Teaching Materials

Performance Art in the Classroom

Contributor: Carmen Kwok, SKH Lam Kau Mow Secondary School
Participating students: S.4 & S.5 students

I. Introduction

The 2019 Teaching Labs series, part of AAA’s teacher professional development programme, focused on performance art. “From Drawing to Performance: The Lee Wen Archive” featured a talk on the history of performance art in Singapore, and used Lee Wen’s works as a case study. Following the talk, two sessions of Teachers’ Learning Community activities were organised to support teachers introducing performance art to students.

The Teachers’ Learning Community was led by the Hong Kong artist and art critic Anthony Leung Po Shan. Leung conducted hands-on exercises with teachers and asked them to lead two activities in school:

  • Tagging Exercise: Students were asked to brainstorm keywords around performance artworks that teachers showed them.
  • Reset the Classroom: Students were asked to alter the existing classroom setting.

Carmen Kwok introduced the exercises in her school, using artworks by Lee Wen as a point of departure. This is the case study that details how she implemented the lesson.

 

II. Implementation

Part 1: Tagging Exercise

Activity

  1. The teacher shows videos and/or images of selected performance artworks.
  2. Students write keywords on Post-it notes, describing what they think, feel, observe, and associate with the works.
  3. The teacher guides students to group similar keywords together and stick them on a whiteboard.
  4. The teacher leads a discussion where students share why they picked these keywords, noting similar observations and feelings students have for the performance artworks.

Selected artist: Lee Wen
Videos:

Tags proposed by students:
#naked #racism #exaggerate #body #moment #avant-garde
#solitude #silence # complaint #society #criticise #shock
#search #experience #personal #special

 

Part 2: Reset the Classroom

Activity 1

  • The teacher invites students to make use of the classroom as a stage for a short performative work. The work would be students’ response to the idea of “learning.”
  • Students break into groups and have ten minutes to discuss. Each group then performs their works.
  • Each group gives a brief sharing and provides tags to elaborate their works. Students then give feedback to each other.
Image: Students’ performance work in the classroom. Courtesy of Carmen Kwok.
Image: Students’ performance work in the classroom. Courtesy of Carmen Kwok.

Tags proposed by students:
#pressure #burden #trapped #lost #helpless

Activity 2

  • Taking the performance work one step further, students are invited to “reset the classroom.”
  • Students have one week to write a proposal for re-arranging the setting of the classroom and make appropriate preparations.
  • Students reset the classroom for one day, including during lessons other than Visual Arts, with permission from teachers of other subjects.
  • Students propose tags to explain their chosen setup of the classroom.
Image: A classroom setting re-organised by students for a day. Courtesy of Carmen Kwok.
Image: A classroom setting re-organised by students for a day. Courtesy of Carmen Kwok.

Tags proposed by students:
#pressure #competition #winner&loser #attheexpenseofothers #socialhierarchy

 

Reflection by Carmen Kwok

It has been an experience of “teaching vs. learning”: after inviting students to reset the classroom, this assignment opened up a space for students to explore by themselves and take the initiative to respond to a particular issue in a dynamic way. The process required problem solving skills, the ability to open up and share one’s thoughts, and empathy. The exercise also encouraged them to be more critical towards their surroundings and the conditions they live in.

The tagging exercise introduced to students performance art, an art form they might not be familiar with. From experience, the result was better if we focused on one artist only, as it is easier for students to observe, analyse, and make sense of just one artist’s works. In this case, I focused on introducing Lee Wen and his works to students.

From my observation, the classroom reset exercise offered students a larger extent of freedom than most assignments, and encouraged students to be more involved in and devoted to the learning experience. It gave them an opportunity to voice out their own points of view. 

In this exercise, I limited the theme of students’ performative works to “learning” only. While I gave students the freedom to explore an issue, focusing on one theme helped them concentrate and realise the works in a rather short time frame.

It should be noted that careful communication with other teachers in advance was necessary, as the students reset the classroom during lessons of other subjects. The teacher-in-charge should elaborate the purpose of the exercise to the school. In our case, students were asked to make proposals to teachers involved, and issues such as safety and privacy (when photos are being taken) were discussed and clarified. 

Image: Safety measures were taken before students stack up desks and chairs in Activity 2. Courtesy of Carmen Kwok.
Image: Safety measures were taken before students stack up desks and chairs in Activity 2. Courtesy of Carmen Kwok.

 

Publishing date: 6 Aug 2020

 

The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited.

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