To be honest I felt that these photos were photos that I couldn’t even take, and so decided not to……Why? Well that will perhaps become clear.
It was a school excursion to a museum, the pupils were having at this particular photographic opportunity, a lot of fun, they were laughing hysterically in fact. I suspect it is going to be an excursion that hangs in the memory for quite some time.
It was an excursion day for a relatively small group of sixteen year olds. Twenty four pupils in all. The whole group were pupils who have chosen art as an exam subject. As part of the course my colleague organizes a couple of times a year museum visits as an extension, and enrichment, of the classroom program.
Last Friday we were visiting Rotterdam, first a session in the Kunsthal and after that the Boijmans van Beuningen museum.
In the Kunsthal we saw the Hyperrealist sculpture exhibition. It was an exhibition with a wow factor, certainly for our pupils. They had never seen anything like it. Duane Hanson, John deAndrea, Ron Mueck and many others. The strange confrontation that these life like sculptures bring, the permission that they give to stare at the human body without embarrassment and the slightly alienating effect of it all had our class transfixed. They were focused in a quite different way than I think I have ever seen pupils in a museum before. It was a good start to the day, the pupils left the museum for lunch talking about what they had just seen, which as a teacher is exactly where you want them to be.
But then there was still the afternoon part of our city visit still to come…..
We regathered on the steps of the Boijmans museum ready for our second cultural dose. We were principally there for the museum’s permanent collection and had arranged two guides to lead our pupils through some of its high points. As we had hoped, particular attention was given to the museum’s collection of Surrealist art. Although, my group also had a really nice discussion with our excellent guide about performance art. Time was nearly up when our guides brought our two groups pretty much simultaneously to one last work, a piece by the Vienna based artists’ collective Gelatin.
They explained that it was an art work that invited a form of participation, although it was entirely up to visitors as to whether they actually did. There was no pressure to do so if you didn’t want to.
We entered a first space with what at first glance looked like racks of clothes. Well, they kind of were, but kind of weren’t! But they were garments of sorts, designed to be pulled on over your normal clothes. Rather than describe the rest at length, maybe it’s easier to just add a link to Gelatin’s own website showing photographs from the opening of the exhibition in Rotterdam just a few days ago.
I have to admit to being a little surprised, partly by the artwork itself, but more so by the reaction of a significant number of our group. They just couldn’t wait to get involved and pull some of the outfits on! Thereafter there really was little to be done to control the hysterical laughter. This really is going to be an excursion that is going to be discussed for years!
The artists themselves clearly want their work to have a sharp element of humour. But it is also about dissolving hierarchies by, in a way, equalizing physical appearances, through imposing a sort of artificial nakedness. Most of the girls couldn’t wait to try on the male outfits to huge comic effect. They were happy enough to take photos of themselves and each other, but somehow it just didn’t feel the right thing to do myself. Restraint seemed appropriate.
It also felt extremely appropriate not to join in with the artwork myself…..I feel absolutely sure that my pupils wouldn’t have been able to show the same restraint had I pulled on one of the skin coloured overalls. It would certainly have been a photo that would have been shared throughout the school and that would have subsequently followed me round forever!