#1: Tradition


Onis Skola is occupied with the wooden building tradition of Georgia, with the objects, ways and moods that constitute this tradition. Also, Onis Skola is occupied, simply, with itself; as a place in rural Racha, as a gathering point for practices, as an event and as a building.

Education, as we understand it, inevitably is concerned with ‘the future’, with all that may or may not come to be. It projects, prepares and probes, it deals with things stretching into this unknown and unknowable domain. It anticipates, predicts, dreads, hopes, invents and creates. Whatever or whoever are regarded the ‘objects’ of education are themselves subjects to change or becoming, dissolving in the very process themselves (their values, standpoints, capabilities, capacities etc.) into the shadowland (at once common and deeply personal) that they are concerned with. Therefore, we must consider the question of ‘attitudes’ towards future as a fundamentally educational problem, bridging the personal and the political in a shared uncertainty, in a shared openness.

Tradition, traditionally… is understood as stretching backwards in time. One might claim that the domain of tradition is that of ‘the past’, of what can be known, of what has solidified into technical particularities and historical facts. Rather, we choose the opposite position: Tradition, no less than future, is a vague terrain, something approached from a distance, something open to interpretation, recollection, exploration and anticipation alike. Even hope.

Finally, there is a third horizon of uncertainty: The one we immediately encounter whenever we are situated, when our measure is neither ‘tradition’ nor ‘education’, but a mere building next to a river, a group of people, an event, a situation. We hesitate before the ‘meaning’ of such a situation: How does it relate to the ambitions we might have, for education, for the future? It doesn’t, strictly speaking – it just quietly gathers around itself certain measures of what is appropriate, necessary or beautiful… And yet, these measures are not isolated or arbitrary.

We (the participants) are part of what is gathering itself: A situation is never in front of us, we already share something of it, of its resonances and its tonality ( 1 Nancy 42). And we bring to it our standards, our practices, relations, involvements, capacities and tendencies. We bring them as persons or citizens, already deeply entangled in society.

‘What takes place takes place in a world and by way of that world’, writes Jean Luc Nancy.

Again, we need a bridge between the singular and the common. A situation or ‘things in themselves’ do not need such a bridge, they are the bridge. But as a model of thought, we might suggest the concept of joy. There is the joy of creation and there is an infinite amount of other kinds of joy: They all synthesize, they … Joy is singular and it is shared in a bridge-like manner, we can hardly make such a a distinction. Joy is a surplus, it escapes instrumentalization and capitalization. It cannot be

occasionally, among what is gathered are recollections and intimations which give us glimpses of what went before or is to come.

It does so by being their mode of visibility and intelligibility. It is exactly the point from which you can see neither…)

Another uncertainty is

… situation is an island in the stream that makes visible future, tradition…

In gathering, and in being exposed, there is intense attention. There is the reading of obscure and hardly visible signs. There is putting your ear to the earth to hear its trembling, there is humming a refrain to yourself in the dark. There is arranging and rearranging your little collection like a child — curious, plain and optimistic — like someone young before the world.

THREADS (and this website)

This website, we hope, will be received as a gathering place and, in due time, as the documentation of the acts and practices of gathering. Also, it will function as a collection of what has been gathered. This collection, instead of stating them projects or issues, we will call them THREADS. These involve stories, maps, moods, technical details, imagery, words, meanings, tendencies, strata, memories, intimations. In other words, this website is a somewhat messy multiplicity. It is an incomplete list, it is a small wooden box that is not full*.

For now, we have hardly gathered anything ourselves, ONIS SKOLA is young, and great expectations take the place of hard earned findings. And yet, there are certain things that we already know, certain things that we already hope for.

*The Epigraph of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden:

Dear Pat,
You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, “Why don’t you make something for me?”

I asked you what you wanted, and you said, “A box.”

“What for?”

“To put things in.

“What things?”

“Whatever you have,” you said.

Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts—the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.

And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.

And still the box is not full.

( …1 ) Jaques Herzog suggests allusion as a possible mode of such indirect relationality:

I want to repeat that our architecture stands in no real tradition with earlier architecture. It does, however, allude to it through observations, critical perceptions, copies of it or denials of it. It is almost as if an earlier mediatory generation had been wiped out by an environmental catastrophe.
(Lecture held by Jacques Herzog at the Harvard University in the Symposium Emerging European Architects, 18 October 1988).

( …2 )

What is a tradition for wooden architecture? In a common and widespread understanding it is a finite set of formal, technical and stylistic traits, particular ways of processing and assembling a natural resource into buildings. ‘Ways’, in this understanding, are continued in a kind of inertia, in the passing down of craftsmanship, knowledge, tacit or explicit, through the surf of generations and history. This image suggests ‘tradition’ as a fragile entity to be preserved, an original script prone to be corrupted by change, in need of protection and conservation. 
Along with this understanding also come particular modes of knowing tradition. Since the imagined tool box of tradition is vast but after all finite, knowing is a laborious effort of technically precise investigation, the measure of this precision is… , it’s truthfulness arises as…

Other understandings cast a wider net; they focus on the ‘ways of life’, the complex matrix of meanings, practices, functions and significance, that said tradition facilitates or ‘carries’. They are occupied with the effects of the traditional buildings, their social, environmental, material and economical entanglement with human life and settlement. In a lecture (1988) Jaques Herzog gives the following description tradition as a unified whole:

In earlier cultures tradition was a kind of ethical pattern, a matrix for the identity of things, relationships and self-understanding. Tradition is a utopia. The utopia of a unified culture and the yearning for the integration of life within a collective functioning at a highly complex level. Tradition is a comprehensive category of being and cannot therefore be split apart.

What we find noteworthy in Herzog’s lecture is the idea that tradition can only be approached indirectly, from a distance and from the outside, as ‘the distant utopia of a complete and integrated culture’ ( …1 ).

This ‘distance’ obviously implies that we can never fully know tradition, let alone reconstruct it, neither in part or in whole.

We might arrive at this conclusion from other angles too. In ‘Irreductions’ Bruno Latour argues that any scientific attempt to capture and order objects of knowledge imply a simplification:

Things-in-themselves? But they’re fine, thank you very much. And how are you? You complain about things that have not been honored by your vision? You feel that these things are lacking the illumination of your consciousness? But if you missed the galloping freedom of the zebras in the savannah this morning, then so much the worse for you; the zebras will not be sorry that you were not there, in any case you would have tamed them, killed, photographed, or studied them. Things in themselves lack nothing, just as Africa did not lack whites before their arrival. ( …2 )