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Reflections

By Jeannette Petrik

As a member of Depot Basel’s Forum 1, organised in the context of Forum for an Attitude, I participated in the exploration of the theme of solidarity. Designers, writers, curators, musicians, and activists came together in open sessions consisting of talks and discussions.

However, it is a difficult task to try and capture what Forum 1 entailed – its open structure allowed for many thoughts to unveil, for personal and collective experiences to develop intuitively and for engaging and lively discussions to unfold spontaneously. In its simple structure, the Forum rendered its three days of activity complex and challenging. Therefore, I will not try to reproduce the event of Forum 1. Instead, I would like to share my thoughts on three distinct elements of the Forum in the context of this article.

    1: The Introduction Round

After arriving in Basel and spending the first evening at the Vitra Design Museum for the opening of Depot Basel’s exhibition ‘Forum for an Attitude’, the attendees of Forum 1 gathered at the space of Depot Basel for a first session of conversation. Initially, it seemed unclear what was expected from the participants – if either a presentation of one’s work or just a few introductory sentences were more appropriate to the situation. Interestingly, this seeming uncertainty allowed the participants to present themselves in whatever way it pleased them. Initial uncertainty turned into a flexible, organic, and multi-faceted conversation during which each participant shared their view of the theme of solidarity through their own personal lens. Allowing for spontaneity to evolve and personal introductions to become vivid discussions driven by the curiosity of other participants, the round of introductions extended far deeper than anticipated, almost as if the initiation of the Forum was not solely about getting to know each other as practitioners. Instead, the extensive and complex discussions became means of getting to know each other on a more profound level, providing more than a glimpse of who we sat around the table with. After a day of conversation, we had covered topics such as the influence of empathy on the everyday, understanding oneself as being embedded in a larger “whole”, honesty as a basis for collaboration and evolution versus revolution. Thus, while experiencing solidarity first-hand, the group of Forum 1 began to develop into a temporary collective of thought.

    2: The Collective Dinner

The program of Forum 1 included a dinner organised by a local group of activists called ‘Zur Bleibe’. It was clear from the beginning that the event would be something special as the nature of the dinner was kept secret from the Forum’s participants, who anticipated the event with curiosity. The evening started off with a lecture on Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman. In a second, much shorter talk, the project Zur Bleibe and its intentions were presented. Solidarity and compassion came up as the main driving elements of their actions. Zur Bleibe is a collective based in Basel which is founded on the idea of organising public cooking events that actively engage refugees. The collective used the opportunity to host a dinner in the context of Forum 1 to demonstrate solidarity in an easily graspable example. The space of Depot Basel was re-arranged to host around thirty eager and curious dinner guests. The long, oversized table made way for a few smaller tables, each fitting around six people. Having started getting to know the sixteen participants of the Forum, it suddenly felt strange to sit at a table with others who had come to visit the dinner event and who barely introduced themselves by name as I sat down at the table. As some started bringing large bowls with food and cutlery but no plates or bowls to the tables the idea behind the dinner was explained: All participants would communicate and feed each other, nobody was to feed themselves. All guests were free to move around from table to table, constantly changing the environment of others around them. The participants’ deliberate confrontation with the awkwardness of the situation made the event exceptionally insightful, while the courage it took to overcome initial sentiments of shyness or insecurity allowed for encounters to quickly develop into intimate, though short-lived, conversations. The evening turned out to be great fun and was topped off by its evolution into a small dance party.

    3: The Spontaneous Conversations

The concept of the Forums organised in the context of the exhibition Forum for an Attitude relied on a large part of the project’s budget to be invested in bringing people to Depot Basel instead of it being spent on the production of more tangible objects. This clear appreciation for dialogue, conversation and discussion as values for an organic creation of thoughtful content also manifested itself in the program’s rather loose and open structure. Knowingly or not, Forum 1 was set to become a tentative social experiment that directly engaged in the topic of solidarity. One of the shapes this manifested through was in the form of small conversations with other participants in ‘breaks’ between the planned events of the program. Those rather spontaneous moments in between grew to become just as valuable as the planned, though open, program. Those conversations were often of a more personal nature than the collective discussions but they definitely thrived on the thoughts that participants had shared earlier in the group setting. Surprisingly, here was no need for small talk. Although the participants had barely begun getting to know each other there didn’t seem to be any pressure to bring up any common, seemingly obligatory talk about shallow banalities. Instead, participants got to know each other immediately on a deeper, content-related level. The topics of discussion among first encounters outside of the collective conversations were, for example, the relevance of freedom to act or the common dilemma of work and ethics. A sense of trust and respect grew within the group which allowed for both the chats in  between and the collective discussions to flourish and establish a healthy culture of conversation within the Forum.

Forum 1 was organised by Depot Basel in order to explore and celebrate the “importance of personal and professional togetherness”. Thereby it set out to confront participants with social inclusion and solidarity as creative tools. Participants were not necessarily like-minded in their professional goals or methodologies, instead, what connected us was a shared attitude towards social responsibility and a willingness to learn from each other. Although the Forum explicitly explored the theme of solidarity as a value in design, it brought its participants together to form a temporary cell of solidarity in thought and action. Consciously and intuitively the participants of Forum 1 fruitfully engaged with the Forum’s agenda, described by Depot Basel as an exploration of “connectedness through collective ideas, activities and goals with regard to collaboration”. Three days of communal activities did not only bear fruit in the shape of dialogue and discussion but also manifested in an active practice of collectivity, which allowed for flexibility and group dynamics to guide the Forum’s course – creating a healthy balance of thought and practice.