event on a rigorous examination of educational institutional transformation via thinking, talking, reflecting, planning and acting. This examination will be structured around five strategic and convergent points of entry.
The three days of the Hothouse will be challenging but we also hope that you find them enjoyable. The agenda below is only part of the picture but we hope that it can initiate continuous conversations and ongoing action.

Tuesday 10th July: Opening Evening
17.00 – 18.00 Registration
18.00 – 18.10 Greeting
18.10 – 19.10 Three Ongoing Urmadic University Projects –

Port Hedland with Eleni Kalantidou &Bec Barnett:
Launching the urmadic over plan: Port Hedland, Australia, is set to become one of the world’s biggest ports. In this project the city becomes a case study of one of the major cultural issues that Australia, and other parts of the world, will face in this century: rapid urban growth against the backdrop of an unsustainable culture, in this case one based around mining. This project will present, via situational analysis and design fictions, a process of city re-creation based on new modes of habitation and the idea of the ‘urmadic city’.

Kerala Ethnocidal Action with Tony Fry:
The aim is to create an anti-globalisation counter cultural force in response to what is rapidly being destroyed as the high-speed modernising economy and culture arrives. We know this culture cannot be saved as is. We arrive to forge cultural partnerships able to initiate a process of translating existing, and generating new, cultural forms – these based on the identification and communication of what is significant in ‘the old’ to ‘the new’.
Detroit, Transformation City with Chrisstina Hamilton & Kiersten Nash:
A city going nowhere/going somewhere.
Detroit has become a symbolic focus of the life, death and possible rebirth of a city of modernity. Its lessons are global. As a place that has been made redundant, what is the story to take on the road? The presentation of this project will explore this issue in the context of the Urmadic University in terms of a situational analysis to pressing ‘futuring’ needs.

19.10-19:25 Briefing by Oliver Feltham
19:25-20:00 Group briefing led by group leaders

Wednesday 11th July: Day 1
8.30 arrival for 9.00 start
9:00 – 10:00 Opening presentation by Tristan Schultz, Zoe Yakimoff and Tony Fry
9:00 – 10:00 Opening presentation
10.00 - 12:30 In groups: knowledge audit, knowledge need, knowledge gap
12.30 - 13.30 Lunch
13:30 - 18:00 Workshop: theme + project + context (Afternoon Tea 16.00 – 16.15 to refresh your wits.)

Thursday 12th July: Day 2
9:00-10:00 Opening presentation by Tristan Schultz, Zoe Yakimoff and Tony Fry
10:00-12:30 Panel discussion and Q&A on change drivers: existing platforms and practices for institutional change.
Panel: Duncan Fairfax, Oliver Feltham, Liam Hinshelwood and Tom White.

12:30-13:30 Lunch
13:30-18:00 Group workshops: Breaking into, breaking up and breaking out (Afternoon Tea 16:00 – 16:15)

Friday 13th July: Day 3
9:00-10:00 Opening presentation by Oliver Feltham and Q&A
10:00-12:30 Group designing session

Brief: Having considered how your new forms of learning might be implemented at the end of yesterday formulate how these now might be specifically ‘instituted’ within the wider curriculum of the Urmadic University. What events or projects could be organised?

12:30-1:30 Lunch
1:30-14:30 Prepare a presentation of one future project for the other groups.
14:30-16:00 Project presentation and selection.
16:00-17:30 Next event announcement

Meetings at breakfast, dinner, midnight and dawn are up to you!


Group RED - Anne-Marie Willis and Oliver Vodeb
Zoe Yakimoff
Liam Hinshelwood
Scott Townsend
Barnaby Bennett
Ngaire Bissett
Sonia Matos
Marion Jicoulat
Blair Francey
Marion Lean
Svenja Bickert

Group GREEN - Oliver Feltham
Susan Stewart
Petra Perolini
Russell Hughes
Martin Avila
Steve Kierl
Tristan Schultz
Kate Catterall
Quoc Dang
Maja Grakalic
Carolin Jablonka

Group BLACK – Tony Fry
Matt Kiem
Tom White
Nikee Bannerman
Angelos Psilopoulos
Keith Owens
Ramia Mazé
Tega Brain
Gosia Rachocka
Edward Johansson

Group BLUE - Duncan Fairfax
Karl Logge
Eleni Kalantidou
Alok Nandi
Peter Hall
Anna Rzepcynski
Chris Edwards-Leis
Adam Charlton
Rebecca Steiner
Ka Man (Carmen) Shui

Group YELLOW - Bec Barnett
Tessa Zettal
Kierstan Nash
João Lutz
Håkan Edeholt
Giles Thomson
Catharine Rossi
Raju Rahman
Iva Serikova
Linda Kwon


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