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.
Anga Art Collective is an artist collective based in Guwahati in Assam. A primary focus for them is educational programmes with the communities in their region through “kNow School.” In this exercise, they reference children’s workshops conducted by artists of Womanifesto in rural Thailand, and how those were attuned to site-specific materiality. Through their exercise, they engaged a group of students at Parijat Academy in Pamohi near Guwahati, and this exercise can be applied widely across urban and rural environments for teachers and learners who wish to engage more deeply with natural environments and ecological concerns of the present.
The pandemic has brought into sharp focus certain challenges within the field of pedagogy. In the last two decades, two processes have been influencing one another—the eradication of the social, and the growing importance of digital technology. These processes have imposed severe constraints on the idea of education as an institutionalised means of social cohesion. The pandemic has accelerated these processes, while the use of the virtual space in education and our everyday lives has become an irreversible global trend. Apart from the impact of the pandemic, rapid climate change has been adversely affecting infrastructures in precarious regions and environments, which are sensitive to earthquakes, floods, and the like. These conditions will increasingly demand fluid models of education. As familiar classroom practices and structures will be threatened and uncertain, the challenge for educators will be to work more closely in and with outdoor teaching practices. Given the widespread precarity in the world, this also invites us to analyse critically our own engagement (or lack thereof) with our surroundings. As the pandemic subsides and schools reopen, teachers may consider carrying out some place-based learning exercises with their students. The intent of these exercises is to stimulate the senses of the students: they can be encouraged to observe and interact with their surroundings, perceive and ponder upon the landscape, and reflect on their associations with everyday encounters.
The Thailand-based Womanifesto has a vast archive of documents and photographs. A careful selection from their extensive collection could help teachers formulate certain placed-based learning exercises for students. While exploring their archive, Assam-based Anga Art Collective took particular interest in the School Workshops conducted during Womanifesto Workshop 2001 (click here), as well as the workshops carried out with students during the Womanifesto Residency Program in 2008 (click here). While these workshops mostly incorporate region-centric themes and explore site-specific materiality in rural Thailand, the methods could be creatively employed by practitioners/teachers from other regions when they frame their own exercises.
Materials required: A4-size white papers, pens, pencils, erasers, gum, pins, staplers, threads and needles, and scissors.
Ask the students to gather in an empty room or open field and sit together in a circle. Start with light conversation; ask them how they spent their last weekend or holiday, what they like to do in their free time.
Ask what kinds of places or landscapes they like or want to visit. Give them examples (the city, countryside, forest, mountain, desert, sea, river, etc.). Encourage them to explain in a few words their choices. Try to understand how they visualise or read a landscape.
After everyone shares their thoughts, initiate a conversation around the idea of landscape and different geographies. Then, ask them to talk about their home and their surroundings. Try to understand how they relate with these familiar places.
Exercise 1: Close Your Eyes; Read Landscape through Sounds
This exercise can be carried out in different locations or at the same location during different times of the day.
Take the students out to a nearby park on a Sunday evening, ask them to linger around the place, choose a suitable spot to sit, and to close their eyes and pay close attention to the sounds around them. Unlike classroom exercises, we suggest you not set any specific task objective or time limit, so that the students don’t feel any kind of pressure. After the exercise, ask the students to draw something based on what they heard.
A similar exercise can be carried out in the early morning. This time, ask the students to sit on the ground in a circle. Ask them to close their eyes for two minutes and remember one specific sound from their surroundings. Encourage the students to mimic the sound one-by-one. Once everyone shares their sound individually, ask them to mimic their sounds together to generate a collective soundscape.
Encourage the students to write down their observations in both exercises; it could be a short observational note or a poem that reflects their experience and memory of the site.
Teachers may consider the kNOw school workshop examples given below as reference.
When we talk about certain landscapes, our understanding is often mediated by an idealised articulation in the form of words and visual representations in textbooks. The role of sound is either often missed or downplayed. But sound is equally intrinsic and dynamic. Paying careful attention to the soundscape could offer an interesting reading of a landscape. This exercise foregrounds the auditory while bringing new perspectives to our visualisation process.
A major objective of the exercise is to help students be more attentive towards soundscapes and discover the auditory links in our surroundings.
The exercise opens up discussions about the human impact on the soundscape, and vice versa.
Educators can also observe and understand how children perceive sound and relate to it.
Exercise 2: Walk, Pause, Select; Collecting Materials as Play and Pedagogy
The second part of the exercise is to allow students to engage and interact with the landscape. Once the sound exercise is completed, ask students to slowly walk around the park, look carefully at their surroundings, and note down what they see. The teachers may help the students with names of trees, objects, or other things there. As the observation and interaction with the place continues, ask them to collect materials and objects they find interesting. These objects could be anything, from fallen leaves and twigs to things thrown away. These objects will reflect the ecology of the site in its everyday setting.
The exercise can introduce students to a place and its significance. For instance, if the exercise is carried out in a botanical park, the teacher can explain its environmental or ecological importance. They can then introduce the natural and non-natural elements there and observe the students’ interactions.
A broader objective is to expand the understanding of our relationship with a place and make meaningful connections. As students slowly navigate the place through walking, pausing, and carefully observing the site, the exercise becomes a meditative/experiential exploration of a place.
In this exercise, the collected objects themselves will be the focal point of the learning process. It could be interesting to observe how students render a space using non-human elements.
Notes for Teachers
During the exercises, teachers should advise students to keep their sketches, notes, and collected materials in a safe place. It is important to document the process, and students can be encouraged to take photos with their mobile phone cameras as well.
Once the exercises are completed, sit together in a classroom and do a review discussion with the students. Share feedback and observations.
Gather all the sketches, notes, materials, and prints of the photographs. Ask the students to explain their notes and sketches. Why did they collect a particular object and not a different one? This is to understand how students perceive the landscape, and how it is then translated in the sketches, notes, and materials they collected.
You can arrange sketches and notes to make small flip books. Involve the students, and brainstorm with them to collectively arrive at interesting formats and designs.
The materials collected by the students and the print-outs of photos they took during the exercise can be arranged on a large sheet of paper. They can also make sketches and drawings of the site based on the notes they made during the second exercise. The idea is to encourage the students to create a visual “mapping” of the site.
A display of the students’ works made during kNOw school workshop in Parijat Academy:
Anga Art Collective was initiated by a group of friends in 2010 at Guwahati in Assam. Most members come from a visual arts background, while others have differing institutional inclinations and forms of engagement. Their practice includes painting, sculpture, photography, mixed media, public art, performance, and site-specific installations. Embracing and experimenting with different forms and materials, they seek to engage with the geographical, ecological, social, as well as temporal elements of place. They believe in sharing knowledge across disciplines and collaborating with other artists, village communities, ecologists, academics, and activists on different events and situations. The “kNOw school,” which began in December 2020, is such an initiative. Through kNOw school, the collective seeks to pass on site-specific and community-based pedagogical engagements in the form of different learning exercises.
Publishing date: 14 September 2022
The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited.