Contributor: Peggy Kwan,Tang Shiu Kin Victoria Government Secondary School
Participating students: S.4 & S.5 students
In light of school suspensions and city lockdowns around the world caused by COVID-19, Asia Art Archive launched the series Artist Exercises: Learning at Home, inviting local and international artists to design a range of educational activities. These exercises offer different perspectives and approaches to encourage teachers and students to reflect upon their experience of the virus outbreak, relevant social issues, and the purpose of art in times of emergency. Visual arts teacher Peggy Kwan shares her experience of introducing the exercises in classrooms.
Over the past three months or so, secondary students in Hong Kong have been learning at home as classes are suspended over the pandemic. However, these online classes sometimes present an obstacle to teaching, particularly with art lessons that emphasise face-to-face demonstration and interaction. As on-ground teaching and library research are now impossible, teachers mostly rely on online resources. In addition to using video footage and software tools for creative practices in class, I have also incorporated materials from AAA’s Learning at Home series into the art lessons for Form 4–5 students.
Form 4 Students—Creative Practice: From Mapping Home to Creating Zines
At the beginning of the class suspension, I asked my Form 4 class to refer to Kith Tsang Tak Ping’s Connecting The Pieces Of Everyday Life and conduct a field study at home by observing the daily habits of family members and recording them with maps. But I found that it was difficult for students to translate the practice of drawing maps into caring about their family, let alone ask them to contemplate and explore themselves in an introspective manner. It seems the conceptual approach is still too abstract and esoteric to Form 4 students.
On that note, I introduced Beatrix Pang Sin Kwok’s Experiments With Zines halfway through the course. As a solo, almost bagatelle-like work of creation, the zine offers an opportunity for Form 4 students who feel uncomfortable with hand drawing to give it a try. With a high degree of creative autonomy, the zine also offers a tangible creative framework in the form of an A4 paper. While students are given free rein to work out their designs with elements like composition, drawings, and visuals, the teacher also has ample room for improvisation. During the lesson, I taught students the basics of composition, drawing, and visual elements, with examples and references for students to grasp the creative potential an A4 paper has to offer. In addition, I introduced students to stencil printing and colour separation, thereby preparing them for the printing process they were to undertake when classes resumed. In fact, they were greatly motivated upon seeing the printed works of their fellow classmates.
Experiments With Zines was not a fragmented learning experience. One participating student continued with the creative practice by publishing illustrations based on characters he invented for the zine on his Instagram account, while others went on to explore the possibilities of computer-aided drawing and poster production.
Form 5 Students—Art as Conduit for Emotion: Poems & Paintings Created
In my experience, Form 5 students are less motivated in the classroom. It is therefore important to offer them a platform through which they can channel their emotions during the pandemic. In this case, I dedicated a lesson, originally intended for School-based Assessment, to Law Yuk Mui’s The Lovers, 1988/2020, with a view towards engaging my students in a discussion about human relationships and social distancing during the pandemic.
I wanted to focus on poetry because I believe it is an effective vehicle for expressing emotions. With the help of Chinese Language teacher Law Yu Hang, who outlined the principles of modern poetry in class, I guided students through an exercise on pictorial association. Below are some of the additional reference materials I used to give students a more concrete idea of the exercise:
Examples of poem writing provided by Law Yu Hang:
- Defamiliarisation:《福華街茶餐廳》(Cha Chaan Teng on Fuk Wah Street), Chung Kwok Keung
- Rhythm in poetry: “A War Symphony,” Chen Li
Poetry and Visual Art:
- 跟著Yoko Ono寫詩 (Write poem with Yoko Ono)
- William Carlos Williams’ “The Great Figure” (poem) and Charles Demuth’s Figure 5 in Gold (painting)
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix inspired by Dante Alighieri’s La Vita Nuova
Works on Distance:
- Two-dimensional: Tina Mammoser’s works
- Three-dimensional: Anything You Destroy, We Will Rebuild exhibition at David Gill Gallery, London
- Performance Art: The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk, Marina Abramović and Ulay
In the class there was a student who was put in quarantine at home after travelling to the UK, initially for study. She was kept in isolation to the point where meals were left at the door because no physical contact was allowed, not even with her family. Her work, therefore, expresses the agony of distancing under one roof. Another student found solace in family love which manifested itself in her father’s ordinary gesture of handing her a glass of water. These inner emotions were channelled into verses, photos, and in one case, a multimedia collage that expresses the author’s eager anxiety to take a walk by the sea.
Just as their Form 4 juniors continued to create and contemplate after the exercise, these Form 5 students also incorporated their discoveries and reflections from the exercise into their assignments for School-based Assessment. Some of them even aligned their assignment topics with their own subject of contemplation.
The exercises, outlined in a framework that combines artistic creation and artistic reflection on life, inspire new pedagogic possibilities from the perspective of artists and creatives. As an instructor in class, the teacher has to adjust the exercise contents with regards to students’ learning abilities, needs, emotional wants, and personal growth. In this sense, these exercises are not just individual assignments but a continuum within a learning process that keeps on inspiring students.
Publishing date: 20 August 2020
The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited.