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Visual Catalysts workshop 2020 in Toluca

written by Luiza Preda


Visual Catalysts is a 5-day workshop where students from different universities around the globe co-create and work on art-projects related to climate change. The workshop is held by the teacher, artist and researcher Juha Suonpää together with his Fine-Art students from Tampere University of Applied Sciences. This time, Visual Catalysts took place in Toluca, Mexico thanks to an INTAC collaboration between two universities: TAMK and UAEMex (Autonomous Mexico State University, Toluca).

Visual Catalysts and INTAC

INTAC, also known as International Art Collaborations, is an educational framework that empowers students to connect with one another. Using online communication platforms they start collaborating and working together in order to create dynamic art projects. The students are encouraged to become leaders in building new relationships in order to facilitate the sharing of ideas and concepts that cross language and cultural differences.

Visual Catalysts and CICAT

Visual Catalysts workshop is part of a more complex project, CICAT2025, which researches the transition from a linear to a circular economy. The main theme of our workshop was Climate Emergency.
Starting from the idea that art helps us see things in a new light and offers fresh perspectives in order to move towards sustainability, we have all discussed and build concepts together.

We all focused on one big question throughout the workshop : “ What can artists do about the climate crisis?”

DAY 1 & 2 | Sharing ideas & Opening discussions

First two days of the workshop were about getting to know each other. We created an environment for opening discussions. Students started working in different groups right from the start. While talking and sharing ideas, big questions started to arise. Creativity started to spread up.

• How art can catalyse the change?

• How do we inform people about circular economy?

• We need to act and collaborate. Co-creation is the key.

• No competition is needed, but sharing.

• How do we approach our audiences? What are our tactics?

• How art can become a catalyst for a sustainable future?

• A new way of thinking is the key.

DAY 3| Brainstorming & Mindmaps

After working in groups on the first tasks, we went further with the discussions on climate change and circular economy. Together we started the next phase >brainstorming.

What are the the most important topics regarding climate change and what it must be done? What artists can do to push things forward?

We began by thinking what are the challenges regarding the climate change in Mexico. Starting from the challenges, our task was to immediately come up with different examples of positive actions that can solve the local problems.

This time was different. Instead of focusing on the big issues concerning the whole planet, we naturally directed our attention towards the local issues from Mexico.

The mindmap was the first step in breaking the ice. We quickly created four groups and started making collages from old magazines. It was fun, simple and very effective. The results gave us more ideas on what to create for the workshop.

As Fine Art students, the most interesting part was to think creatively on how to include these solutions when making art. All the groups went with these topics further. The next morning we had the feedback session on the mind maps.

After the feedback, the next step was to write down the most important issues concerning climate change and all the possible solutions regarding circular economy.

Each group presented the lists with challenges and possibilities. On one white board, a general list with the most important findings was created.

DAY 4. Challenges & Possibilities

The biggest step was taken on day 4. After hours analysis, research and putting things in order, we were finally ready to go out in the world and start creating collectively.

We started out from our most important findings: • Artists should interact more with the residents of Toluca.

• Artists must engage the local communities in their art-related activities.

• More community-based activities are needed.

• Raising awareness is needed. People need to connect and discuss more about climate change.

This time, Visual Catalysts included plenty of live activities and video performances. All the groups had a clear focus: community-based art and the interaction with local people.

We also had an element of surprise: 35 pieces of papier-mâché masks brought by Juha from Mexico City. The masks represented different animals such as tigers, fish, cows, foxes, owls, or monkeys. The results turned out to be both entertaining and relevant regarding climate change.

|The Outcome

Students co-created with students from other universities, danced in groups, interviewed women in the city-centre of Toluca and made charcoal drawings with the Mexican pupils – all the performances were documented through videos and photographs.

Another surprising element was when one of the teachers from UAEMex Toluca came with the idea to include his class with around 25 students in a video performance. Luiza Preda, one of TAMK students together with Mariano Carrasco, the teacher, directed the performance – the performance took place in the university campus and turned out to be bring to the surface another important finding:

Human interactions and circular economy are interconnected. In order to act upon any crisis, communities must be brought together and art is more than capable of doing this.

Video performance on human interaction with Mariano Carrasco and his class

Performance on domestic violence in the city centre of Toluca
Extract from photo-series. Humans vs Nature

Day 4 and 5 meant a lot of fun but also a lot of work. The results were discussed in the last day. Everyone was invited to the final pitching. All groups showed their creations and received feedback

Video Pitching and Final Feedback
One group presenting their performance where they invited Mexican children to draw on the streets of Toluca
Feedback and Discussions

Visual Catalysts is not only a workshop that focuses on climate change, it is about collaboration and co-creation. It is about bringing people together and creating the perfect environment for them where they can start discussions and act upon what’s needed in the world today.

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