How to Hack Study Regulations

by: , January 14, 2020

Our lives and ways of living seem to be more and more regulated, evaluated, framed by contracts and regulations. Reviewing these texts from a feminist point of view from inside institutions such as schools can be interpreted as an act of feminist pedagogy.

— Intro

Most of the time, when you arrive in a community, you inherit the rules of that community. They have been written over time and are often a reflection of an era, sometimes long past. And yet, they govern our daily lives. They are often a place where the patriarchy holds sway. We just have to accept, submit and sign up to them, and certainly not call them into question.

— Context

First, a bit of context: This performative action took place in a Higher School of the Arts named E.R.G. (École de Recherche Graphique, Brussels). We prefer to write it as erg because of the reference to the unit of measure of energy (from ancient Greek εργον). It’s so much more fun not to be able to pronounce it easily.

The erg’s pedagogical project is to forge a series of practical and discursive tools that can be freely appropriated by the students, whatever the direction of their artistic practices in the future. This project generates teaching processes that prioritise experimentation and institutes research at its core by considering its methodologies, fields of investigation, discourses and economies as well as its capacity to nourish trans-artistic dialogues. Indeed, in some of our classrooms, teachers and students practice horizontal pedagogy, self-evaluation, and a sharing of group authority. In these cases, the project becomes a collective pedagogical practice. Especially in these days of turbulence (political, environmental, social, economic, etc.), we invite students to experiment with new ways of approaching their artistic projects and their art scenes by engaging in critical approaches, collectively negotiating the budgets required for art projects, and connecting their practices with their surrounding environments.

Like many art schools, the erg promotes itself as a very open-minded school with a range of great people who promote freedom and equality. Despite this wish, systemic discrimination leads to sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia; it is, after all, a subset of society. Students are mainly white and economically privileged, and only a few of them need to apply for scholarships to be able to afford to attend. Teachers are also mainly white and privileged, as in so many art schools; the Masters degree, the school’s most prestigious qualification, is led by six straight white men in their fifties.

In 2016, Laurence Rassel, a well-known cyberfeminist, became 
the headmistress of the school. This crucial moment in the history of erg allowed several people to come out as feminist, gender concerned or queer. A research group named Teaching to Transgress*(1) (referring to bell hooks’ book) came out from these coming outs, including mine. As a teacher in the Graphic Design section for 10 years, I was more and more concerned about the lack of spaces for students to develop art and projects dealing with these issues without finding allies among the teaching team.

Each year, an intellectual seminar takes place at the erg. In January 2018, the decision was taken to create a special edition of the annual seminar: No Commons without Commoning. Rather than one speaker after another for two days, we would set up empty tables in the largest room of the school.

No Commons without Commoning aimed to connect to stories and experiences of collective forms, practices of words, modes of making images, objects and spaces, all of which deal with the common.

Our group Teaching to Transgress* took our place at the table. Then we waited. When we were joined at the table by a group of ten students and teachers, we began to discuss the issue at hand: what makes a framework for a community. We began to work on the Study Regulations, with a feminist, post-colonial and queer perspective. We created a new text collectively (see above for the document that accompanies this essay). This was to be a work of fabulation, with a certain sense of humour, where power structures were overturned. Even after the seminar we continued to work on it in secret from time to time over the next two months, until the text was ready to send to all the members 
of the school. We changed the title of the Study Regulations from R.O.I. (from the French Règlement d’Ordre Intérieur — K.I.N.G. in English), to R.E.I.N.E. (Q.U.E.E.N. in English). 
The typographical aspect of the document plays also with the codes of an authentic administrative document (numbering the articles, typographic choices, columns, etc.) to sow trouble.

As a performative act, with the agreement of our headmistress this document was sent officially to all our school staff and students in the guise of the real new Study Regulations. A debate in the form of a General Assembly was planned to discuss each point on Friday 20 April 2018.

— Ideological criticism

We received several ideological attacks. One of the main complaints was ‘feminism is an ideology – you can’t bring it into school, you have to stay neutral’. By re-writing the Study Regulations, we wanted to demonstrate how its norms and rules are deeply ideological; it’s called the patriarchy. Some of our colleagues realised at this stage how deeply the patriarchy was anchored in our supposedly open-minded school and how each posture and behaviour is ideological. How could it not be! During these debates we tried as much as possible to move beyond the gender divide, to think through transfeminism to rid ourselves of gender binaries whether or not we identified as trans.

‘You are calling for more freedom and open minds but you want to install rules and frameworks’ said our respondents, mainly white men in their fifties who didn’t seem to notice how many rules they themselves imposed all the time. For once, we played with their system. When inequalities affected them, when they were afraid to lose privileges, they reacted immediately.

Of course, we didn’t want to impose new rules, but rather to discuss them collectively. That’s why a General Assembly took place, one month after the text was disseminated, to bring together all the people from theschool who wanted to participate (from scholars, to teachers, to administrative staff). At that time, we were told that we were acting ‘as a commando’. Again, the people who spoke about us in these terms did not come to express their point of view at the meeting.

— Rethinking the art school (2)

I will not go through all the articles one by one, but I can describe some of them and the real (re)actions that took place at school after this General Assembly, which gathered around 50 members of the erg.

First, some of our colleagues really thought it was the new official text for the Study Regulations – they were totally taken in by the fiction. Presumably they had not read the text all the way to the end, or they would have seen the surreal humour which steadily increases through to Article 12. A special irony is that even a teacher from the Speculative Fabulation Masters degree was fooled, and now this performative action is given as an example in his own course – probably the best compliment we received.

  • Article 12
  • There are regular Queer and bondage parties, where anyone entering the building has to be tied to furniture, walls, doors in the school and spend the night there.

They probably stop their reading at Article 1 about inclusive writing, a hot topic in 2017 in the French speaking community. Regarding this article, we received this email :

‘As a linguist and grammarian, I obviously regret not being able to be with you. I could have presented the neutral and objective point of view of both grammar and linguistics on this subject.’

This person, who wasn’t present at the assembly (a frequent behaviour among critics), didn’t neglect to mention his qualification first.

As for linguistics, Éliane Viennot’s book Non, le masculin ne l’emporte pas sur le féminin !(3)  shows that masculinising the French language was a political decision during Richelieu’s period. Who talks about neutrality? Ready for the whip?

  • The hegemony of the ‘objective’, ‘impartial’ and ‘neutral’ point of view will be punished (see Article 19: BDSM / Whip).

— Gender Fluid — Bye Bye Binary

This debate around inclusive writing appears to us as an opportunity, particularly in the field of typography, to imagine other possibilities for non-binary representation inside a set of typographic glyphs. The one-week workshop ‘Bye Bye Binary’(4)  took place six months after the Study Regulations project in order to extend the debates about inclusive writing. We gathered 25 type designers and activists to design together what could be the future of our own writing and language, even going as far as creating new suffixes to form a new lexical unit. This workshop proposed to explore new graphical and typographic forms, including the work of new glyphs (letters, ligatures, midpoints, linking or symbiosis elements). This research will continue in 2020 as part of the Teaching To Transgress Toolbox program.

— Building a pirate library

Article 2 contains the idea of building a physical and digital pirate library for sharing activist texts. This idea sprouted in the head of a very active little group during the General Assembly with students and teachers who built later a physical and digital space, as well as a homemade book scanner.

  • Article 2: Concerning the library and its books
  • When the author identifies themself as a man, cisgender, heterosexual and white, their books will be moved to the archives, to recall, on the one hand, that this is a point of view among others, on the other hand, that the latter is hegemonic.

— Pay for your privileges

Article 3 was inspired by an experiment led by a pop-up lesbian bar in Brussels, Mothers and Daughters. They decided to display two price lists for drinks in their bar:(5) one if you self-identify as a privileged person with a higher price and a second price, cheaper, if you self-identify as not privileged. When you are in front of this double price list, you have an introspective reflection about your own level of privilege in society. Ok, I am a girl, but I am white, I have a job and am in good health so I can pay the higher price to adjust the total amount for the community.

— Digital Non Binary

In Article 4 we wrote a long utopian list of new queer artistic courses that seem meaningful to us. In 2018, I co-created, with Stéphanie Vilayphiou, the Digital Non Binary class, which questions how the majorities (nationalities, origins, sex, age, social class) who design our digital objects (tools, interfaces, algorithms) influence the minorities in their way of producing, creating, living on a daily basis. We were quite proud that this program was included in the official student syllabus. For once, it was not left in the margins.

— At least 50% 50%

In Article Cis we called for the total exclusion of men from the composition of juries. After our performative action, the educational management board has set up a system of equal election between men and women for use when electing its own representative members. Incredible: it took until now for this to come into effect.

  • Article Cis: Composition of juries
  • The juries are composed of at least five members, including five women. No academics. No artists.

Impressed by our common reading of The Tyranny Of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman(6)  and our shared attempts (and difficulties) to hear all voices equally, our group Teaching To Transgress* tried to establish some protocols inspired by shared experiences and creative tools. Our shared document about this subject is still under construction(7)  and all contributions are welcome. This initiative is related to Article 7 & 8 about Occupation of space and time.

  • Article 7 : Occupation of space and time
  • In order to prevent the common space from reproducing the same oppressive patterns as those of the world around us, several rules will be implemented concerning the occupation of space:
  • the proportion of cis heterosexual white men should not exceed 30% for each spatial unit (hall, corridor, workshop, etc.). When this percentage is exceeded, one or more of them must leave the room to maintain a healthy mix. 
  • this rule also applies to speaking in mixed assemblies: the speaking time of cis heterosexual white men must not exceed 30% of the total time of the discussion.

— Vegan or cannibal

The signage of the toilets was solved by one of our students, Justine Sarlat. In order to make the toilets more inclusively non-gendered, Justine replaced existing pictograms on toilet doors with the drawing of a urinal or a toilet bowl. It seems to make so much sense to draw what you will find behind the door instead of trying to represent people with patriarchal symbols, skirts included. 

  • Article 10: Toilets
  • The toilets of the school will now be renamed for alternative uses:
  • Vegan and cannibal toilets
  • Toilet for maniacs and fairies of the house
  • Toilets for men who are having their period and women who pee standing

— Dealing with authorities

It seems archaic but, in higher schools in Belgium, a medical examination is mandatory to be able to receive your diploma. Particularly for people in the process of transition, this can be very intrusive. That’s why our administrative staff asked the authorities in charge whether our school could choose a specific doctor, an ally who is also concerned by these issues. This question is still pending…

  • Article 13: Medical examination
  • The school rejects the imposition of a compulsory medical examination and offers instead a session of self-health and gyno-andro-genital self-observation, for the re-appropriation of knowledge of our bodies.

— Times & Spaces

Writing a joint(8) article about Feminist Pedagogies for the French-speaking publication Culture & Démocratie,(9) one of our conclusions was that giving times and spaces is a feminist practice of pedagogy.

Since the arrival of Laurence Rassel at erg’s direction, a whole series of times and spaces have been set up quite rhizomatically and are connected to each other on these issues of feminism and pedagogy.

This project, transforming the school’s Study Regulations, emerged from the physical space of the table that Laurence gave to the Teaching to Transgress* group during the seminar No Commons Without Commoning. We did not know what we were going to do, which was very scary. But from this first space, many others have resulted from this collective writing. Feminist pedagogies tend to make babies!

Maybe the strongest result of this action is that it could be repeated in other contexts, in other places where commons are shared, from sports clubs to primary schools to workplaces. I can only encourage you to replicate this action in the communities in which you participate. And from now, when you arrive in a new community, don’t hesitate to reconsider the regulations that govern your team — even before playing basketball. From my point of view, it’s a feminist act.

———— August 2019.

 

Notes

(1) Teaching To Transgress* is an initiative which started at the erg in 2017 to create spaces for teachers and students to exchange experiences around questions of gender, post-colonialism, and intersectional, queer and situated feminisms in the pedagogy of art. Teaching To Transgress* is an attempt to fill a gap in art schools, where people who are trying to address these topics must often do so in isolated ways in the margins of official programs. Several encounters have taken place from 2017 to 2019, gathering people coming from different countries, different schools in different artistic and theoretical fields. From October 2019 to June 2021, Teaching To Transgress* will be extended to a 2-year international Erasmus Programm for fellows from erg Brussels (Belgium), I.S.B.A. Besançon (France) and Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg (Sweden): Teaching To Transgress Toolbox.

(2) This title refers to the talk by Laurence Rassel. Thursday, 1 March 2018, @HeK, House for Electronic Arts in Basel. https://vimeo.com/269943587

(3) Viennot, Éliane (2014), Non, le masculin ne l’emporte pas sur le féminin !, Donnemarie-Dontilly: Éditions iXe.

(4) www.genderfluid.space

(5) www.mothersanddaughters.be/menu-food

There is a documented difference in wages, education, support and economic and social freedoms for many of us due to our ethnicity, gender and/or sexuality. At Mothers & Daughters we use a pricing system that tries to address this gap.

(6) Freeman, Jo aka Joreen (1972), The Tyranny Of Structurelessness, Vol. 2, No. 1 of The Second Wave. www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm

(7)  https://annuel.framapad.org/p/teachingtotransgress-discussions

(8) with Alexia de Visscher, Xavier Gorgol, Bernadette Kluyskens, Laurence Rassel, Carolina Serra and Stéphanie Vilayphiou.

(9) www.cultureetdemocratie.be/productions/view/culture-la-part-des-femmes


REFERENCES

Adamczak, Bini (2016), ‘Come On. About a New Word Allowing to Speak Differently about Sex’, Mask Magazine, www.maskmagazine.com/the-mommy-issue/sex/circlusion (last accessed 16 August 2019).

Freeman, Jo aka Joreen (1972), The Tyranny Of Structurelessness, Vol. 2, No. 1 of The Second Wave, www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm (last accessed 16 August 2019).

hooks, bell (1994}, Teaching to Transgress : Education as the Practice of Freedom, Oxford: Routledge.

Viennot, Éliane (2014), Non, le masculin ne l’emporte pas sur le féminin !, Donnemarie-Dontilly: Éditions iXe.

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