Metro54 on the Breathing as a Methodology programme
In recent years, informal platforms that foster design skills in young talent have emerged in several cities. The Open Call Platforms for design-based learning gives these initiatives an impetus. In 2023, the Creative Industries Fund NL is supporting 14 of these inspiring projects. One of them is Breathing as a Methodology by Metro54.
For years, Metro54 was an itinerant art platform. Recently, a permanent venue was found at Broedplaats Westerdok in Amsterdam. Here, Metro54 organizes events, exhibitions and gatherings for and with artists, designers, activists and other makers who are pushing the boundaries of their disciplines. There is always a societal angle.
meeting place and learning experience
Metro54 is a meeting place for interaction and joint knowledge development and transfer. Thierno Deme and Yvonique Wellen of Metro54 explain: ‘Since we came into existence in 2009, Metro54 has operated as an artistic platform where the principles of makers of colour are anchored in policy and are an integral part of the programme. We work from a way of thinking that does not always fit within institutional structures. We believe that knowledge exchange can take place in many ways. By creating spaces where interaction, practices, experiences, frames of reference and theory can come together, we hope to encourage the exchange and deepening of knowledge. This happens both informally and at concrete moments during special weekends, programmes, events (online and offline) or radio (sometimes live) that we organize. We see all our programmes as learning experiences. Here in this new space of our own, we can question our own frameworks and work in our own way.’
The new space consists of two floors with an exhibition space upstairs and a shop downstairs with a unique international collection – mostly essays – on social issues such as racism, colonialism and feminism: topics that encourage conversation.
Much of our work is experimental; learning together from and with our audience.
breathing as a methodology
Metro54’s practice aligns well with the Fund’s Open Call Platforms for design-based learning. ‘Much of our work is experimental; learning together from and with our audience is always important for us’. In the last year, Metro54 launched its multi-year programme Breathing as a Methodology, a poetic and artistic reflection on everyday realities and speculative futures, in relation to social justice. Reimagining and dreaming of equal futures plays an important role here. What will it take to create equal futures? In 2023, there is a collaboration on this subject with designers and makers Ruben Pater and Nadine Stijns, who are developing a programme together with Metro54. The emphasis in the programmes is on connecting young and starting designers. Each programme questions a social issue in a creative and critical way.
thinking about the future
The programme Breathing Lab: A World Without Police?, which Metro54 is creating in collaboration with designer Ruben Pater, focuses specifically on engaging young people and designers in thinking about a future or world without police. In March 2023, meetings were organized in which the role of the police in the Netherlands was outlined and questioned based on personal stories, anecdotes and experiences. With Let’s get free: a future without police, a start was made with dreaming aloud about the end of police brutality, ethnic profiling and alternatives to the police.
Let’s get free: a future without police? takes as its starting point not only the abolition of prisons, police, or systems of surveillance and punishment, but actually what we can build in their place. For Metro54 and Ruben Pater, it was important to place young people at the centre as makers. Conversations were based on creating design expressions such as illustration, publication, spatial design, graphic design and social design. The aim is to exchange knowledge and develop tools (including design tools) in an accessible way to make this subject discussible in secondary education and MBO schools.
breathing lab:un/learning babylon
Breathing Lab:Un/Learning Babylon is a programme consisting of three sessions, which was created in collaboration with designer, artist and photographer Nadine Stijns. Stijns previously made the installation Opzet Grove Schuld (Gross Negligence Set-up) concerning the ‘toeslagenaffaire’ (a benefits scandal where people have been unjustly labelled as fraudsters), which was part of Metro54’s project This Window is a World. Both Metro54 and Nadine Stijns find it important that the toeslagenaffaire remains a topic of discussion, because the victims are still waiting for reparations. There is also a palpable urgency to think more broadly about the role of the culture and design world in relation to social issues and social justice.
How can designers, artists and local residents act together in this regard?
‘Together with Nadine, we are working on the content of the programme for the first session in The Hague. We are involving designers (including young designers), activists and victims of the toeslagenaffaire, and establishing contact with community centres. For the subsequent meeting in Rotterdam, we are collaborating on the programme with architect, researcher and curator Setareh Noorani and the founder of Krachtvrouwen, Nadin Amina Ali Hussen. In Amsterdam, we are organizing, with the Black School, an experimental American art school that teaches BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) students and allies to become agents of change through workshops on radical black politics, design and public interventions that facilitate and stimulate local community needs.’
To reach young designers and makers, Metro54 activates its networks on social media and through word of mouth.Experience has shown that this kind of activation leads to a good mix of recently graduated makers, self-taught people and interested parties. ‘The five makers participating in the Un/Learning Babylon assemblies are invited to each make a substantive contribution.’
The Toeslagenaffaire is something Nadine Stijns has been angry about for years. Nadine: ‘After my previous collaboration with Metro54, I was very keen on a follow-up. We need to open up the conversation and especially the political theme that hangs above it: people are being persistently oppressed. Institutional racism is an issue that Metro54 is constantly raising. People who have lived under the whims of the authorities for years need to be heard. At the sessions in the community centre, we invite people who have been affected, who are often very combative. This creates an exchange of experiences; it is then up to the makers to respond to what is happening in society. I find it disturbing that I hear and see so little about it in the art world. I miss solidarity on current social issues. Surely you can expect makers to respond to what is happening in society.’
In the preparation phase, Nadine is working on a clothing collection in the form of an installation that is a good depiction of her frustrations with the Toeslagenaffaire. ‘I am sewing a collection that is aesthetically pleasing and incorporates wrongs. For example, I am working on a ‘street’ collection with warm basics inspired by the statement of a whistleblower at Uber: ‘we have a warm, cosy relationship with the Inland Revenue’. This statement illustrates very well the difference in approach: how the Inland Revenue facilitates international companies on the one hand and unfairly labels individuals as fraudsters on the other, with resulting serious consequences.
I am also making a collection with transparent materials, in the colours of the Inland Revenue. Transparency is the key word: everything is supposed to be transparent, but meanwhile there are still documents hidden away that do not surface. This transparency also refers to the Inland Revenue’s vetting of the people affected (including their finances). On the day of the session at the community centre, I will bring the collection with me so everyone can see it and afterwards we can engage in the conversation.’
Text: Maaike Staffhorst