Husni-Bey's practice is built upon research and collaboration and encompasses drawing, painting, collage, video and participatory workshops. Her work often looks at social relations in different political contexts, from late capitalism to other alternative social imaginaries. Set against current controversies about the role of state education in England, her exhibition at Gasworks sets out to compare today's neo-liberal understanding of 'free school' with past and present models of self-run or 'anarchist' education.
The exhibition branches out from Husni-Bey's recent video Postcards from the Desert Island (2010'11), which documents a 3-week workshop that the artist organised with students from the École Vitruve, a self-run primary school in Paris. Borrowing scenarios from William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, pupils were asked to build a desert island in their school hall, the video shows them grappling with some of the key principles and unresolved problems of self-governance.
Postcards from the Desert Island is presented alongside two newly commissioned works that interrogate differing conceptions of 'free school': one having emerged in the United States in the early twentieth century and another currently unfolding in England.
The first is a sound work made in collaboration with members of New York experimental theatre group The Living Theatre, which explores how to embody the history of an anarchist model of education now, as a group. The second piece is a large-scale wall drawing which traces key moments in the development of educational policy in England from the 1970s up to the present day, culminating in the emergence of a new type of 'free school' at the hands of the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.
Husni-Bey's exhibition therefore addresses the gaping discrepancy between two 'free school' models: one rooted in anarcho-collectivism and the other stemming from the increasing privatisation of education in England since the 1970s, packaged up with the current Conservative party's much contested notion of the 'big society'.