In January 2009, I stumbled into the middle of a brief, extraordinary space which opened in the middle of London. For three weeks, a group of young artists and activists transformed a five storey townhouse in Mayfair into a free university: there were lectures in art theory, infrastructure mapping and comparative religion, life-drawing classes, welding workshops, and an evening class in applied sorcery.
The Temporary School of Thought is right up there among the experiences that changed my life. The people I met through it went on to be collaborators in most of the projects I’ve been involved in or inspired by over the past two years: Space Makers, the Institute for Collapsonomics and the Treehouse Gallery would all have been unimaginable without the encounters which took place in those few weeks.
Let’s be clear about a couple of things: the Temporary School was a squat, an empty property which had been occupied without its owners’ permission. It was also an extraordinary, historic building which had been left empty for years by the company which owned it – and allowed to rot to the point where the hand-painted Chinese wallpaper was peeling and bracket fungi had grown from the walls.
If you weren’t there, you missed something special. But I am telling you this because its spirit lives again.
Last week, the organisers of the Temporary School opened a new space in central London.
The Really Free School is at 5 Bloomsbury Square, three minutes walk from Tottenham Court Road tube – next door to Pushkin House and just across from the Swedenborg Hall.
I’ll be there tomorrow night (Thurs 3rd) at 8pm to give a talk I’ve called ‘Third Places, Web 2.0 & First Life’, an exploration of the past and future of sociable spaces and sociable technologies.
I hope that you will take the chance to visit between now and 14th February, when the school will evaporate until its next manifestation. The 2009 school was a crossing point between a remarkable mixture of thinkers and doers of different ages: it was where I first met Vinay Gupta, Lloyd Davis (of Tuttle Club) and Tony Hall, with whom I started School of Everything: Unplugged!
This time around, the context of the school is urgent in a different way. It has already become a hub for critical and imaginative thinking amongst those involved in the current student movement. It has the potential to be a place at which the ideas and ideals of those resisting the government’s misconceived cuts come into contact with voices and perspectives they might not otherwise encounter.
So I encourage you to get in touch with the organisers and offer a talk or a discussion about your life, your projects, your passions and experiences. If you come as an expert, it’s unlikely to go down well – but if you come with something to give and a desire to take part in a conversation which may lead to unexpected places, I promise you the Really Free School will be your friends.
Feel free to tell them I sent you!