Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do


At 12:53 PM +0200 2/21/11, Hatto Fischer wrote:

Note: this is but a prelimary report, and while working towards a memorandum of understanding, it should give a first impression as to what was discussed, experienced and realised while together in Gent.

Departure from Brussels - Gare Midi

Takuya Kaneda came from Japan, Monique Kissel from Paris, Olga Sienko from London and Hatto Fischer from Athens (but who had attended already a two day conference in Brussels about future EU Cultural Programs in Brussels). They all met on Thursday morning at Gare Midi near cafe Sam vis a vis the entrance to the Thaly trains, in order to take the train to Gent.

Takuya Kaneda and Monique Kissel

Takuya Kaneda, Monique Kissel and Olga Sienko


Highlights upon arrival in Gent on the first day, Thursday Feb. 17, 2011

We had an appointment with Bart Verschaffel at 15.00 at the entrance to the university, but a first stop was a follow up to a request by Monique Kissel to find a place for something to eat.

Monique Kissel and Hatto Fischer

Impressions of the City of Gent

Model of historical centre in City Hall

We all were impressed by the city of Gent and our eyes will still wonder how many architectural discoveries we made during these three days.

Walking along water ways with many boats used

Impressive new architectural buildings with sculptures ready to dive into the water

Notice the sculpture on the balcony vis a vis


"I cannot speak highly enough of the hospitality, helpful support and inspiring project of the Ghent people. This city is both beautiful and welcoming." - Kevin Cooper, Belfast

Visit to the library of the University of Gent with Bart Verschaffel

Olga Sienko, Bart Verschaffel and Takuya Kaneda

Bart Verschaffel explaining how the collection of Piranesi's works, a gift by Napolean to the university library, was discovered one day when he had asked the librarian "if we have something on Piranesi". The librarian paused for a moment and thought there might be something, but she was not sure and promised to check. Two days later she phoned Bart and told him he better come down to the library for there might be something more than what she had thought was available. They had discovered an entire room with works by Piranesi. Bart Verschaffel went on to make out of a special exhibition. This was shown at the Modern Museum of Art in Gent in January 2009. Since then he is continuing doing research as the view on culture Piranesi has differs from other artists who are inclined to follow much more the Ancient Greek or Hellenistic model of ideal beauty. Piranesi was fascinated by how a robust culture held together Rom. He made these etchings partly to sell these images to tourists coming to Rom, but also he wanted to show that he can perceive and study things like an archaelogist.





Olga Sienko, Monique Kissel with Bart Verschaffel

Afterwards Bart Verschaffel took everyone up to the library tower from where a view of the city was possible but also another architectural wonder could be seen as to the construction of the building itself.

On the top floor of the library tower


Olga Sienko showing at the Cultural Centre

Her own etchings were inspired by Piranesi when art student at the Academy of Arts in Warszawa 1977-79

Walking through the streets of Gent, there are always some interesting things to be seen or else to pose beside in order to have some memory of the place.

Jad Salman besides this sculpture

Most of the participants stayed at the Monasterium hotel with ancient corridors and former chapels being now used for conferences and other social gatherings. The arrangement was simple and yet very good. There prevailed quite another atmosphere, not the usual neutral hotel one.

Monasterium Hotel

Chapel of former monastery now a hotel

The first day ended with a dinner which came about thanks to the invitation by Brecht Demeulenaere from the Belgium Ministry of Education. Any good dinner is a good occasion to get to know the participants of the conference. There were twelve altogether who sat around one long table.

Takuya Kaneda and Brecht Demeuleneare

Olga Sienko, artist and gallerist in London and Adam Chmielewski, director of Wroclaw 2016

Nicole Hohmann, Ruhr 2010 Bernard Conlon, Belfast and Boudewijn Payens, artist and prof. from Amsterdam

Boudewijn Payens and Adam Chmielewski

Kevin Cooper and Jad Salman

Adam Chmielewski and Kevin Cooper

Adam would say laughingly: "those Irish men!"


Night scene in Gent


One day Kids' Guernica Conference in the University of Gent, Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

"Kids Guernica. Why is a symposium on such a specific project at its place within the University walls? I believe Kids Guernica is a good example, and a very interesting ‘case’, of what one could call ‘field work in memory studies’.

As we all know, modern people, modern societies, are not simply free from their past – as they might have hoped – on the contrary. The waning of tradition, the loss of continuity, does not make things more easy, and life more light, on the contrary – the past, that exists and survives in many forms, comes back as a ‘problem’ –  ‘a problema’ in the Greek sense of the word, referring to the dark answer the gods give to those who come ask for advice, the dangerous riddle the gods throw at the feet of the humans, as an obstacle they have to make sense of.

Modern, western society has developed a neutral ‘scientific’  way to deal with its past: historical research, history writing. The narrative presuppositions and representation strategies, used in academic history writing, have been criticized in many ways during the last decades. This has resulted in trying out alternative ways – less cold, less neutral, less scientific – ways to investigate the past, by linking it to remembrance, by linking the desire to understand what has happened with some kind of involvement, with commitment. The commitment of the witness in certain cases, the commitment of what I would call ‘active listening to the past’ in other cases. That is how I understand what Kids Guernica is about: what the youngsters and the children do while working on the paintings is becoming involved in a past they have not lived themselves, through active listening

Memory studies have now become a new, fashionable trend in academic research. There is a danger there, though, of academic recuperation – of academics distancing themselves from the task of ‘objective’ historical research and truth-finding, flirting with a warmer dealing with the past, without however being involved themselves. There is nothing wrong with academic conferences. But it is, as a counterbalance, equally smart to invite, within the university walls, field workers in memory work, personally engaged in specific projects."

Some further remarks:

"His introduction is of great importance as it underlines the philosophical recognition of practical memory work made possible by Kids' Guernica. Connected with that is the question but how to let children enter memories about things of the past and hence memories of even experiences made during wars, when these children and youth have not experienced that nor as of yet have made similar experiences with war as is the case mainly throughout Europe since 1945. This field work should not deprive the children and youth from making their own experiences but by taking them to be something equivalent as to what former generations experienced during First and Second World War, these memories can live on. All that can become evident when discussing how they would confront violence especially if they have never experienced war?

Another point made by Bart Verschaffel is the danger of a certain academic detachment from these concrete experiences if memory work becomes an academic study. Here some further thoughts need to be explored as it became also evident to participants in Gent that Kids' Guernica has as well an academic background linked to its originators but also who have upheld this movement for now 15 years." - Hatto Fischer

As professor of Art Education at Toykio university he gave a first overview of Kids' Guernica activities during 2010 when the 15th anniversary was being celebrated by holding various events starting in Nagasaki, Japan and Tallahassee, Florida, USA and having as well Kids' Guernica involved in a peace conference in Nagasaki with Dalai Lama being present along with other Nobel Peace Prize winners.

A first remark to the presentation by Takuya Kaneda:

"The memorandum of understanding should very much include his understanding of Kids' Guernica for obviously Takuya Kaneda has his point of view. It based on what have been the principles of Kids' Guernica over the past 15 years. This includes an academic perception with Kids' Guernica being a useful exercise for children, youth and even adults in getting together. It is not meant to be an instrument or organisation by which money could be earned. Rather the moral integrity of Kids' Guernica expresses itself best by upholding its symbolic binding power and this means to let the experiences made speak for themselves. There is an appraisal of any action being already good when children are happy even if this amounts to only 2% of the entire action. He sees this as an adult led form of education using principles of informal learning in combination with quite formal settings given by schools in combination with professors from universities. And things can happen more or less out of personal connections and coincidences e.g. at the very beginning Kids' Guernica went from Japan to Nepal simply because the wife of Takuya does come from Nepal."  - Hatto Fischer


Maja Panajotava

As Bulgarian poetess but living in Antwerp, she gave the participants a poetic greeting in the Flemish language as she writes in both the Bulgarian and Flemish languages her poetry. The two poems she read dealt with childhood memories and thus were most appropriate to the theme of the conference being Kids' Guernica.

Alexandra Zanne, Sylvain Zanne, Bernard Conlon and Kevin Cooper - a part of the audience


Manual Gonzales, officer of the Gent police and whose father was one of the 200 children evacuated from Guernica after the bombardment in 1937 to Gent.
About Manuel Mugica Gonzalez' story:


"Manuel Gonzales showed us along with the story of his father is a true element and linkage to Guernica 1937 and what it means to live in the shadow of Guernica. Over and beyond that it was most important that Manuel emphasized that his own story or the story of his father should serve as powerful reminder that the world is filled with refugees and that the traumas resulting out of separations of children from their families are in need to be dealt with." - Hatto Fischer

"I truly enjoyed the important story of Manuel Gonzales, it needs to be shared with the true acknowledgement of history, informing the present, to improve the future. I thoroughly enjoyed the young people of Ghent sharing their insights and hopes as a result of the process of Kids’ Guernica, their work with the police of Ghent and Manuel Gonzales story." - Kevin Cooper, Belfast


Monique Kissel, Prof. of Art, Saint Denis University, Paris

Monique Kissel reflected in her presentation upon a world made up of people attempting to live together and some lessons can be drawn for this purpose from such an attempt to paint together a peace mural of the format of Kids' Guernica. She recognizes as well the need to reflect upon this linkage between Kids' Guernica at informal level and what it entails when university people take up this project. She has some further going views in terms of aesthetics and in what amounts to art education since she perceives Kids' Guernica as a practical project by which students can gain insights which will help them in their later life to distinguish the different roles they can play i.e. aside from being artists also facilitators of such projects which allow for informal learning to take place.


Alexandra Zanne and her husband Sylvain communicated their experiences with Kids' Guernica in Gezoncourt. The film Alexandra made of this action reveals so much sensitivity but also practical wisdom in how children can gain through an action once they are really free to express themselves. Sylvain explained that there were involved six adults all of them not really knowing when to say too much or when they say too little but how he then took notice of Alexandra not being at all happy once she felt the one artist in the group was intervening too much and they finally told the artist to leave the project. This decision was made to let the children be free in their expressions.


"Alexandra and Sylvain from Gezoncourt: the film and the history of conflict in their region of France resonates for Ireland, north and south because of those who fought and died in First World War. The sense of community involvement in the project was inspiring and showed in the film." - Kevin Cooper

Jad Salman departed from his experience in the Kids' Guernica action in Picasso's atelier in 2009 and explained how it came to the children making in secret a smaller mural as counter position to the official one which was completely imposed by the adults upon the children. Significant was the use of colours and also what symbolic expressions found their way into the smaller mural. (For instance, later on, when the small mural was shown to the students they recognized immediately the circle of children being depicted as all holding hands. Likewise a circle was drawn in the Gezoncourt mural when all children stood in a circle and each one extending his or her part of the circle to the next one waiting for the pencil the point from where it was possible to continue drawing the circle.) Being from Palestine, Jad could also communicate to the children in Picasso's atelier his own personal experiences with war i.e. First and Second Intifada in Palestine. His experiences differ so much from children and students who have grown up in Europe and never experienced violent conflicts close by.




Everyone was intrigued by Boudewijn Payens 'imaginary boat' he created with those stuck in an area declared to be safe from radiation when it was not. He put a great emphasis on radiation being a problem of not smelling or seeing it, but knowing once everything is contaminated, then even the food being eaten is not healthy. His project together with other artists, including Insa Winkler, was a very strong example of how with very few means but a willingness to give a uplift by artists coming into such an area something like a Spring feeling can be communicated. Since the images of the boat in which all sit tells more than what can be described, it would be best if Boudewijn provides us with some of these photos in order to show it to others.

For information about Boudewin Payens see:






Kevin Cooper as journalist and photographer underlined in his speech how deeply emotionally one can be affected if a close friend dies in a conflict zone. He would say that this is one of the hardest part namely to go through such a mourning and still remain impartial. As he underlined and emphasized through his photography he always attempts to show a human understanding of the conflict. This means learning to observe is also a matter of observing how we learn and this should mean how to work towards a peace process. Since his presentation was filled with content in which images depicted indicated significant changes long before they became known to the public or took on a concrete form like the peace accord itself, this art of observing in anticipation of things to come resonated with a general feeling that Kids' Guernica must concern itself as much with things to come as with dealing with the past. Kevin Cooper emphasized this over and again for if you do not deal with the past but also do not develop the courage not to repeat the past mistakes, then the past will in future come crushing down and then it might be impossible to deal with all the mistakes human beings tend to make e.g. thinking engagement means entering a conflict with the readiness to become violent as if only such a response is something the other side understands when in fact it negates all human understanding.

Reflections on the visit to Ghent and the Kids’ Guernica Conference 2011

by Kevin Cooper

"I'm not entirely sure how much I was able to communicate of my presentation and therefore how much people understood and wonder my photographic exhibition converted to PowerPoint helped or hindered the understanding of the presentation. I was left wondering, did I overwhelm people with detail and complexity. My message which I hope to convey was “Peace is not the absence of Violence but the Building or Rebuilding of Relationships with those who were former Enemies”. The other message I hope to get across was “Violence and Conflict are conducted by Human beings, not Monsters”. If you live with violence too long you “normalise the abnormal” and “violence becomes familiar and acceptable”. Our past needs to inform our future in a way that we do not repeat it.

In dealing with recent conflict zones there is a greater need for sensitivity, careful listening and use of language, generosity in understanding, building of trust, reaching out, being inclusive, with help to bring new and wider vision while acknowledging local progress, sharing of the suffering and personal stories of hurt and acknowledgement of past indifference. We all have a duty of care towards others in how we value and take care of each other. We need to move to an engagement of equals were all are welcome and all contributions are valued where costs are shared equally and facilitation is enabling fragile contributions to be heard, which is known as “active listening”. In an international organisation big vision is important but we must also value small local initiatives that help local or regional understanding. Trust and good relations are built one person at a time.


Lunch in the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning

Monique Kissel and Bernard Conlon


Wim Coudenys talking to the class of students

  • Discussion with the students who had painted a Kids' Guernica mural in October 2010 and which was supported by the Police of Gent - together with their teacher Sophie

One guy and all those beautiful girls

The students gave an account about their experience when painting the mural. Brecht Demeuleneare acted as mediator.


Sophie van Marsenille

The teacher Sophie van Marsenille did a marvellous work. Indeed, she should be encouraged to take her experiences further and make another Kids' Guernica mural but then with more time available but also in linkage to what has been learned.

Resume of the discussion:

The discussion with the students and their teacher Sophie became later on a major reference point for everyone. They revealed how much they had benefited from having entered such a collaborative learning process. At the same time, a lot of the discussion centred on the concept of violence and what difference there is when confronting a policeman who punishes an offender for riding a street car without having paid compared to what violence is entailed in a war and in which people are killed or protesters suppressed by use of violence as just now the case in Libya or in the earlier stages of the revolt in Tunisia or Egypt. Crucial to themselves is that they appreciate each other more than ever and that as a whole group they move together differently with everyone being at home in the group. As said at the outset Brecht Demeuleneare is asked to make available the notes he made of this important discussion and perhaps through a further interaction with the students obtain a written follow-up to what they think has changed in their lives now that they have gone through such an experience together? Important is above all what Sophie, the teacher has underlined, namely as a wish to have more time and not to be pressed so much as was the case the first time. This pressure was created by the police who demanded although supporting the action that something needs to be done quickly. Thus it seems that there was not given sufficient time to let the process go deeper. As this is an important lesson for all actions which enter a collaboration with a formal body like the police which wants to see results or an outcome rather than valuing the process itself, this kind of impatience means as well not all experiences are shared in a way that both sides draw lessons out of the experiences made. Naturally for the police it was crucial to see how the students perceive the police and for them it was the first time that they had even some contact with the police. Here a civil dialogue could reduce some of these misunderstandings or misgivings especially if the result of a lack of knowledge and therefore understanding between youth and police. A memorandum of understanding should take up this point.

- Hatto Fischer


"The young people in Ghent expressed value in meeting other young people who have been involved in the production of Kids’ Guernica murals on a face-to-face basis. It would be important to explore how best this could be achieved. We must develop human contact across the generations to get best outcome. This sharing of difficult experience in safe environments that are welcoming and inclusive is central to peace building. We must honour the past, by studying it in the present, to improve the future." - Kevin Cooper, Belfast


Under this link you find a short photographic impression of the discussions with the students at the meeting in Gent made by Boudewijn Payens:www.boudewijnpayens.nl/kids/gent.mov



Brecht Demeuleneare wrote three questions on the blackboard prior to showing us a short film the Belgium Ministry of Education initiated to underline the importance of art and education: 1) what do you see? 2) what do you feel? and 3) what do you think? The film was about a boy who created his own imaginary world where with the help of boxes he created a couch for friends to sit, and some other places. When the friends joined him, one asked him, but where is the place to sleep. This he had forgotten. So rapidly he went to correct this mistake. But most important is that he created a truth telling post. Once there he began to tell his own story, including that he misses his father and how much he wished to have one last chance to do something together with him. Brecht asked then all participants to express themselves with regards to these three questions. There unravelled subsequently quite different viewpoints especially on how to understand this boy. The film gave in a very powerful way deep insights into the importance of art to understand such a boy.

The movieclip can be seen at:



Clarification within Kids' Guernica - towards a Memorandum of Understanding

"Bernard Conlon gave then an outline of his reflections contained in the discussion paper he wrote for the purpose of linking the meeting in Gent with the previous discussion about Kids' Guernica when everybody met in Florida. For such an internal discussion about principles and forms of organisation there is never given sufficient time but it is also difficult to discuss these things when together as not everyone is prepared to reflect upon the most crucial question, but in which direction should Kids' Guernica develop in during the coming next 15 years? Bernard stressed in his reflections the term 'community' and would like this to be distinguished into what makes all to become members of the wider sense of the Kids' Guernica community and what difference is makes if an active coordinator engaged in Kids' Guernica with the wish to attain as well some financial sustainability for all of this work being done." - Hatto Fischer



"The presentation by Takuya Kaneda about Kids' Guernica can be included in the memorandum of understanding since many informal discussions took place not during the one day conference itself but afterwards. In other words, the future of Kids' Guernica and on what principles this world wide movement should evolve, that was a key interest to Bernard Conlon. To see something evolving means also the ability to let go when something takes on a definite direction. It is like letting the children paint freely rather than intervening. Obviously the problem as underlined by the police of Gent when acting as formal partner in the process can be duplicated overall with the risk of Kids' Guernica becoming such a formal organisation that it will not allow informal learning processes to take place and still have an impact upon the overall self understanding of Kids' Guernica. Thus it is best to describe in details the dilemma this formal-informal relationship entails for if Kids' Guernica is an open learning process, then its organisation must be guided much more by content rather than formal principles if it is to know where to invest next in order to make these actions possible. And clearly one dilemma is once some rules have been established, how to enforce them if they are violated? Kevin Cooper made the point that even if no problems had to be faced so far, there is a need to anticipate such a case that instead of having a peace mural, the very same form of expression can be misused to propagate war.

The newly found clarity as outcome of Gent:

Obviously there is the main position that so far Kids' Guernica as expression of a world wide action initiated by professors at university never conceived this as a means to make money while doing this work. Hence a memorandum of understanding is needed to bridge this difference. For issues connected with 'making money' on behalf of Kids' Guernica are quite different. These issues need to be faced especially if Kids' Guernica is to continue not as has been the practice over the past 15 years. Gent brought some clarity but further discussion shall be needed, and therefore this can only be done on the basis of a 'memorandum of understanding' to allow clarity as to where there is agreement and where not. Naturally this shall need responses from everyone concerned about the future of Kids’ Guernica."

- Hatto Fischer


Kids' Guernica and European Capital of Culture

Moderated by Wim Coudenys from the University Network of European Capitals of Culture

Since the one day conference was dedicated to link Kids' Guernica with the European Capitals of Culture, the presence of the philosopher and director of Wroclaw 2016 was an important step to put the forth coming actions of Kids' Guernica into the greater context of such an understanding of culture.

Bart Verschaffel with Adam Chmielewski

Adam Chmielewski gave a brief history of Wroclaw and why it is so important to tell that story linked to the German population being ousted in 1945 and Polish people like himself moving in so that this city has become one of refugees and of migrants. He pointed out that in that in the vicinity to that city, about 50 kms, there lived the man von Richthoven who was made responsible by the German military to develop new strategies of destruction and he was the one who devised the plan for the attack on innocent civilians in Guernica 1937. Later on he deployed similar concepts on other cities now known as places of utmost destruction by use of technology and no regard for human lives. Since Adam advocates as well the concept 'spaces for beauty' as key framework for the bid by Wroclaw to become European Capital of Culture in 2016, a lot depends now on him rewriting the original bid in need to be handed in by mid May with the decision pending on June 21st.

Since Adam Chmielewski was just recently in Spain to visit the cities short listed as well when attempting to become European Capital of Culture as well in 2016, he proposes cooperation with San Sebastian, a city which is but 50 km away from Guernica.

At the same time, Diane Dodd has put in a proposal on behalf of Kids' Guernica to the Spanish city of Burgos burdened by the Franco past since he maintained his headquarter in that city.

This would mean even more tasks ahead for Kids' Guernica if both cities would be successful in their bid to be European Capitals of Culture in 2016



Nicole Hohmann re-accounted her experiences as a writer spending one entire year in Essen, her former place of childhood to which she returned after years of absence in order to join the concept of Jochen Gerz 2 - 3 streets over. It meant writing about changes observed over this entire year. It is another way of describing and evaluating the impact this one year of being a European Capital of Culture has upon a city and its people


End of the Conference - on the stairs to the main entrance to the University of Gent


Reception at City Hall

Model of historical centre

Harry, friend of Jad Salman, and Wim Coudenys



Adam Chmielewski handing a book about Wroclaw to Alderman for Education, Rudy Coddens

Takya Kaneda donating a new canvas to Wroclaw


Adam Chmielewski with the new canvas for a future Kids' Guernica action in Wroclaw



Saturday Feb. 19, 2011: Visiting the Cathedral and the historical centre before departure

or what details we noticed in the Van Eyck painting in the cathedral.

Outcome: Memorandum of Understanding


Further remarks:

Kevin Cooper from Belfast:

"Bernard as the local coordinator of Kids’ Guernicas Action in Ireland is seeking to find ways of enriching the process beyond merely exhibiting the peace mural. Belfast is a live conflict in transition so future actions must bring added value, new perspectives and improve relationships.

Bernard has come away from Ghent and Brussels with ideas and actions on how to progress the interests of peace in Northern Ireland, build new relationships, friendships, which will help give new insights and make best use of the Belfast Kids’ Guernica peace mural moving forward.

It was extremely generous of Takuya Kaneda to offer to take the Belfast painting to Japan for exhibiting in June. I believe this can only happen by taking more time to build a wider, more inclusive process and maybe with a regional approach to include other venues which could be explored.

Can I particularly thank Bart Verschaffel and his university technician for their seamless support and help in keeping the conference moving forward. This is particularly true of Bart given his recent family bereavement.

I have much yet to reflect on from the other presentations but it was surely an opportunity to develop new friendships. Informal discussions are good but can sometimes exclude others who cannot be present because of other commitments therefore it is important to allow sufficient time for the formal structural and future processors to be discussed in the formal sessions. Good behaviour must be practised, not just talked about.

Peace comes dropping slowly.

Fraternal greetings to everybody"

Kevin Cooper

Photo documentation of the conference:


Copyright © Kevin Cooper Photoline:

Synopsis by

^ Top

« Photo documentation of Gent conference by Kevin Cooper | Performing The new Europe - Toronto Nov. 2009 »