In 1989, the Artist Placement Group unhappy with the widespread appropriation and misuse of the term placement by local and global government and corporate residency programs, re-structured and re-named themselves Organisation & Imagination (O + I). O + I was made up of artists Barbara Steveni, John Latham, Rita Keegan and Carlyle Reedy with the intention of focusing on education reform. O + I’s first and most expansive project was an eighteen-month study with the Inner London Education Authority and the London Borough of Southwark. Between 1989 and 1995, the Southwark Education Research Project (SERP) placed artists in fifteen schools in the London borough of Southwark, at a time when a new National Curriculum was being introduced into schools. Within these schools, O + I staged interventions and encouraged students, teachers and inspectors to critically question the education process, and more significantly, incorporate the arts into the learning environment. For example, Latham asked the school children to construct sculptural artifacts from waste material found in skips and then to spend as much time discussing the question “What can we say to have gone on …?" The findings of the eighteen-month study were summarized in the presentation Adaption to Change: Recycling Language shown at Southwark Town Hall in 1991 and their findings would go on to served as a nationwide model for education reform. In 2018, Peckham Platform revisited SERP’s significance in their project SERP Reactivated, which secured and preserved the original SERP archive and reactivated the archive through a series of events held in collaboration with Flat Time House and Tate Exchange.

O + I’s critical approach to education also took the form of a series of lectures at the Chelsea School of Art during the 1980s. The Chelsea lecture series provided art students with a history of the placement concept and coordinated placements for students with the Royal Parks of London and the Heritage Department. O + I also facilitated Europe-wide ERASMUS student exchanges. For example, in Spain, Seville’s art college arranged placements for students with local industries. During the 1990s, O + I further established an extensive European network attending conferences in Germany, Holland, Norway and Russia and initiated the placement concept within German government ministries.

Text by Katherine Jackson