Kyle and I just returned from our annual spring break trip to Savannah, GA. This trip, we visited two museums and saw some really great and inspiring exhibits, some of which were fun and whimsical and an experience in and of themselves, others sparking reflective, analytical discussion, and still others applicable to the Social Studies classroom.
Our first museum visit was to the new SCAD Museum of Art because artist Fred Wilson had an exhibit there entitled "Life's Link." I first became interested in Wilson after watching his Art21 segment where he talks about having little interest in creating new things with his hands. Instead, he wants to manipulate and curate and assemble things which already exist and fashion them in new ways to create new meaning. I was expecting to see one of his traveling collections, something similar to what I saw in the Art21 episode, but instead I saw exactly what drew me to him in his episode. Wilson came into the SCAD museum and looked over its permanent collection of art centered on black history, its Walter O. Evans Collection of African-American Art.. He then selected several of the artworks and reinterpreted them using Savannah bricks. He had tons of the bricks brought in - bricks stored and left over from building projects, walking paths, ruins from around the city - and next to each piece of artwork from the original collection, he assembled a set of bricks into a sculpture that represented or reinterpreted the original work.
Fred Wilson's reinterpretation of the Douglas work which hangs at the top of the "staircase."
We moved out of the Wilson exhibit into a hallway where two SCAD students ushered us through a door off to the side that we would have otherwise missed. The SCAD staffer gave us an overview of artist Sigalit Landau and her exhibit entitled "One Man's Floor is Another Man's Feelings", a theme woven throughout the exhibit being the conflicts and issues revolving around her native Israel. She explores conflict and interdependence and unity, often using textiles or resources associated with the region. While this context certainly influenced and clarified my understanding of the work, it also confined my reading of the work to just the artist's intent...or the museum staff's interpretation of the work. I prefer to study a work on my own first, before even looking at the title, because I want to think on it with as little influencing my reading of it as possible. Once I've had some time to explore it on my own, then I like to learn the title and more context about the work. That way, I walk away with a broader understanding of the work and have a few, varied readings of it, as opposed to just one limited - albeit maybe the "intended" - interpretation. Three works in particular stood out to me:
The first work, Azkelon, was a video projected on the floor of three men on a beach, throwing knives to acquire new territory and then marking off boundaries, always trying to grow their space, invade their neighbors, and take over their land. It was a such a repetitive process: as soon as one man would start to "win", another of the two would reclaim a chunk of the winner's land, and everything would seem to equalize again. The process kept repeating, no one ever progressing or winning, stagnant, eventually just ridiculous.
Sigalit Landau's "Azkelon"
The second work, which I just realized mentions the same "Azkelon" as in the previous work, is a short video of men and women sitting around a table. A little girl underneath the table tied their shoe laces together, trying to unite them, but all of the men and women got up, leaving their shoes behind. In the end, the little girl is left alone under the table, enclosed in a ring of shoes all tied together in a circle around her but with no people filling them. I wonder if this represents the people's economic ties to one another: that their resources are shared or traded but that there's not unity amongst the people.
Sigalit Landau's "Erasing the Border of Azkelon"
The third work, Salted Lake, was a video of two boots made of salt sitting on the top of an iced over pond. The video focused on the boots the entire time as they slowly melted the ice underneath them, and finally, slowly, painstakingly slowly, thawed the ice and dipped beneath the surface. I wondered if this work was commenting on the conflict: stagnant, slow, frustrating. But when the boots finally dipped beneath the surface, was that hope that the long, ardous conflicts would someday be resolved? Kyle's reading of the work was that the countries in conflict are a sinking ship - or pair of boots - slowly bringing on their own demise by staying so firmly footed in their own ways, refusing to acknowledge and respect one another.
Sigalit Landau's "Salted Lake"
Classroom Applications: I see really great potential to create a unit based around these artworks, to explore the conflict, how it originated, the different countries' viewpoints and issues with one another, and to then offer more contextualized readings of the artworks based on what students learned about the history and economic and social climates of the different countries.
Museum Visit #2: Telfair Museums - The Jepson Center
The Jepson Center for the Arts (A Telfair Museum)
The second museum we visited was The Jepson Center, and while we've seen several exhibits there - from psychedelia, to nature and wildlife collections, to historic photographs and paraphenelia from Paris - the two we saw this last visit have been my favorite Jepson Center shows. The first was a collection of light sculptures from artist Leo Villareal.
The show was pure fun, wondering "How did they do that?", "It reminds me of a party or celebration!", "I could stare at this forever...", etc. While the works weren't really thought-provoking for me - I didn't see them as political or social commentaries - I really enjoyed the experience of just looking at them, examining them from all angles, laying on the floor underneath one of them and staring up at it. Some works had a disco/Vegas/rave/dance party vibe to them. Others had a tranquil/sun setting on the horizon/glowing quality to them. It was wondrous and cool and magical and sparkly and pretty and amazing and entertaining, and I loved loved loved it.
And I'm kicking myself for not picking up Villareal's book at the museum shop, and even though it doesn't compare to seeing the works play out in person, it's a piece of the experience:
The last show - which I only went to because Kyle was really excited for it, and he's rarely psyched to go to museums...he'll go...just with minimal enthusiasm - was on video games as a form of art: "Game Change: Video Games as Art Medium and Inspiration." I have to say...I think I liked the exhibit just as much as Kyle did. I had never thought of video games in the ways that these artworks provoked for me. The first couple of works were videos of the artist exploring the boundaries of the game: walking along the edge, pushing through boulders or walls until the screen warped, just wandering through the scene. These "walk" videos explored the limits of the illusion of videos games and those moments when you slip out of the illusion when the game warps or loses its fluidity. There was one video of a walk through parts of Lake Loch Ness and some land bordering it. I loved the transportive quality of it, where you feel like you're walking through the space and getting some glimpse of experiencing the real thing. It's the same reason I love literature, but I guess I hadn't really thought of video games in that way.
Classroom Application: You could have students do a piece of writing to transport you to a particular place. Be very descriptive, offer a sensory experience, really try to recreate the space in as much detail as possible. But at points, remind the reader that it's an illusion. Go over-the-top with mood, romanticize the setting too much, make it feel more like a memory or fantasy than reality.
There were also a couple of montage videos trying to define what makes a video game a video game. The artist zeroed in on archetypal elements of video games: jumping, ascending, battling, running, etc. The jumping video had 1-4 second long clips from video games spanning decades and genres, showcasing the function of jumping: the desire of freedom and flight, to avoid obstacles, to move and progress, to reach great heights, to score points or rewards, to mount something, to run away, etc. It was really interesting to see all of these moments from video games compiled in sequence, and it made me think about the ideas of jumping and ascending in more figurative, connotative ways.
Classroom Application: Have students pick an archetype and create a compilation video of film clips or a text of quotes characterizing the archetype. You could also have students select a theme or symbol and synthesize passages from different texts into a "found" story or essay or manifesto. You could have students select and define a particular plot element and compile a collection of climaxes or resolutions. You could have students select a figure from history and compile all of the different ways they're portrayed in literature, film, news stories, etc. to help define their character.