Feelings can be valuable knowledge

Hans Bryssinck in conversation with School of Love

In October ‘21 School of Love (SOL) worked together with the Broederschool from Sint-Niklaas. School of Love prepared for a week, and the following week they met with 17 high school students and 3 teachers in Voo?uit in Gent. That experience formed the starting point of the following conversation.

What name would you give to this thing you did with the students: a workshop, an encounter,…?

- We considered that we were not giving a workshop, but rather that it was something we created together. So for me, it was a bit in between a workshop and an encounter.

- I think a lot about the word “encounter” and what it means. I agree that what School of Love is trying to do is shift some elements of a space where some people offer and others receive towards everybody becoming practitioners. The way I use language, I’m happy with the word “workshop” and that there is a possibility for different experiences and discourses behind that word.

If I would ask the students, what do you think they’d say about what happened in that workshop-encounter?

- That they recorded voice messages for each other.

- That at the end of the day we were always standing in a circle holding hands.

- Many of them would say that they cannot explain what it was, but that it felt good.

And what do you think they would say about the effect the week had on them?

- They mentioned that they felt respected. That surprised me, that they had to mention it, that it could have been an option not to feel this way.

- Almost every day, somebody had to cry.

- … we opened a bit the pack of emotions and feelings…

- They would say that feelings can be valuable knowledge, to process together.

- They took the word “love” also as an invitation for that.

- One pupil said that he realized school is not only about clear facts and clear information, but also about vague processes, where you don’t really know what you are doing.

Could you tell me a bit about what happened in those 2 weeks?

- On the first day of the first week we took the time to arrive in the space and to see how we relate as a group to the topic, and to the coming task.

- The aim was to find out what the urgency was that each one of us was experiencing at that moment, in the world, in our personal life, or in our artistic practice; an urgency that we felt would be worthwhile to spend time with. Sharing those urgencies was also a way of getting to know each other. And then we asked ourselves: what do these urgencies have to do with love? So in a way we gave ourselves a bit of a workshop around those questions. And then we thought: how would it be to share these urgencies with the pupils? We decided to focus on the agency each of us has to change what feels disturbing in the reality we live in. And we designed methods that are both artistic and pedagogical, that would allow to deepen into this with the pupils.

- Also, because it is challenging to lead such an encounter as a collective, we tried to understand the care and the practices of care that were needed between us, for working together. So it was about creating a trust between us, a trust that we could carry into the second week.

- I noticed this progressive building of trust. It brought about a transformation in our perception of things, for instance of time. It felt like a miracle. Through this trust and through this idea of learning together, you could almost feel what the other person feels. You are not only in your mind, but you can also leak your mind in the mind of the other person, to see through their eyes, or think through their thoughts.

Were there things in the way you approached this encounter-workshop that were new or surprising to you?

- What felt most surprising was when there was space for improvisation in our schedule. For example, two people started singing something one morning. We tried to enlarge this to the whole group and had a spontaneous singing-humming-melody-finding-moment with everybody.

- There was a very, very deep experiencing of knowledge and its transformation that not only involves the mind and the thinking, but that involves something that goes beyond language. Not just the organs, nor only the body … but some deep knowledge in transformation that involves all these dimensions together.

- The activities in which we had created a frame for all of us to be in the same boat, in which we would take part in the same way as them. For example, when we had to write a letter to a future entity about the reality that each of us lives in. For me it was very strong to share my letter with them and to get feedback about it. I remember that I felt that I was bringing myself in the conversation the way I am, and not thinking too much about the differences, in generation and background.

- Because of the fact that we were 7, somehow the dynamic between us became a big part of the whole experience. That was the most exciting pedagogical experiment. What does it mean to teach, guide, facilitate as a collective? I think for them we were teachers, but teachers of a different kind.

This idea of creating a frame for everybody to be in the same boat, would you say that is one of the intentions of School of Love?

- I see it as a premise of SOL, that we can participate equally, so that the people involved in a process become a part of it. In some situations it is idealistic, but in general that is our tendency.

Why is equality in participation important for you? What is it related to?

- This value of equality is very, very important but I also have difficulty to say why.

- I would like to be more precise: it is not about equal participation but about the fact that each person can participate with its own qualities. Since quite some time, I try to acknowledge the importance of each single being, including animals, things, objects, … in a way that dissolves dichotomies of good <> bad, young <> old, experienced <> non experienced, high level education <> basic education, small animals <> enormous animals, … and to find the importance in each of these categories and beings, and to give them the same importance. It is like an orchestra that is contributing to the world as it is. The first time I encountered the School of Love, I had the feeling there was a space for care, listening, to be listened to, and these are qualities that I find important to arrive at when giving equal importance to all beings. For me it is important to explore it, and to find ways to put it in practice, through what we do, to somehow acknowledge it and cherish it.

- The importance is somehow on how I approach and care for other people, in my practice and in my private life, in how much you give and receive. When you engage with others, to also take care of that relationship. So how do we do this…? By acknowledging the presence of others, by taking responsibility. But it’s also like a loving relationship, where everybody is taken care of in the same measure, that there is kind of an equality…

- Each person there wanted to learn something from the situation, each person was invested with the aim of learning something, but it doesn’t mean we learn things in an equal way. We produced collective activities and each one produced individual knowledge. The collective aspect was the way the knowledge was produced.

- I have a hard time to articulate it, but I find it important to bring it up. It can happen that there is a fear of taking power, and that it remains unclear what needs to happen, that there is a lack of guidance, and I have the feeling sometimes it has to do with a fear of authority, or a fear of the questions that have to do with authority and power, because it is very hard in our times to engage with power and authority. I observe it in me, and I observe it when it happens in group situations, and whether it is good or bad is maybe not the question.

- Maybe it is time to create another model, one based on trust. If in a group people trust each other, you don’t have to be a leader or express authority in order to do things.

Could you tell me about some concrete things you have done that can illustrate how you work on trust?

- The trust is held inside the rituals of opening and closing a day. Within that, there is a possibility to share whatever you’re feeling, knowing it will be received, that there is a space to express things. I think that practice is very strong, because it is a practice of welcoming each other, however we are in that moment, with our different realities and states. It is a bit a practice of radical acceptance: to allow to arrive as we are, and from there to start working. As opposed to be something, and from there be allowed to work.

- What builds trust in School of Love is that it is a long term thing, that there are regular meetings. But also, what builds trust, are certain individuals that I feel close to, where I feel close in philosophy. But there are also others with a very different approach. This makes our diversity, which is also a diversity of ideas. What builds trust is the willingness to come undone, a willingness to learn, a willingness to work, and that whoever wants to continue working, wants to do that in a way that is nice for everyone. It also has a lot to do with how to organize.

What are some of the other intentions of School of Love?

- Seeing the practice of love as openness. One of the characteristics of practicing love is opening to diversity. And from there, it is obvious and logical that this needs to happen in SOL.

- What is part of the aspirations of SOL, is that everybody is welcome. But as we try to create open spaces, we don’t always understand what it means. For instance: what does it mean to host somebody disabled? What does it mean to adapt to different needs? I am committed to elaborate on that. When everybody is here, how do we take care that in the end of the process, everybody feels that they can exist, and that they can participate?

- There is a core shared believe in SOL, which is also in the habits of this openness, that is: anybody has something to contribute and anybody can enrich each other’s space. There is no prerequisite. Your story, your skills, whatever they are, they can create something within this collective.

This idea of openness, and that anybody is welcome. Do you have example of how to put that in practice?

- I did my internship with Constant, where I created and coordinated a series of statements that creates a framework for what kind of space they want to create in their collaborations, and the behaviors they will not allow. I really subscribe to this: not everybody is welcome; racists are not welcome, sexist are not welcome. To have a common understanding of how to deal with events that could be oppressive.

So how would you imagine dealing with openness in School of Love?

- What I would like to develop for example, within our upcoming research trajectory, is a system, that if somebody wants to join the core group, that there is a person that checks in, who checks in with you, who asks about your needs. Somebody that is a referent, to transition into the new group, because that can be scary, there are many things that can be excluding. How to look at the exclusion that is at work and how to bridge somebody into the group?

What else do you imagine doing in the future that would be in line with this?

- What comes to mind is making a website as a way of formulating and presenting SOL, or to at least define whether this presentation needs to be there. To formulate things, to order things, to have a common framework.

- I would like to have more diversity in the group.

- More encounters with high school pupils and developing this practice further. We also intend to facilitate work sessions with artists and activists to dive deeper into practices of love, collective governance, inclusivity and creation of alternatives to individualistic tendencies through art and pedagogy.

The people who participated in the workshop-encounter are: Olga Bientz, Roger Fähndrich, Anna Housiada, Laura Oriol, Martina Petrovic, Irena Radmanovic and Adva Zakai from School of Love; the students and teachers from the Broederschool: Jolien De Daele, Yelena Vanhove, Warre De Bock, Eveline Meul, Lisa-Marie Hoskens, Tubagus Refan Mahendra, Jasper Van Vlierberghe, Julie Maes, Julie (Maïté) Renette, Mabelle Smet, Louis De Jonckheere, Anouk Beniers, Lore Vanderhenst, Lisa Malfliet, Iris Suetens, Rachne Henderick, Carmen Biesemans, Elias d'hollander, Annemie vandeputte

Other people that contributed are: Daan, Julien, Margot, Marieke, Matthieu, the technicians, the people working at the front desk, in the kitchen and the workers on the roof of Voo?uit.

The workshop-encounter was supported by the Broederschool (Sint Niklaas) and Voo?uit (Gent).