Artist Exercises: Connecting Artist-Educators Across Geographies brings together artists and artist-educators from Asia and the Asian diaspora, and is premised on the creative manner in which artists mediate our experiences. The cohort for this series, formed through an Open Call, has made connections between AAA’s digital archival collections and their own situated contexts and educational environments. The connections range from speculative and personal to directly using archival materials as part of their workshop or programme. While these exercises were attempted with the artist-educator’s longstanding groups of learners in their own contexts, they can be applied in wider contexts and locations.
Ponnapa Prakkamakul is a Thai visual artist and landscape architect based in Massachusetts, USA. Her work explores the relationship between humans and their environment, with a focus on cultural displacement and isolation issues among immigrants. This exercise uses and draws inspiration from AAA’s collections on performance art, and demonstrates how the art form can be wielded to activate and reclaim community spaces.
This artist exercise aims to introduce performance art as a creative placekeeping strategy for the community. The class explores how contemporary artists can use performative acts to raise awareness while engaging the public as part of the performance. The community participate both as audience members and performers to reflect on shared urgencies, both on a personal and collective level, that bring a community together. The goal is to utilise the ephemeral characteristics of the performance to activate and reclaim spaces that cannot accommodate physical changes due to local permits for installation. The exercise consists of an online and onsite component.
- Explore how to express ideas and thoughts through performance art
- Learn how contemporary artists draw inspiration from daily activities or common practices
- Raise awareness of gentrification, cultural identity, and historical issues
This artist exercise is made for art educators, university students, and art-lovers interested in performance art. Teachers have the freedom to adjust the exercises according to their education settings and students’ learning needs.
I have been working with communities in Boston’s Chinatown since 2019 through A-VOYCE's youth programme at the Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC). The students are second- and third-generation Asian Americans in their high school year, who live or go to school in Chinatown. The programme connects youth with teaching artists to explore the history of Boston’s Chinatown, the effect of urban renewal, community development, and cultural identity. The goal is to empower them to use their voices in affecting positive change in the community through dialogue, storytelling, and public art.
Gentrification: The process of changing the character of a neighbourhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses.
Creative Placekeeping: A process of community development that leverages outside public, private, and nonprofit funding to strategically shape and change the physical and social character of a neighbourhood using arts and cultural activities.
Daily Object: An object commonly used or found in the household that reflects a specific culture, such as musical instruments, utensils, home decorations, and ritualistic objects.
Body as Canvas / Body as Sculpture: To consider using the human body as the base for an installation; an art form that works with the human body and considers body a mobile object, a live sculpture.
The class includes both open-ended discussions and hands-on activities. The discussions are a way to get the entire class to start a conversation and brainstorm in small groups for a more engaged conversation. The hands-on activities utilise common materials such as clothes and household objects. These activities are aimed at developing students’ creativity and pushing their boundaries.
Reflective teaching is part of my practice. In situations where students have different levels of comfort with participating in the performance, the exercise is flexible enough to be adapted while achieving the same learning objectives. The exercise can be adjusted, and improvisation is welcome in response to the students' level of engagement.
Betsy Damon, Keepers of the Waters, 1995
- Betsy Damon, 7000 Year Old Woman, 1976-1979
Kwok Mangho Frog King Archive, 1980-1995
Lee Wen Archive
Implementation - Warm-up Exercise (Online)
“How are you today?”
One by one, students make a series of body gestures to express how they are, for the rest of the class to guess. After everyone finishes, the class briefly discusses what kinds of body language are more successful than others.
For this warm-up exercise, the question can be anything that relates to the group of students. The intention is to encourage students to start using their body as a means to communicate and express their thoughts.
If students are very engaged during this warm up activity, a Zoom recording of everyone making their gestures at the same time can be documented as part of an installation.
Exercise I: THE PAST (Online)
Step 1: THE CHANGE
1. Start with a class discussion on changes happening in the students’ neighbourhood and how these changes affect the way people live in, and think and feel about, the place.
2. Teachers then provide a brief background of the Keepers of the Water festival at the Funan and Lhasa Rivers, introduce the artist Yin Xiuzhen, and show videos and images from Keepers of the Waters: Yin Xiuzhen, Washing River, 1995.
3. The class reflects on and discusses the art piece, the artist’s message, the changing states of the water, and how it affects the viewer’s attention, feelings, and engagement.
- What is performance art?
- What are the artist’s roles in performance art?
- What is public art?
- How can the artist invite the viewers to participate?
- What are the benefits of public participation?
- How does the changing nature of the sculpture change the perception of the viewer?
Step 2: THE STORIES, THE HISTORY
1. The teacher can then introduce Frog King and Froggy Sunglasses Project (1998), and explain the artist intention behind the work, which was for the audiences to “recover memories of the known past, and to re-ignite them to illuminate the present moment.” Read more detail in Frogtopia HongKornucopia
2. Students sketch out their ideas on how history can be represented visually through things seen daily such as buildings, people, food, clothes, and share their thoughts with the class.
- According to the brainstorm session, how has history been represented in a more tangible format?
- Is history about the past? How can you find history in everyday life/objects?
- What is “history” and its role in a community?
3. In small groups (breakout rooms), students brainstorm on the definition and understanding of history using work by Yin Xiuzhen and Frog King as examples.
- What do you consider as your cultural identity?
- How can you present history in a more tangible medium?
Step 3: THE BODY, THE IDENTITY
1. Apart from the tangible historical artefacts we discussed in Step 2, some artists also use bodies to explore their personal stories and express their own identities. Teachers can introduce the artist Betsy Damon and her role in Keepers of the Waters (Chengdu and Lhasa). During this part, teachers can show images from 7,000 Year Old Woman, as well as the Interview with Yin Xiuzhen on 4 November 2017.
Image: Interview with Yin Xiuzhen, 4 Nov 2017, Betsy Damon Archive: Keepers of the Waters, Asia Art Archive Collection.
Other artworks that can be used in Step 3:
- Live Body Sculpture by Frog King, 1978
- Lee Wen’s Journey of a Yellow Man, 1999
- Body Installation by Mayumi Hamada, 1999
2. Students share their thoughts on the work; from there, they can relate it back to their own stories. Potentially, the teacher asks the students to think about how to explore this strategy beyond personal stories and talk about the history of their own neighbourhoods.
(1) What medium do the artists use?
(2) In each artwork, how do the artists make use of their bodies and clothes (or things that cover them)?
(3) How do the artists use the body as a medium to understand and express their identities? What method they used to express history of their community?
- For instance, how do they make their private experiences public and political?
- How do they use individual narratives and experiences to challenge the stereotypical representation of their communities?
Step 4: THE DRESS
Imagining that the body is a canvas, each student chooses at least five pieces of clothing or items from their family members to mix-and-match. Encourage them to be creative and gender-neutral. Use the body as part of the artwork, and use the clothing as a means of expression and communication.
- Why did you choose these clothes or items from your family members?
- What are the stories behind these items, and what do they mean to you?
Step 5: THE SITE
- The class meets on a selected site in the neighbourhood bringing the clothing or items that they chose in Step 4 with them. The site can be a civic plaza, open space, park, or a vacant land. Depends on the site, students can choose to work on their memories of the site or create a new connection to the site.
- With the artist’s projects the class has been discussed about, each student thinks about the message they would like to communicate with the public and choose the performance that the artists used in their projects. These performances include collective action, body paint, or participation.
- How to relate your identity with the landscape or the audience?
- How does the selected performance related to their stories and identity?
- How to engage the audience?
This part of the exercise intends to be an in-person session. It can be done right after the zoom session or on another day depends on where each student is located.
Teachers: Prepare a slide presentation to facilitate discussion.
Students: Prepare clothes from family members, or daily objects in the house.
Extra Materials: Large pieces of paper, tape, scissors, and colour markers for students to draw on, so that in the event students could not find specific clothes or objects, they could make them with paper.
Alternative for in-person workshop: Teachers can adjust the exercise for an in-person session by asking the students to bring clothes and objects from home to the class, or use found objects (like Frog King in one of his works). At the end of the workshop, the class can head out and perform at a selected spot in the neighbourhood.
With students exploring performance for the first time, I noticed that sometimes they'd hesitate to use their bodies in the activity. One exercise to help the students to get more familiar with the idea is to ask the students to pretend to be their classmate and use their objects to perform as someone else.
Questions to discuss after the exercise:
- How do you think some of the selected items shape our identity or the way we see things?
- Compare different placekeeping strategies, and their effectiveness in connecting with the community.
Exercise II (Bonus Exercise): IMAGINE THE FUTURE (Onsite)
Step 1: COMMUNITY STORIES
2. Students discuss their thoughts on the performance and the intention of the artist.
- What is the artist's message?
- What is the difference between the ice in Yin Xiuzhen’s work and in Lee Wen’s work?
- What is the historical background?
- How can we reconstruct or reimagine the history?
Step 2: BRICK BY BRICK, WE BUILD A COMMUNITY
1. As a class, discuss a place in the neighbourhood that is beginning to lose its identity, either because of building demolition or family businesses moving out, graffiti tagging, emergence of new corporate chain stores, gentrification, and so on. The class chooses one place as a site for performance.
2. In small groups, students walk around the neighbourhood and take photos of places important to them or places of interests. In the process, they can make note of found objects such as flowers or soil, and interview residents on their memories of the place and what they wish to see in the future.
3. Together, the class casts the photos, found objects, and messages from the residents on pieces of paper into ice bricks (or any suitable medium).
4. At the site, students stack bricks and invite community members to join in stacking the bricks as an act of rebuilding the place or share stories about the place.
- What is an appropriate site for this installation?
- How can we invite community members and residents to participate?
Reflections on AAA Collections
AAA Collections is, in a way, a Wikipedia of Asian contemporary art. It has its own world of text documents, images, videos, references, etc. I find the videos and artist interviews very helpful; these documentations provide a holistic understanding of the exhibition, artist intention, and even responses from the audiences, which are usually difficult to find on museum and gallery websites. Through this information, along with images from the artwork, I was able to make connections between work from the same artists or within a group exhibition.
Given the volume of materials in AAA Collections, I suggest anyone who would like to explore the archives spare a chunk of time (4–6 hours) in order to do productive research. Rather than working over several short periods, I find longer hours can help me immerse in the documents, and read and understand the work enough to make connections from one artwork to another and also across collections. As an educator, AAA's website is a valuable knowledge hub I can utilise and learn from.
About the Artist
Ponnapa Prakkamakul is a Thai visual artist and landscape architect based in Massachusetts. Her work explores the relationship between humans and their environment, with a focus on cultural displacement and isolation issues among immigrants. Prakkamakul holds a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received the Lowthorpe Fellowship Award upon graduation. She has held residences with the David Bethuel Jamieson Artist of Color Residency, the Urbano Project, Mount Auburn, Residence Lab, and Manoog Family Artist Residency Program at the Plumbing Museum in Watertown, with four paintings in the museum’s permanent collection. Her work has also been exhibited, published, and collected throughout the US and in Asia. Prakkamakul currently is a member at Kingston Gallery and a registered landscape architect at Sasaki.
Publishing date: 27 October 2022
The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited.