BFLG Amateur Hour: Mutant Taxidermy and Motion Tracking, Cirrus Gallery, 2014.
BFLG Amateur Hour: Becoming Famous, Machine Project, 2015.
Best Friends Learning GAng
March 1, 2016
by Dan Bustillo and Joey Canizzaro
The Best Friends Learning Gang (BFLG) is a pedagogical experiment that approaches learning as an embodied, decentralized, collective activity. In an effort to challenge the capitalist model of education, we emphasize the very process of learning over the delivery of a specific product or skill. Most educational models (even those used by experimental, free programs that we admire) mimic state and corporate power structures, rehearsing authoritarian hierarchy by placing a single figure in observance of the collective’s behavior, progress, or success. The BFLG is a unique alternative, a performative critique that exists in parallel rather than opposition to current models of education. We are both hosts and participants in “Amateur Hours,” workshops that have no instructor, no expert, and no authority. We announce the topic of a workshop and then put out a call for people to come and work together to figure it out from there. The gang researches and learns at the same time, valorizing failure and experimentation over competence and best practice while maintaining an informal environment that encourages spontaneous discovery and tangential investigation.
For over two years, we’ve been organizing workshops called Amateur Hours in our homes and as classes in institutions and galleries on a wide range of topics. The topics we choose are designed to encourage critical discourse while maintaining a learning space that is playful and inviting. We try to organize workshops that have a dynamic, sometimes antagonistic, relationship to the host site. As part of a graduate showcase at California Institute of the Arts, in which many artists choose to show their most neatly composed or “complete” works, we did a grotesque workshop on mutant taxidermy. As part of "You Might Be Discovered" -- a month long project curated by Vidisha Saini -- we were invited to host an Amateur Hour at LAST projects on Hollywood Boulevard; we learned to build an entire wax museum in a matter of hours and then we opened the museum to the public for free.
Last summer, we collaborated with a group of trans activists, artists, and allies to alter a graffiti mural that misgendered Chelsea Manning. Because no one involved had experienced wheatpasting, the BFLG hosted an ‘Amateur Hour’ on the subject at the local artist-run food + art space, Thank You For Coming. What began as a workshop on making very basic DIY glue evolved into an ongoing collective working to precipitate an informational campaign/dialogue around the problems of misgendering and the resistance met by trans- and gender-queer individuals in the justice system. The activity of making wheat paste was a catalyst for great conversations, an opportunity to use the BFLG model to mobilize a project by expelling the reliance on personal skill.
With a project called Utopia School at Flux Factory in New York, we hosted an Amateur Hour that aimed to provide a discussion space where ideas around utopias and utopia building could be reconsidered. We hosted a workshop on sand castle building, an activity that was paired with an “urban planning reading room” filled with various texts that offered contrasting approaches to the notion of utopia and its concretization in infrastructure, legislation, and design. As we physically constructed our dribble castles, with hydrophobic sand pools, towers, panopticons, and retreat centers, we learned about 5th century German socialist communal gardens, urban planning, all-pedestrian cities; we discussed the importance of currency, trade, segregation, penal systems, and where to bury the dead. People read and wrote from the library to the sand area and, while we arrived at no single conclusion or plan of action, we thought about the cities and towns we inhabited a little differently, conceiving of micro utopias within them.
Much of the time, our political bent is implicit rather than explicit. For our most recent Amateur Hour on Becoming Famous, we learned how to apply facial contouring makeup and how to make Wikipedia biography pages, examining the strategies of fame construction and public personae. The element of performance involved in being famous rather than studying fame allowed us to discover aspects of power and glamour that were seductive to each of us. The “how to” framing implicated each of us in the deification of celebrities, touching on the complex and complicated role they fill in our society rather than reductively denigrating them, or dissecting them with theoretical sterility.
Dan Bustillo and Joey Cannizzaro formed the Best Friends Learning Gang, a pedagogical initiative that uses happenings to incite decentralized learning; they are both part of neverhitsend, a collective that focuses on issues of privacy, surveillance, and communications ideology; and they co-organize events with a parafactual institution known as Los Angeles College, in the Department of Gray Scholarship, the Queer Athletics Division, and the Financial Aid Department's Student Debt Crisis Think Tank. DHB investigates power dynamics and jester tactics in their ongoing research and letter writing practices. JoCC makes undisciplinary, disorderly scores to investigate the semantics and semiotics of power.