My colleague says she loves her job……

My colleague app’ed me the other day to say that she loved her job. I love my job too. We both work in the art department. This admission came in the context of a particular assignment that we are working together at the moment.

The project is part of a street art related theme and is centered in particular on the Little People Project by the British street artist Slinkachu.

Slinkachu’s own website

We were preparing the figures, similar to those used by Slinkachu to give our pupils the chance to work in a similar way when they visit The Hague for a day in a couple of weeks’ time. We were both doing the preparation work simultaneously on a Saturday afternoon apping photos of what we were doing to each other.

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We’d sourced our own simple plastic figures and had them mailed from China. We wanted to deliver our fifteen year old pupils high quality painted figures with which to work and had decided to do the painting ourselves.

Why were we enjoying the preparation so much? Well, it was fun to do. Slinkachu’s art has a childish playfulness to it. Having presented the idea of the assignment to our pupils this week it is clear to see that they too recognize the element of childish play that is involved here.  Even fifteen year olds love the chance to play…..sometimes there almost seems to be a nostalgic view back to their own childhood activities! If I ask them to bring in the LEGO from in the box under their bed for an animation project, they love to do just that, and the excuse to play.

Picasso once said:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

In this regard our assignment certainly seems to connect with Picasso’s thought.  But I think that it also relates strongly to why my colleague and I enjoy our work.  All creativity involves an element of play and experimentation.  An open minded involvement to our activity as art teachers has a free wheeling playfulness to it. When, as a teacher you are able to awaken this sense of playfulness in your pupils, the rest generally takes care of itself.

 

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Visages Villages (Faces Places) – a film review….and educational possibilities

Agnes Varda film maker and JR the French photographer and installation artist make an unlikely couple. One is an 89 woman who originally made her name as a filmmaker during the French New Wave, the other a 34-year-old photographer/installation-maker with a well-established name in both the world of street art and the more conventional art circuit.

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But in the film Visages Villages or Faces Places if you prefer the English title, a couple they certainly are, travelling around the French countryside in their van that is dressed up to look like a giant camera.  They visit a variety of places discussing, bickering and interviewing before getting down to the business of creating and installing a series of artworks using JR’s preferred installation method of pasting often huge scale photographs on exterior walls, sea-containers, trains and even a disused and crumbling relic from the second world war.

The film presents a fascinating insight into the working process.  JR largely takes the lead, but the constant input from Varda deflects and contributes to the creative development.  She brings the perspective of a long life, creative insight and a certain historical perspective that clearly fits well with the younger artist’s own interests.

The passage through the film builds a heart-warming picture of what seems to start with as a rather unlikely friendship.  There is a certain about of teasing that goes on between the two, but also a tremendous amount of respect and warmth as they discuss their work, their lives and their differences.

Technically the film is a documentary and has seen as that when it has won various film festival awards.  But it is also very much a road movie as we travel along with the leading characters on their journey of discovery.

As an educator I think that there is a good chance that I will be showing my older pupils this film in the future.  It gives a revealing view into the artistic process.  My pupils are interested in street art and the way it intervenes into the world around us.  Perhaps slightly unusually for this sort of public space work though, these are images that often provide us with a subject, an ordinary person, to look at and think about.  JR and Varda often choose the humdrum, the ordinary person and the elevate them to often quite huge scales.  Yes, I feel sure that this film and JR’s other work can be an interesting route to explore with my pupils.

There is also no doubt at all that I see possible practical assignments that may be possible to challenge my pupils with.  Certainly, photographic installations that we could make virtually on the computer, but who knows, maybe a few real installations could follow.

Related JR links:

JR Photographer

JR street artist

Previous street art related blog posts:

Street art and illegality

Street art in the classroom

Street art in the classroom, or just outside it

Teenagers are fascinated by graffiti and street art, they love the scale of it, they love the youthfulness of it and they love the illegality of it. To find ways to draw on this enthusiasm is a challenge for educators. Obviously that last point is something of a problem for education. The moral code of teaching doesn’t really accommodate defacing other people’s property! So how to circumvent this restriction?

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Is painting on large sheets of paper the solution, spray painting canvases or seeking permission to use a specially designated wall somewhere? These are possibilities but none of them really engage with the way that this form of art engages with a location, a real location that was there already and has been added to by the artist, or in the case of a school, by the pupil.
It is with this in mind in have been doing a kind of site specific/street art project with my youngest pupils (age 12) this week. It’s a little bit of street art with a site specific content, a little bit of Michael Craig Martin and maybe a little bit of Claus Oldenburg or Roy Lichtenstein too, but above all it is about working together, working on a large scale and changing the way a familiar place looks through the addition of a creative intervention.
Working with coloured tape the group work receives a unity through its consistent quality of line. It’s a rapid approach (two ninety minutes sessions in my case), that gives fast results but also allows for adjustment and corrections.
But above all the two fantastic qualities this work has, and that it shares with most street art, is that it is large scale and that it adds to an existing environment. Both qualities bring with them a kind of element of surprise for the pupils and an excitement that is quite different to working on a sheet of paper at a table.

Update:  Some comments form a question I had on Facebook as to how I approached the assignment practically….

It was all relatively intuitive. First a little drawing work on a sheet of paper. My requirements were that it had to be an object that had something to do with the art dept and that it had to have a three dimensional appearance. There was no too conscious scaling up, it was more a question of just starting. The great thing about the tape is that it allows easily for corrections, if two lines aren’t parallel when they were meant to be, it’s just a case of pulling one of the lines off and repositioning. As I say above, just make sure that the tape isn’t too sticky. School won’t thank you for stripping the paint off the wall! Working on a glass wall would be great too…..from inside and out. I think that looking at Michael Craig Martin’s work helped quite a lot too.

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If illegality is involved, then we’re interested

Whilst evaluating the various art and culture modules I’ve taught to my groups of fifteen and sixteen year old’s this year, an interesting point has come up. I’ve taught across a variety of themes, but there is no doubt, that three in particular have stood out in the eyes of the pupils, and they all involve, in some way, questions of where the line lies between legality and illegality. I’ve looked at copyright and the remix in the cultural sphere, and how it impacts on artists and other creative practitioners. We’ve covered the question of artists and filmmakers engage with the extremely newsworthy theme of illegal immigration and we’ve spent time looking at street art and its place on the fringes of artistic production.

These links with illegality in various ways has on my part been a completely unconscious decision, but is the preference expressed by pupils in relation to these themes more than just a coincidence?

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In the eyes of many young people the world of art and culture exists in many ways as something of a detached entity, particularly when it comes to visual art.  You go to the museum to see it and often it seems to boil down to a question of whether you like it for its aesthetic qualities or not. If there is an accessible narrative, for young people it is a narrative that is often a huge distance from their own world of experience.

Maybe in this context it isn’t that surprising than a cultural theme that engages with a relatively straight forward distinction of legality and illegality does provide a point of access. Most children and teenagers are quite interested in a sort of natural justice, things that should be allowed and things that shouldn’t.  All three of these modules have played into this area in different ways. The response of my pupils in all three cases has been incredibly positive. They feel we are engaging with the real world, they tell me that it’s helping them understand complex issues better and they are learning to appreciate that artists and other creative people have important and relevant things to say in these areas. In short it is a win, win, win situation!

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I suppose in a way it still reduces down to being able to link up with narratives and stories. Stories of the artists and musicians working in areas of dubious legality and being pursued by multinationals who own copyrights, illegal immigrants struggling to cross (or stay within) borders and the nocturnal world of the illegal street artist all have their own narratives, and better still they are narratives based on reality.

For me there is perhaps a lesson and an opportunity here, playing into these sorts of narratives must be possible in other areas too. More emphasis on the personal history of a particular artist, designer or architect perhaps or seeking out dramatic social contexts or dramas behind a given creative work. Once engaged, it never stops to amaze me, how far you can go, but opening the door is the challenge and finding the route in is oh so important.

Street art and birth control…..the connection

I do like a bit of good street art. You round a corner in an unfamiliar town or city to discover a permanent or temporary addition to the urban scene. Much of the temporary variety can be very sharp and engaging in its message, have a social or political point to make or simply be very funny. In comparison the permanent variety can often seem rather dull and unamusing, be it a statue of some local hero or oblique reference to the history of the area. Rarely does humour seem to have played a role in choosing the artwork to be displayed.

pill strip2The same can surely not do said of the newly unveiled public artwork in the Dutch town of Oss where I work. At least I assume that there must have been at least wry glint in the eyes of the commission who decided that this artwork should be placed between the railway station and the large chemical and pharmaceutical business on the other side. I had seen it being built for a week or two as I waited each day for my train to arrive. Initially I had assumed it was some sort of bicycle storage facility. But as the top section went on it became apparent that Oss too had made a piece of street art that celebrated a significant detail of local history.  But it was a rather unexpected reference, leaving me to suppress my laughter as I boarded my train.

The aforementioned pharmaceutical company used to be known as Organon and was a major producer of the contraceptive pill, and it was this part of local history that is being landmarked. What had been made was a fourteen by seven metre pill strip, complete with twenty one press out ‘bubbles’ for the tablets. It wasn’t until last week that I saw the piece in its full glory. For twenty one days the lights under one after the other of the bubbles is extinguished, thus counting the month away. Finally, after dark in the ‘fourth week’ all the lights burn red, subtle it certainly isn’t! The council had chosen for a giant, glow in the dark, animated pill strip!

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When seeing it all light up on a dark evening up you have to kind of admire the silliness of it. They can’t have been too serious about it…..can they?

Rather conveniently I am actually dealing with street art in all its forms in a series of lessons with some of my classes at the moment. We will undoubtedly be talking about the pill strip at some point. It ticks many street art boxes, sight specific, content and location connected, surprising, eye catching and funny….although I still have my doubts as to whether this was actually the intention.