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Gemma Copeland

A conversation with La Foresta

 —  A conversation with La Foresta

I recently spent a few weeks in Rovereto, northern Italy, to do a residency at La Foresta.

While I was there I printed a mini-newsletter, as part of an ongoing project that Evening Class is doing for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest. The newsletter is a short conversation between Brave New Alps, one of the initiators of the La Foresta project, and two of us from Evening Class.

Evening Class and La Foresta newsletter

I’ve added the text of the full interview below.

Evening Class asks La Foresta:

Who are you?

We are an open network of associations, informal groups, social cooperatives and individuals that have come together to create a community academy at the train station of Rovereto, northern Italy. Foresta in Italian means both “forest” and “the foreign woman”: a woman from another place. In both meanings there is an element of mystery. Both fit well the way we want to collaborate and the composition of our network.

The project, as it is now, is the result of a two-year collaboration between us and the Municipality of Rovereto. Following an initial project proposal from our side, the municipality signed an nine-year lease with FS, the Italian railway company, to implement a social-cultural project inside a 150m2 indoor space of the train station, plus a 100m2 outdoor space/garden.
By the end of this year, the space will have been renovated and open its doors to the public. It will be divided into five areas: entrance & convivial waiting room, educational space with kitchen and kids area, event space, workshop, and garden.

At the moment there are about 25 people involved. We are quite diverse in terms of gender, age, expertise and areas of interest, which span from migrant support to cultural animation, collective gardening to hacking, digital literacy to practice-based research.

What was the motivation for starting La Foresta?

When the group began forming in August 2017, the common wish was to find a space as a shared resource (with floor space, infrastructure, machines, etc) to continue to develop individual activities but also to generate possibilities for encounter, making in common and forging new alliances.

Our location inside a train station has been steering our collective imaginary since the beginning. In Rovereto, the station is one of the few places where there is an atmosphere of internationality and diversity, with many social groups traversing the same spot as part of their everyday lives. It is a “portal” connecting Rovereto—which sometimes can feel quite provincial and bourgeois—to the world. This animates us and helps maintain a good level of energy.

We have been working from the as-yet-unrenovated space since October 2018. Although it is makeshift, being and working inside the building has helped strengthen the relations within the group and to bring in new people.

Some questions we formulated together at the beginning of this adventure are:

  • How might we make a community today?
  • What are the ingredients for building solidarity, resilience and openness?
  • How to respond to the multitude of today’s crises?
  • Where, how and with whom can we begin?
  • What tools do we need?

One of our main impressions from spending time here is the sense of abundance—people are so generous with their time, attention and resources. What role do you think generosity plays in creating a space like this?

There is a saying in synergic gardening that ci concimiamo a vicenda—“we fertilise each other”. The social relations between us are the most important thing we have, and need to be cultivated and safeguarded, while material resources come and go. We want to build up an environment in which everyone feels free to contribute to the Forest according to their own resources and will, without feeling guilty for giving too much or too little.
Our approach is that whoever proposes a new activity, tool or method also takes responsibility for it, while feeling supported by others and welcome to try out new things. In the Forest everything is in a permanent state of experimentation and evaluation.

Can you draw a map of your interdependent network?

La Foresta asks Evening Class

Who are you?

An experiment in self-organised learning. An unwieldy collective effort. 14 members right now. Over 40 members since we started in 2016. A support structure. A common pool of resources. After hours. Cultivating common interests. Open for anyone to join. Flexible and resilient. A group of designers, artists and teachers. Prototyping new methods for living, working and learning together. Based in London. An interdependent network. A space for learning and investigating. A space for empathy. A collection of many voices. Self-supporting. Not-for-profit. In, between, with, around and against the academy and industry. Learning from each other. Working it out as we go.

How do you deal with the fact that some people are more passionate about Evening Class and therefore make more time for it?

It’s hard to get the balance right between individual autonomy and mutual support. It’s important for us to allow everyone to define their own level of commitment. We need to take into account that some people are more interested, motivated or simply have more time than others.

On the other hand, we also need to make sure that we’re supporting each other, and that the same people don’t end up doing all the work while others benefit from it. We try to always be aware of, and actively redistribute, the reproductive labour that underpins all of our activities. We collectively write protocols, like our Working Agreement and Membership Agreement, in order to define structures and our expectations of one another.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of our collaboration to work out, as it also changes over time. We don’t have an answer yet.

What makes you feel most alive from all the things you do with Evening Class?

The friendship we have made together within the group. It sometimes feels like this is what holds things together and keeps us turning up, more than any other structure we articulate around it. It’s an unexpectedly collegiate peership, even (especially?) without academics above us setting the agenda.

Being in the same space, making something together. Having a space where we’re free to experiment and improvise, and a reliable network that can contribute to and feedback on our projects.

The connections we have made to other people, projects and movements in different locations around the world. When we speak to these people and realise (through their reaction) that we are actually creating something valuable and interesting.
The feeling of being part of a collective, something bigger than yourself.

Can you make a drawing of your organisational form?