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Art education at our school unfolds in a wonderful place. Once a medieval abbey, then a hospital, the Bijloke is now a hybrid site housing several cultural institutions. The surrounding gardens are as varied as the architectural styles and users of the historical buildings.

In the past, the proximity of nature, the knowledge of herbs and the presence of healthy air played a crucial role here. Today, as students and teachers inhabiting the school campus, we ask ourselves why the gardens are mostly used as spaces of recreation while they have so much more to offer.

How can we structurally embed the garden and its multispecies ecologies in our School of Arts? Can it become a source of inspiration, a reminder to responsibly consider our environmental impact and extend our knowledge about nature and ecology? Can the garden become a studio: a place for learning and unlearning? Garden Happenings invites the many islanders of KASK & Conservatory to leave the comfort zone of their studios. In the wilderness, they can meet each other, exchange knowledge and learn.

With Garden Happenings, a research platform initiated by a diverse group of students and teachers at KASK & Conservatory, we want to reflect on how we can integrate current ecological insights in an art school’s education project.

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Can we learn from the garden and how can we use it differently?

In the early twentieth century, there was a strong preoccupation with the benefits of sunshine and fresh air under the influence of the hygienist movement. Sanatoriums situated in alpine meadows and outdoor classrooms became the laboratory of Modern architecture. In Ghent, Henry van de Velde, for example, built an outdoor classroom on the flat roof of the University Library, which is now being reinstated as part of the renovation work. In times of global health crisis, the importance of open-air settings has again gained momentum. Could the Schools of Arts reevaluate its use of the gardens now that outdoor classes and 'forest schools' gain new prominence? Can the garden be used as a studio or as a place for learning and unlearning?

The gardens also have a significant role to play in environmental education, reflection and action. 2019 will go down in history as a time of global protests against global warming, exploitation and destruction. Millennial or younger adults urged elected officials to take action to reduce global warming, but two years on the protests have faded and the right to a healthy environment still isn't at the top of the priority list of issues. With Garden Happenings the school offers students and staff a platform for critical thought and creativity in relation to ecological concerns.

(questions posed by master student Lucas Lai)

How will the ‘culture of commons’ play out in the master plan for the green areas of the Bijloke?

Does the school buy renewable energy?  What kind of power plants supply the electricity that we use?

Do we currently compost food waste from the cafeteria and various other kitchens?

At the end of the school year when we have to empty our lockers, is it possible to organize a kind of recycling program for materials? 

Is environmental concerns part of the curriculum within all departments, if not, why?

Does the school have a position on environmental concerns, if so what is it, if not, why? 

What does ecology mean for this school?

Is it only about the natural environment or also about the people in the community that either serve in some capacity the school, or surround the physical campus? 

Does the school engage in fair wage practices?

Art education at our school unfolds in a wonderful place. Once a medieval abbey, then a hospital, the Bijloke is now a hybrid site housing several cultural institutions.The surrounding gardens are as varied as the architectural styles and users of the historical buildings. Functions changed, but the gardens stayed.

In the past, the proximity of nature, the knowledge of herbs and the presence of healthy air played a crucial role here. Today, as students and teachers inhabiting the school campus, we wonder why the gardens are currently mostly used as spaces of recreation.

How could we really structurally embed the gardens’ presence and its multispecies ecologies in our school of arts? Could these become a source of inspiration and a reminder of our responsibility toward our ecological impact and our knowledge of nature and ecology? Could the garden function as a studio or place for learning and unlearning?

In this podcast series, we invite artists, activists and thinkers with whom we try to figure out how we can integrate current ecological insights in an art school’s education project. Garden Happenings is a research platform initiated by a diverse group of students and teachers at KASK.

(All our podcasts are edited by Arezoo Khazan)

Episode 1
The Biloque

in conversation with Sébastien Marot
by Birgit Cleppe and Laura Herman

(play)

Episode 2
Learning from Open Akker

a meeting with Barbara Van Dyck in the field
by Godart Bakkers and Myrthe Van Rompaey

(play)

Episode 3
Mycelium Methodology

insights from the underground with Yamsine Ostendorf
by Godart Bakkers

(play)

In this first episode of the Garden Happenings Podcast we speak with prof. Sébastien Marot who wrote extensively on the intersection between architecture, urban design and landscape architecture. Unfortunately not in the open air of our gardens, but over zoom. We presented him the medieval Bijloke abbey garden via maps and images in order to pick his brain about how we can understand the meaning and future potential of a school garden for art education. Especially when it comes to how we pass on and acquire knowledge, and how this knowledge in turn can affect our practices. Starting from the distinction between wisdom and smartness, Sébastien Marot guides us through a series of references, highlighting the value of the lessons we can learn from the past - he discusses the art of recycling, the notion of intergenerationality and the importance of maintenance, care and repair over production.

In the second episode we interview political agroecologist Barbara Van Dyck on the ‘Open Akker’ field, surrounded by flowers and weeds, potatoes and buckwheat grains. Van Dyck currently works at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience in the UK and is a coordinating member of the Brussels and Wallon platform Agroecology-in-Action network. She works on questions around food sovereignty, technology, science and knowledge. We take the opportunity to talk with her about the origin and working of the Open Akker field and agroecology, but also ask for her insights regarding gardens as spaces of knowledge and learning.

In the third episode of our podcast we speak with researcher, curator, author and shitakii farmer Yasmine Ostendorf. As the founder of the Green Art Lab Alliance (a network of 47 cultural organisations in Europe, Latin America and Asia that strives for social and ecological justice) and former head of the Nature Research Department at the Jan van Eyck Academy (where she initiated the Van Eyck Food Lab), she is currently based at a food forest and mushroom farm in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Whilst tending shiitake she is working on her latest publication called 'Mycelium as Methodology'; a book about biomimicry of system-design through a mycological lens. It aims to strengthen communities, activist movements and other practices of self-organising. We talked with Yasmine about mycelium and the underground network of fungos: what are these networks, how do they work and what we can learn from them to create our own networks?

Earth and Resources

Workshop with BC architects

The Earth and Resources workshop was an introduction to earth as a raw material for structures and works of art. Each participating student had the opportunity to discover the possibilities of recycled earth (which normally ends up as rubble on the garbage heap) as a material. Everything happened under the expert guidance of the internationally renowned Brussels-based firm BC -architects and studies, who are frequently asked for their unique expertise on circular building in all kinds of design and construction projects.

First, students were invited to work on site with BC architects and studies in the workshop in Brussels. Following a more theoretical introduction, the students were invited to experiment with the different soil compositions and the so-called rammed earth technique.

The second part of the workshop took place in the gardens of the Bijloke, where the students dug and discovered the composition of the Bijloke soil, and investigated to what extent it could be used as a raw material.

Wide Ecologies

Learning from the garden in artist and institutional practices

in collaboration with Netwerk Fabriek, Aalst

curated by Laila Melchior

In times of the current sanitary crises, a growing necessity to invent new forms of interaction challenges the ways in which art institutions engage with audiences and local communities, also putting the architectural ensemble of the museum at stake. As an outdoor activity and a communitarian practice, gardening may offer many useful clues to twenty-first-century cultural practices, even beyond the defies imposed by the emergence of Covid-19.

During the week of March 15-19, 2021, the Curatorial Studies participants investigated the garden as a methodology that not only traverses the works of artists but that also can be found in new approaches for art initiatives. We delved into the possibilities of artistic and curatorial practices departing from the terrain, as well as from the principle of cultivating as a gesture of awareness and care towards the surroundings.

One of this research's main goals was to chart a network of agents, actors, and initiatives on the field to draw a better idea of how gardens can be inscribed into the contemporary art scene at a local level. The group visited various initiatives experimenting with the format of the garden according to a comprehensive understanding of ecology.

We explored the outdoor spaces around Netwerk Fabriek with ecologist Bart Backaert. We met with Sonia Dermience who gave an introduction to the urban garden of Cureghem and Flor Maesen introduced The Land of the Confused. We gathered at the WIELS Garden, introduced by Laure Goemans from the Wiels Team and stayed for an introduction to Park Poetik by Benoit De Wael, followed by a short walk with Lise Duclaux, who talked, among other things, about moles, roots, spontaneous plants and the domestication syndrome. We visited the permaculture Zenne Garden in Anderlecht with Kobe Matthys and participated in an Algae Diplomacy workshop with Filip Van Dingenen.

Our field research and discussions contributed on a theoretical level to the deliberations and debate currently held by Netwerk Fabriek, in Aalst. Apart from the documentation of the research conducted

Garden walk with Geert Heyneman

A walk in our Bijloke gardens with the city ecologist of Ghent

Guided by the Ghent city ecologist Geert Heyneman, the Garden Happenings team, together with STAM and the KASK facility management, explored the ecological wealth of the Bijloke gardens. We were all stunned. Not only does the Bijloke house unique species, the ecological system is both extremely vulnerable and persistent at the same time. We learned about a unique 50 year old moss that is growing on a low garden wall. It can be permanently damaged by sitting on the wall. We were explained as well that the grassland in some parts is valuable both from a historical and ecological point of view. It has recently been damaged by on-site works. This can be repaired by aerating the lawn. An easy but time consuming work. Can these types of lessons and interventions not become a part of the teaching at the school?

Garden Happenings is a platform that aims to gather the humming biodiversity of communities and practices at KASK & Conservatorium in the one thing that literally unites them: the Bijloke gardens. By inviting artists, activists, researchers, writers, philosophers and performers, we want to intensify the exchange of knowledge on ecology. We hope to strengthen our relation to our surrounding environment and to question the contemporary position of a fine arts academy like KASK & Conservatorium within the context of global warming and ecological mutation.

In the research project ‘Dierschap’ Glenn Deliège and Sylvie Van Damme explored why and how wild animals should play a role in urban planning. Different workshops organised within the scope of the project explored amongst others the needed adaptations to the bijloke site in order to create an environment in which humans and animals co-exist.

On the Garden Happenings route during Graduation, the visitors are invited to learn about artistic practices that address the environment and the multispecies ecologies of the Bijloke Garden.

Noa Verkeyn Martijn Van de Wiele Suus van Laere Orangerie Lucas Lai Nele Rosenfelder Maïte de Lorenzo Sarah-Kay Blewitt Anthony Leenders Frank van den Bogaart

Did you know our former dean Wim de Temmerman is having his own bees in the school garden?

(click for image)

Laboratorium is the experimental lab for art/design and biotechnology at KASK / School of Arts Ghent. As a biolab in art and design it focuses on exploring different interactions between art, science and technology.

The main research project is the color biolab, which focuses on new ways of approaching the color field. Starting from traditional coloring, to living organisms or waste, this project aims to reflect about the possibilities of new coloring sources, and the implications involved.

(visit website)

Bijloke sounds
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