Following are some thoughts in regards to the design strategy of Holy Fool Studio, and how the project until now can be tied into a framework of participatory making that is both ethic and consensual to a given community, and how it can yield a strategy to address an institutional audience, but also achieve disruptive specificity in a given part of London and within the sociopolitical context of the subject (in this scenario, gender inclusion in architecture starting from the loo).
In our world, origins, liveliness and durability of cultures require there to be figures who’s function is to uncover and disrupt the very things that cultures are based on. Tales of joyful visions and cynical disruptions have been difficult topics to fully raise in forums of authority, and have therefore remained in the form of a spectacle, work of art, or personal exchange. It is a form for hegemonic order to cast politics of rebellion as fantastical and rooted in a commitment to failure. However, a more dynamic and radical engagement with a (heteronormative, white supremacist, patriarchal) capitalist society, understands that the rebellion is ongoing and that the Holy Fool does much more than it produces.
And so, The Holy Fool Studio is a practice based on the myth itself: a practice that disrupts norms to provoke change, often through play. It has the passion and courage to be imperfect, mostly saying and doing without the fear of past nor the future. We aim to make work with a material some may call love: a powerful force that offers the real compelling possibility of organising revolt and embracing failure. Oftentimes, the dream of an alternative way of being is confused with utopian thinking, dismissed as naive or, a blanket misunderstanding of the nature of power in modernity. Yet the possibility of other forms of knowing in a world of justice and injustice, a mode of being where the emphasis falls less on money and more on sharing, animates all kinds of projects and should not be labelled as naive. The Holy Fool Studio understands that knowledge and reason alone are not able to reach absolute truth, and embraces the subjectivity of experience. It is interested in sharing the experience of threatened communities through its holy gift of mutuality, plasticity, diversity and adaptability but also foolish embracement of failure, contradiction, disruption and politics.
The Holy Fool Studio practices with a mouldable three-part structure for designed disruption.On one hand, holy fool studio provides tools to share an oppressed truth by creating socially engaging spaces. An initial phase of observation research involving rigourous empathy is undertaken to observe the community or cause we want to address. Then through PR tools, we engage with different entities of a community to design a socially engaging event of making that falls under our Criteria of Success. The results are frameworks for collective expression in participatory making, where the holy fool becomes a non-expert designer, but a client and curator. Holy Fool Studio divides into three parts: Thing 1 (a framework for collective making), Thing 2 (a designed artefact of the outcome of the former event), and Thing 3 (a disruptive spectacle to share the values built in Thing 1 and 2).
Disruptive Social Engagement: Collective Making
The first phase of the work, which we call Thing 1 is a collectively made object or series of objects that express the subjectivity of a community, for instance the Day of Flower Arranging in the AA Flower Show, or the Toilet-Making Workshop. Here the holy fool is not the author, but a facilitator of expression of a community, that designs the logistics of making, the cultural programme of the event, and shares the outcome in a consensual way. In this case, the resilience of conviviality shared in that event provide the markers of success, as well as giving equal status to the participants as true collaborators. Using the expertise of Holy Fool Studio, we integrate ourselves within a community: we become part of something through giving.
Speaking to Institutions of Change: ‘Expert’ Translation
At times Thing 1 has potential to be a designed object of change, and the holy fool studio also brings it to institutions of change who can incorporate it into their institution. As a result, Thing 2 is produced- a designed object that somehow summarises the outcome of socially engaged making, not showcasing the individuals as helpless creatures, but an artefact that shares the intelligence catalysed in that time and space. Thing 2, like the Flower Show Newspaper or the Urilet™ is an opportunity to gain funds for the threatened community; depending on which institutions implement said Thing 2 in a way, it is a form to instrumentalise diplomacy.
Disruptive Spectacle: Architecture(?)
Thing 3 on the other hand, creates spectacles or objects with disruptive specificity, meaning we question the larger political system that the community is othered by through a work that is partly authored by Holy Fool Studio. It addresses the conflict of authorship versus consensus,by transforming activist strategies (the response to the needs of a community), using positive sensations such as humour instead of social obligation as a form of communication to a larger audience. It embraces the fears and contradictions of the artistic impact of a statement on the larger context of the subject of Thing 1 and Thing 2, by believing in the ameliorative promise of form. In this way, we take on the artistic entity that collective making risks losing, and addresses the ‘troubling wake’ that the former ideal scenario leaves behind.
In the Toilet-Making project, Thing 3 is a large installation environment for hosting a programme of daily lectures, events and workshops on gendered spaces. Sitting on the Nunhead reservoir, it reaches to the LGBTQ+ community of south London, and to the surrounding residential areas. It is a place to transfer issues of a threatened LGBTQ+ community and simultaneously, not to: it aims for a shared experience in which many different sectors of society are brought together.
The main entrance features a mural of Holy Fool’s Studio design strategy, to be drawn on and modified by visitors. In front of it is an oversized construction of a poo, next to a shrine to closed LGBT spaces. Under a polypropylene roof, the installation is divided into five spaces (schematically drawn in the mural): a stage for performances with polystyrene, fabric and sticks to build with, a bar and exercise machines to watch from, space to carve into and construct a toilet, an archival display of closed LGBTQ+spaces in london, and a workspace for research and reading.
The events are not meant to be understood or necessarily disputed, but where a performance of gender politics in toilets and elsewhere are paid attention to in an ongoing existence of a spectacle of a group of people motivated by an space to do something out of the ordinary. The programme consists of plays based on Sadiq Khan’s LGBTQ+ Venues Charter, gender making sessions with the studio’s materials, and public event series on issues of LGBTQ+ community, from trans inclusion in parliament to butch arm wrestling. We aim to create a space of juxtapositions, absurdity, empathy and openness.