As I was unable to attend the following week’s session (11 February) due to pressure of work, I took the opportunity to consult an Academic Support advisor about my research question whilst I was in work at a meeting 8 Feb.
In trying to meet my teaching committments, even though they are part-time, starting up a new collaborative project with another MA, the other outside professional activities I take on and having a new Course Leader is a challenge. Trying to balance all the things part time staff do is a situation acknowledged in the HEA report Shifting landscapes; Meeting the staff development needs of the changing academic workforce (p76) in many academic institutions.
“Workload and a particular challenge for part-time staff… For fractional staff this also creates a problem in that a 0.5 FTE academic post may require working hours far more than half a 37-hour week. This puts pressure on part-time academic staff, either to subsidise their employer by working in non-working time, or in limiting themselves to their contracted hours and not performing all the tasks normally expected of an academic. “
Part-time staff have to spend (even more) time tracking their time, and being vigilant about not “subsiding” their employers using strategies like arranging meetings on teaching days, trying to schedule full days teaching – as the rest of half days’ work is inevitably rendered unusable by time (willingly) spent talking to students or with colleagues or travelling – and remote electronic sessions.
So while I was in work for a meeting I was able to make a consultation with Academic Support and spent time with a person at a remove from my immediate group, was so useful. As ever, having to communicate a project helps to sharpen the focus of my thoughts.
But then later my idea slipped away from me like a beautiful silvery fish down into the murk.
On occasion, to do with the nature of being a part time Associate Lecturer my freelance work clashes with my academic commitments and I was unable to make it to the presentations on 2 July, having advised advised my tutor.
The presentations were discussion on the Self Initiated Project (SiP) with peers either having completed it, or presenting ideas in development – and also, I believe, an opportunity to exchange ideas for future research/development,
I’ll be undertaking my SiP next January so as it’s quite some distance off I want to consider carefully what my project will be.
I enjoyed working on the two minute presentation exercise I prepared in our small tutorial group on how walking affects creativity as part of a wider interest in creativity and collaborative practice. I also have a long standing interest in the applications of technology into documentary practice and a desire to keep up with developments in newer technologies such as Virtual Reality, 360 imagery and Augmented Reality presentations. One of our alumna works for the Guardian making VR videos and we’ve invited her in to speak with our students in the last two years. We didn’t have any sessions in the MA programme then on VR (it was still in its infancy), but she got the job on the strength of her graduation film project. Storytelling remains the core skill to be developed for our students, but the intersections between non-fiction filmmaking and technology is most interesting. How do new technologies change the way the story is told?
I’ve also recently been approached by one of our visiting lecturers about a collaborative project with her organisation, The Independent Film Trust, and Raindance Film organisation to involve our students and the students of the new MA VR course in a VR community history project in Brixton. I’m hoping to develop that as an elective in our Collaborative Unit, but it depends on backing by the CL, and the hours that might be available to me to develop it.
As part of my professional development I applied to and was successful in receiving funding, and so was able to attend iDocs symposium in Bristol in March. Most recently I attended Sheffield Doc Fest in June, one of the premiere international documentary festivals with a dedicated section on new technologies – though our students attend there was no departmental funding for it.
Being fortunate enough to able to attend both iDocs symposium and Sheffield Doc Fest this year (which also had a great array of VR / AR and interactive projects this year) gave me a rich resource on which I can draw for my self initiated project.
I also work on developing an interactive ethics tool with the Associate Dean of Research, so that could be a rewarding exploration for my Self Initiated project also. The Ethics of Making
My notes on the chapter I shared for our reading are attached here below as a possible resource for my SiP.
Anna (Rhodes) posed two questions in our shared Google doc – I found this an interesting question:
How should we teach art and design history and context in this post digital era of content overload and digital creative outlets on social media?
I might be able to respond in part, after seeing Mark Cousins give a presentation at Sheffield DocFest. It was a kind of performance lecture. It was in the dark which gave primacy to the screen and created a black space around it, and his voice provided context- he had a radio mic on and had a laser pointer – it was called ’30 Images in the Dark’. Most images he projected were single frames, against the dark space – so their presentation was clear of distraction, they were to be regarded one by one, or at most, compared to one other image. And because they were regarded this way we had time to think about each. So masses of images can’t be read or responded to in the same way without time or context.
It’s interesting to note that Anna’s instagram referencebank presents its image in the same way, – they have a (white) border, and mostly some discussion in text with each one, and responses from people to each (which ’30 Images in the Dark’ didn’t feature). Yet to regard them singly, they don’t fill the frame, they hover above the grid of other images – they are always there, more images.
There are side effects of seeing too many images – discussed in this article by Rebecca MacMillan, a researcher and teacher in Texas revealed her students to be “feeling overrun by photographs and addicted to posting images” and quotes experts on the effects including: “heightened anxiety to memory impairment”, “the idea that photographing may discourage remembering”, “fragmented focus” – but then she notes that in further research there’s an indication that:
“However, a second study found that if a student took the time to zoom in on an object, their memory was not impaired – an indication that increased attention and cognitive engagement can counteract this effect.”
However, the deleterious effects of the pressures of using images in social media to construct a public persona in a competition for attention, and addiction to media is a huge subject – which I can only acknowledge and refer to now.
But if as the second study suggests, taking time and ‘zooming in’ – that is, concentrating and observing, improves memory, then active looking must go a way toward being the antidote.
‘Join the acclaimed filmmaker for an intimate lecture exploring the aesthetics and emotion of ‘looking’. Using 30 key cultural images, Mark will examine how our ‘looking selves’ develop and how our social and cultural surroundings shape what we see.’
‘….and acclaimed Edinburgh-based filmmaker, author and criticMark Cousinswill examine how our ‘looking selves’ develop over the course of a lifetime, the ways that looking has changed through the centuries and explore how our social and cultural surroundings shape what we see.’
Cousins opened the talk by saying that that day he’d seen a middle aged woman clutching a teddy bear in the street – and that he’d never seen that before. It shows he interrogates his own internal database of images in his mind, (or references to them) on a regular basis, as he knows he’s never seen this scene before. And it shows that he can remember images and scenes.
Furthermore, he broke down the elements of looking (for a screen based medium) into areas listed below – and gave pertinent, new and sometimes unexpected examples to illustrate these, eg in ‘form’ he juxtaposed a Henry Moore sculpture and the mask of Darth Vader. We can all potentially make those connections, if we are active ‘lookers’ because of the wealth of images that surround us, but because of his age, I know that it’s highly likely that the original images of those two images he saw first, was in the analogue era. Perhaps because my sense of looking (rather than seeing) was also formed in the analogue era, I have a strong sense that my personal database of images that I have seen, informs everything I see, sometimes consciously but mostly sub-consciously. I’ve probably had more time to really look at something than is now difficult to do, in the Western digital age, unless one has a rigorous conscious reason and related action not to engage with the flow of images that surrounds us through our screens.
Neurologically, I (subjectively) believe that we record everything we see, and that memory is only a faulty retriever from a lifetime’s perfect database of vision, and I should corroborate this in science I know, – but truly, how is it possible to believe otherwise? There are those few who have a neurological singularity – Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), and remember everything, from very early on in life. I don’t know how they can live – the burden of total recall must be enormously tiring. Thank evolution for the ability to forget the vast majority of the visual flow of the world before us and to be able to discriminate and focus on selected events. If memory is in good working order.
I believe that this is the crux of Cousins’ thinking: that even in the deluge of imagery we can see things we’ve never seen before. And if we can see it in the real world, we can photograph it through a lens, or create it on a screen. So in considering teaching of images perhaps we have to add axes of volume and time to an active and conscious act of looking. And add also the sense of a kind of visual pollution, and device addiction, that are now parts of looking we didn’t have before the digital age, and yet the thirst for narrative and images is still driving us as it ever did, but faster, toward – what? A crash? Blindness? An inability to concentrate? A blurring between the real and the created world (particularly in immersive gaming or VR / AR / 360 imagery?)
Though as David Hockney noted (among many others) whoever controls the media controls us, but photographic images – which are inherently unreliable – are only one way of seeing the world.
“Photography, with its claim to truth, is a discipline, he thinks, and he’s glad digital technology is ending the rule of the one-eyed monster that never lied. “I suppose I never thought the world looked like photographs, really. A lot of people think it does but it’s just one little way of seeing it. All religions are about social control. The church, when it had social control, commissioned paintings, which were made using lenses” – as Hockney has argued in his book Secret Knowledge – “and when it stopped commissioning images, its power declined, slowly. Social control today is in the media – and based on photography. The continuum is the mirrors and lenses.”
Perhaps there might arise a group of visual refuseniks who will resist the volume of digital images and look at things one by one, in their own time, until they’ve had enough, until they’re part of their memories.
Anyway, back to Mark Cousins’ elements of looking. There were more but I’ve forgotten them. (Yes I’m resisting a ‘smiley’ because I live in the digital era I now think of emoji as necessary to convey a joke, as I never did before.)
– ‘eyes’ ie directing the gaze over different parts of the screen
Mark Cousins is about to publish a book The Story of Looking (4 Oct 2018) which will definitely be worth a read.
Wakulenko, I. (ed.) (2018) Group images of a female guardian sculpture from the Sepik River area, Papua New Guinea.
From our tutor’s lesson plan: “Your task is to prepare and deliver a ten-minute learning activity for your tutor group based around an object. You can approach this activity imagining your tutor group are your students, or as they are (a group of teachers from different disciplines and with different levels of experience); it’s up to you.”
While I was thinking about the objects in my household – or outside it – a sculpture at home came to mind, and the image persisted, so I pursued this focus. I picked the sculpture up from where it has sat for twenty years or so – on the floor in the hall as you come up the stairs. I moved it to my kitchen table so that I could see it more or less at eye level, for a week or so, to let my eyes go over it and see what thoughts came to mind as I passed. I’ve lost the paper which accompanied it as a gift to me from close friends years ago, but I remember something about it, which I will keep to myself in the learning activity. I gather that I should be the gatekeeper of the knowledge of the object in order for the group to look at the object without knowing its origin.
Wakulenko, I. (2018) Female guardian sculpture from Sepik River, Papua New Guinea.
I wanted to choose something that provoked discussion around subjects that interest me – one of them is Indigenous culture, and by association, post-colonialism. My reflections on the exercise follow beyond the bibliography below.
The very notion of anthropology (the study of humans and human behaviour and societies in the past and present, Wikipedia : 2018) and of ethnography, (the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences, Google Dictionary: 2018) are difficult enough, having evolved within the milieu of expansionist colonialism. Subsequently looking at the relationship between artworks of different cultures, particularly between those of the coloniser and the colonised, is a complex task, as noted here by McCarthy and Dimitriadis (2000):
The eye of Western art is anthropological in its gaze upon the other (Clifford). Primordialism is associated with the most thoroughgoing rationalism and logocentrism when visited upon the third word subject. Yet, the story of modernization in postcolonial art is a story of the yoking of opposites in which the Enlightenment perspective is always underlaid by subterranean acts of atavism and brutality. In response to dominant narratives of modernity, postcolonial art draws on the codes of double and triple register so deeply and historically entrenched in the survivalist practices of the dominated (Gilroy). Culture, for these artists, is a crucible of encounter, a crucible of hybridity in which all of cultural form is marked by twinness of subject and the other.
The idea of a stereoscopic link between Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge is also proposed by Professor Margaret Jolly, (2007) and Tongan scholar Epeli Hau’ofa (1994) notes that the pervasiveness of the Western gaze is now being reflected back in part through the vision of other non-Western peoples.
Indigenous and foreign representations of the place and its peoples are now not so much separate visions as they are “double visions,” in the sense of both stereoscopy and blurred edges. Foreign knowledges of the Pacific have both used and aspired to eclipse indigenous knowledges, as is obvious from the earliest forms of ethnology in the region. Indigenous visions have, since the late eighteenth century, been challenged and partially transformed through encounters with the imagined cartographies of travelers, missionaries, traders, planters, and other agents of colonialism, capitalism, and development. As Tongan scholar Epeli Hau‘ofa has suggested (1994), outsiders’ representations of the Pacific matter not just because of their geopolitical and discursive hegemony but because Islanders have, in part, come to see themselves through the Outlanders’ lenses.
Initially, I thought that having and presenting the sculpture as the object of my – and subsequently, our attention – in this exercise, may put me in a certain light – which I wanted to avoid. So that became interesting and I want to examine some of those things – I didn’t want to be perceived as a certain kind of white Western person who collects Indigenous objects. We enter into the world of:
colonialism and post-colonialism
the relationship between economies of different cultures and countries
objects made specifically for sale ? or an object originally for the makers’ own cultural purposes sold out of that context and put into the economy of a gallery in a Western country, and the idea of “authenticity”
symbology from another culture whose meaning or intent I have no idea of – (and do I have to know?)
selling art in a gallery with provenance, supports an artist – though to what degree? How would I know if the artist was paid?
Papua New Guinea (PNG ) has been the focus of different colonisers. It was visited by Russian anthropologist Miklou Miclay in the 19th century – who was one of the first anthropologist to refute the profoundly racist idea that different peoples were of different species. PNG was exploited by British, German, and Australian interests in the 20th century, invaded by Japan, taken by the Allies and regained its independence only in the 1970s. West Papua was invaded by Indonesia in 1962 and now is under direct rule and is called Iryan Jaya by them, where it is considered by many western news agencies that Indonesia is implementing ethnic cleansing of the Indigenous peoples. It is not only Western colonisers who are invading, or have attacked Indigenous peoples and their cultures.
How can we look at artworks made by peoples of different cultures? Many groups don’t have the relationship with objects that we call art, as (Bolton : 2011) points out; “Art” is problematic because of the many debates on how aptly the English term ‘art’ (and its European language equivalents) can be applied to objects made and used by people who do not have a cognate term.
I looked at an interpretation by a Western anthropologist (Clifford) via a Western Professor of Art History (Seltzer Goldstein) on how “objects from traditional societies” may be regarded:
The anthropologist James Clifford (1998: 224) developed a model that allows objects from traditional societies to be positioned in four ‘zones,’ based on the utilitarian or aesthetic purpose attributed to them, and on the degree of proximity to their original context of production. The ‘zone’ of ‘authentic artworks’ includes items valued by artists, curators and collectors; the ‘zone’ of ‘authentic artefacts’ comprises examples collected by researchers, held in historical and ethnographic museums; the ‘zone’ of the ‘inauthentic artworks’ includes falsifications; and finally the ‘zone’ of ‘inauthentic artefacts’ comprehends tourist souvenirs and mass-produced objects for everyday use. Clifford argues that an object can shift from one ‘zone’ to another, changing its value and status, which increase as it moves from ‘cultural artefact’ to ‘artistic object’ and from ‘inauthentic’ to ‘authentic.’
Although I do love the sculpture, I would not necessarily choose to buy an artefact like this. Its provenance makes me feel uneasy, yet I appreciate its aesthetic properties. I also want the artist to be financially supported in their work. Can I have any relationship to the artwork besides one of ownership? Looking at the artwork and knowing it came from a gallery and using the ideas posed above, that it might be in the “zone” of “authentic artefact” but it may well be an “inauthentic artefact”, I wouldn’t be able to tell. Sculpture from the Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea (an area of rich cultural activity) started to be carried away by Westerners in the 1960s and local people began making more, specifically to sell. Does that make it “inauthentic” and of less value, weirdly, to the foreign buyer, even though made by the same people, for the foreign demand? It seems that foreigners want not only to possess the objects that have value to the Indigenous maker and community, but outsiders want to appropriate the actual cultural impetus that maker has for producing it.
But as I looked at the sculpture every day I noticed more of the material.
Papua New Guineans are famous for their knowledge and exploitation of trees, and carving traditions are highly developed across the Pacific region. The spirit of the tree that had to be cut down to make the carving will often transfer to the artwork that is produced.
Culture of the Countryside (no date) Carving in Papua New Guinea. Available at: http://www.cultureofthecountryside.ac.uk/resources/carving-papua-new-guinea (Accessed: 1 March 2018).
I looked some more. The natural colours, the texture, the uneven bottom of it so it doesn’t stand on its own easily, the design of the markings, and the arresting eyes of cowrie shells, the brushstrokes, all the physical properties of it, and, obviously, saw it is a representation of a woman. But when I photographed her (I feel compelled to call her human, in an animistic way), I saw her anew. I noticed the proportions, that she is tall and slender, she has markings on her face arms and legs, she stands on a mound and her two hands each touch a centre of energy on her body – one hand at the heart and another on the pubis – and it wasn’t until I tried to imitate the stance (mimesis) that I realised that she has her left hand to her heart and not her right, as was instinctual for me, being right handed. It jolted me to realise that I’d had this sculpture for so long and hadn’t ever noticed this, consciously. The act of active observation, framing, focusing and photographing sections of the sculpture really did change my perception.
As Helen Chatterjee (2010) notes:
Object-based learning in higher education draws on many of the learning strategies already known to inform students, including active learning and experiential learning
The energy centres in the body the sculpture touches calls to mind the Hindu, Buddhist & Jain tantric systems of chakras, points of focus of the subtle body sited in various points in the body explained by Fondin below.
Second Chakra: The Svadhisthana chakra is our creativity and sexual center. It is located above the pubic bone, below the navel, and is responsible for our creative expression.
Wakulenko, I. (2018) Female guardian sculpture from Sepik River, Papua New Guinea.
The Fourth Chakra: The Connection Between Matter and Spirit. Located at the heart center, the fourth chakra, anahata is at the middle of the seven and unites the lower chakras of matter and the upper chakras of spirit. The fourth is also spiritual but serves as a bridge between our body, mind, emotions, and spirit. The heart chakra is our source of love and connection.
Is using systems of knowledge from other cultures a valid interpretation of foreign artworks? This is what Western scholarship is, after all.
How could Western critical thought help us in approaching this artwork.
Wakulenko, I. (2018) Female guardian sculpture from Sepik River, Papua New Guinea.
I read an article in Art Quarterly (Sweet 2018) that recalled Baudrillard’s Le systeme des objects (1968) which seemed like a useful way to help look at this object together, and made me wonder if Clifford had based his zones on the values of Baudrillard.
“Jean Baudrillard identified four kinds of value that an object can accrue. Two simple and two strange. The first is functional value – a measure of an object’s usefulness…. Next comes exchange value – the economic worth of an object….. The last two, though, are more occult. Baudrillard wrote about the symbolic value of an object. If you received a tie or a pair of shoes for Christmas, then you also received a symbol of your relationship with the giver… Fourthly, Baudrillard also proposed that objects can possess a sign value – which is derived from a thing’s relationship with other comparable things.”
However there’s many meanings and events that no Westerner observing will know, unless, perhaps they are from that area of the Sepik, or are familiar with this type of sculpture. How can I know what the artist knows?
I know, yet no-one else in our group (probably) will know that her function is of a guardian – something I remember from the accompanying piece of paper; an example of magical thinking, that in or attached to the sculpture there is an active protective force. No-one else (definitely) will know that I was carrying her wrapped up in newspaper and string over my shoulder on the way passing though Madrid very early one New Year’s Day when we were robbed at gunpoint by a very unpredictable nervous man. Of course I am tempted to think that the function of the sculpture as guardian worked for us. Rational thought would say otherwise, as illustrated by researchers Subbotsky and Qinteros (2002).
Indeed, the contemporary Western culture is based on the strong belief in the universal power of physical causality—a belief which is supported by the whole system of education. Yet, an average individual living in this culture, under certain conditions, does not act differently from the individuals who still live in a magic-tolerant culture.
Coming back to the problem raised in the Introduction, we can conclude that, according to the results of this study, individuals do ‘give up’ their magical beliefs and practices as long as their official culture becomes dominated by the belief in scientific rationality. Being quite evident in the individuals’ verbal responses, this ‘surrender’ affects the individuals’ behaviour only to a certain extent. At a certain level (i.e. in the conditions in which the individual is strongly personally and emotionally involved), the individual can deviate from the beliefs of technological civilization. When acting at this level, a person can retreat into practices (like magic) that are viewed as ‘left behind’ in history by the person’s official culture and education.
Throughout these readings I thought about how to present the exercise. I would have the sculpture revealed at once standing in the middle of a table where we all sit in a circle around her. My phone is passed to each person who photographs the sculpture and talks about what they see, and how they interpret what they see, which I record separately. I produce a compilation image of the images and verbal responses that I can edit together as a record of our observations.
Learning aims are open and critical observation, communication and discussion on the creation and sales of indigenous artefacts, and how we can interpret or relate to them, as people from other cultures.
‘Anthropology’ (23 July 2018) Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropology (Accessed 26 July 2018).
Bolton, L.(2011) ‘Framing the Art of West Papua: An Introduction’The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology,12:4,317 – 32.6 Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14442213.2011.588591 (Accessed 30 July 2018).
‘Ethnography’ (15 July 2018) Google dictionary (Accessed 26 July 2018).
Fondin, M. (No date) What is a chakra? Available at: https://chopra.com/articles/what is-a-chakra (Accessed 1 June 2018).
Jolly, M. (2007) ‘Imagining Oceania: Indigenous and Foreign Representations of a Sea of Islands’. The Contemporary Pacific, Volume 19, Number 2, 508–545, University of Hawai‘i Press. Available at: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/5103222.pdf (Accessed 8 May 2018).
McCarthy, G. and Dimitriadis, G. (2000) ‘Art and the Postcolonial Imagination: Rethinking the Institutionalization of Third World Aesthetics and Theory’ ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, 31:1 & 2, Jan. – Apr. 2000 Available here: https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/ariel/article/download/34300/28336 (Accessed: 26 May 2018).
Said, E. W. (1979) Orientalism Vintage Books: New York
Seltzer Goldstein, I. (2013) ‘Visible art, invisible artists? the incorporation of aboriginal objects and knowledge in Australian museums’, Dossier: Cultural Heritage and Museums Part 3: Otherness. Available at: http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1809-43412013000100019 (Accessed: 17 March 2018).
Subbotsky, E. and Quinteros, G. (2002) ‘Do cultural factors affect causal beliefs? Rational and magical thinking in Britain and Mexico’, British Journal of Psychology (2002), 93, 519–543, The British Psychological Society. Available at: http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/staff/subbotsk/Culture.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2018).
Sweet, M. (2018) ‘An object lesson in collecting’. Art Quarterly, Spring 2018, p30.
On the day of presenting the exercise itself, annoyingly I had a technical fail of the sound recorder, (despite having tested it) which you just have to deal with, and stay on track. I still used the iPhone camera images which our group used to photograph the sculpture, and I constructed it as a collective image of the sculpture (see at top of page). As I was using my iPhone as camera I couldn’t use it as recorder. In retrospect I could have used someone else’s camera and used the app on my phone for recording sound.
I’d set up the table with the recorder to record half the “student’s” comments on one side while the other half were to observe, then to move the recorder to the other side and record the other half of the comments to utilise the 120 degree span of the twin stereo microphones. In feedback one person commented that they felt restricted by that instruction, but others commented that it was useful to have time to listen and then add new information. I acknowledged that the recording had failed, we just moved on and had open discussion on the object.
I think in retrospect that I’d put too many demands on the task for 10minutes as I wanted the group acting as my ‘students’ to take time to look, but the analysis of the sculpture from the group was I think really fruitful. How do we interpret other cultures’ art objects? We look at the materials, the markings, the stance, size and other observable phenomena, yet we can’t know more without other kinds of knowledge, cultural knowledge. No-one in the group knew where the sculpture originated, not that my aim was to obfuscate, but to question what we can know from observation and interpretation.
Is determining provenance, and collecting of art objects of other cultures itself an act that arises from colonisation? It’s conversely certainly a post-colonial act, in terms of identification and repatriation of artworks plundered by colonising powers. This is a topic being critically debated today between Britain and other colonial powers and those countries that had been invaded by colonisers. Invading and taking cultural objects from another nation and presenting them in a way that denies the culture and knowledge of the original makers in a foreign scholarly and economic system is indefensible, but arguments are always found by those in whose interests these acts are served – principally arguments that the coloniser is better at preservation and curation. Intercultural loans between museums is mooted as a way forward by many. However, there are those invaders who just annihilate cultural items that are not ideologically approved of, as ISIS destroyed in Syria, and Iraq, and the Taliban in Afghanistan, where destruction happens before any dialogue is possible.
The opportunity to actively engage with and respond to objects that my peers bought in truly made this session interesting, challenging and engaging. Many of us commented on how stimulating it was to be actively engaged in observation and interpretation, and knowing just how much we were engaged explained how exhausted we all felt afterward.
The UCL research carried out by Dr Helen Chatterjee et al found:
..”data collected between 2010 and 2012 revealed that a majority of students, across a range of disciplines, thought object-based learning was a more effective method of learning than a lecture or talk.”
University College of London Learning with our collections, Teaching and Object-Based Learning. Available here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/schools/teaching-object-based-learning (Accessed 15 March 2018).
1) Ian Munday was a transformative influence on my own attitude and approach to teaching (or at least, his writing was). I’ve written about his work a few times on my blog: http://doctored.myblog.arts.ac.uk/?s=munday and I thought this 2012 conference paper on problems and mysteries was particularly excellent. Ian has taught film and cultural studies in the past. He is now a full-time lecturer in education.
2) Hans-Georg Gadamer was a philosopher who lived throughout the whole of the last century and did all his major work in his later years. His work focuses on understanding and conversation. This is a chapter from a book by Monica Vilhauer on what she calls Gadamer’s ‘Ethics of Play’. Her book frames Gadamer’s philosophy of understanding the other (‘hermeneutics’) as a kind of play. This chapter talks explicitly about how we engage with, understand and play with various art works/forms, but it also leads us to consider Gadamer’s hermeneutics more broadly, and relate it to other educational relationships (between learners, teachers, colleagues, texts, etc).
“Hans-Georg Gadamer was a German philosopher of the continental tradition, best known for his 1960 magnum opus Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode)”
My understanding of hermeneutics is that it is that it deals with interpretation – not necessarily of the other but of texts, the knowledge of the interpretation of texts.
“Hermeneutics as the methodology of interpretation is concerned with problems that arise when dealing with meaningful human actions and the products of such actions, most importantly texts.” Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy (2016) (Accessed at:https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/)
Vilhauer’s Understanding Art: The Play of Work and Spectator itself offers an interpretation of Gadamer’s text (an hermeneutic act?) which is hard to assess without going to that source itself. She offers:
He aims to show us how it is only in the back and forth play of communicating meaning between presenter and spectator that interpretive understanding occurs and the artwork achieves its completion.
However, the artwork is not the same as the presenter. The presenter is mostly always physically absent in the encounter by a spectator with an artwork (unless it is a performance piece )? – the encounter, more accurately, should be I think described as an encounter with either a thought process by the artist manifested and the bodily and cognitive presence of the spectator, or of an artefact of the artist and a spectator during which the spectator has an experience, an “interpretive understanding” which completes the artwork. What if there is incomprehension – would the artwork be incomplete? And how can you have play between an non-human object (the artwork) and a human spectator? Surely the spectator is the player, and s/he plays with an object .
Can an object “play” with the spectator? I understand, though that this is what art tries to achieve…
Perhaps Benjamin can help here:
“the rigid, isolated object (work, novel, book) in of no use whatsoever. It must be inserted into the context of living social relations.”
Walter Benjamin “The Artist as Producer,” Understanding Brecht, p. 87, in Kazis, R. Benjamin’s age of mechanical reproduction (1997) Jumpcut
The promotion of Vilhauer’s book Gadamer’s Ethics of Play: Hermeneutics and the Other on her website links the ‘play’ with a ‘dialogue partner’
Through the lens of dialogue-play, the book focuses on openness toward one’s dialogue partner, respect for his differing point of view, and a willingness to learn from him in conversation as crucial ethical conditions of genuine understanding.
Perhaps I’ll find the relationship of spectator and artwork further on.
I read on and find that Vilhauer points out that Gadamer actually uses a performance (in this case performance art) to develop the argument that in a show with an audience, play “begins a back and forth of communication of meaning”.
Vilhauer notes that play cannot be a “solitary event” it requires two. I anticipate that this argument is building up to transform the artefact into a sentient thing where play can happen between two…
Somewhat ironically I run into a problem quite early in reading Ian Mundy’s paper The classroom: a problem or a mystery? under a section – Having problems.
In all unexceptional cases of “having as possession” there seems to be a certain quid relating to a certain qui whereby the latter is treated as “a centre of inherence or apprehension” (p. 173). The qui must therefore be, in some way, transcendent to the quid (ibid.).
If it relates to Latin “quid” = what and French “qui” = who, I can make a meaning.. not necessarily the right one.. but I took the risk of exposing my ignorance and asked our fb group and see what returns…
I had one return from the group that agreed that interpretation – that the “who” takes precedence over the “what”:
Yes I think thats right. So is it saying that the person in possession of the object/thing takes priority over the importance of the thing itself… so if you have my grandmothers ring, the fact that you’ve got it, takes priority over the fact that the object has significance to me.
The distinction between problem and mystery: comes from philosopher Gabriel Marcel (“his philosophy was later described as “Christian Existentialism” (most famously in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”) a term he initially endorsed but later repudiated.”)
A problem is something which I meet, which I find completely before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity. (Marcel 1949, p. 117)
The idea that owning things puts one in opposition to the other; owning and having, keep people apart from each other:
For Marcel, ―having is damaging because of the dynamic of suppression and loss. It generates an economy in which the ―other is always posed as threatening. (Mundy)
Then from owning and having Mundy and Marcel travel to a position of mystery where the individual’s boundaries are not reductive but are expansive and freer in a creative way of being. And in the classroom breaking out of the paradigm of having into an alternate and unspecific way of being may allow a sense of individual and inclusive learning.
“That said if classrooms are allowed to be spaces of mystery, then a vitalism that has been exorcised from the profession may make a return.”
The first reading is the most recent. It is a chapter from a new book written by the president of a large private research university in the US. It’s the longest reading at 30 (small, large print) pages, but it’s also the more readable. There’s a lot to think about here, so I would spend the most time on this:
1. Aoun, J. 2017. A Learning Model for the Future. In Higher education in the age of artificial intelligence. MIT Press. pp45-75. (pdf attached)
Aoun presents an engaging look into the future of work, and its relationship to technology and education.
He identifies two things often overlooked by “analysts and futurists”:
“terra incognita….Thus, even as machines take over routine labor, freeing us from repetitive or mundane tasks, human beings have a great deal left to occupy them.”
“Now, once more, technology is raising the educational bar.”
“In other words, a robot-proof education nurtures our unique capacities as human beings… And the most elevated of all human capacities is the one that may be the most elusive and difficult to define and therefore is trickiest to teach. This is humanity’s unique talent for creativity. “
I found it illuminating to read his summary of cognitive psychology theories that analyse creativity (“the process of having original ideas that have value,” Sir Kenneth Robinson (2106) in the most popular TED talk of all time). Divergent thinking requires creativity and is a very human act that (currently) can’t be duplicated by robots, yet
“Our education has mined our minds like we’ve strip-mined the earth, for a particular commodity,” says Robinson, insisting that there are greater treasures to be uncovered than mere academic performance.”
“The second reading is from nearly 100 years ago. It is an address given by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead at the opening of the Harvard Business School in 1928. It is interesting to see how Whitehead deals with the tensions between business and education; how he maintains his critical stance while still managing to flatter those present. The commonalities with the current HE context are also fascinating:”
2. Whitehead, A.N. 1929. Universities and their Function. In The Aims of Education and other essays. The Free Press. pp 91-101. (pdf attached)
“The Universities are schools of education and schools of research”.
The justification of a University is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning.”
What strikes me the most when I read is the tone of his language – somewhat grand and little overblown – “zest for life” “patriotism” “human endeavour” “amid the imperfections of all things human” and might be typical of language used at an formal occasion by academics in the late 20s USA – though as Lindsay points out there is a balance between his critical analysis and perhaps, flattering those who paid for the founding of the Harvard Business School or worked toward it encouraging a positive emotional connection to their act of philanthropism.
Also noticeable is how absent women are from his writing – “intellectual pioneers of our civilization the priests, the lawyers, the statesmen, the doctors, the men of science, and the men of letters”, “few great men”. 1937 saw women admitted to a Personnel Certificate and were first admitted to the Harvard Business School MBA in 1963.
“The final reading is a philosophy conference paper on one of Immanuel Kant’s final works, the Conflict of the Faculties (1798). It describes Kant’s presentation of the Prussian model of the university as one of peaceful, creative conflict, and argues that we should practice this in today’s universities:”
3. Palmquist, S. 2004. Kant’s Ideal of the University as a Model for World Peace. In: International Conference on Two Hundred Years after Kant. 20-22 November, Tehran, Iran: Allame Tabataba’i University. [Online]. [Accessed 4 June 2015]. Available from: http://staffweb.hkbu.edu.hk/ppp/srp/arts/KIUMWP.htm
The things that stayed with me related to the idea of dealing with conflict – an essential debate in philosophy, politics, education, morality and spirituality.
“..the wisdom of preserving creative opposition…
Near the end of his life, having established the context of a philosophical system that shows over and over how lasting peace is achieved only through the acceptance of creative conflict in a context of mutual respect…
The purpose of this essay is to explore that relation by examining how Kant portrayed the ideal university not only as a model, but as a key player in establishing the very world peace that he elsewhere hoped—some would say naively—the whole world could enjoy.
Introducing the concept of international law as enforced by a free “federation of states”, he lays out a framework of principles for cooperation between nations of vastly different cultures. His plan was a major inspiration behind the United Nations as it now stands, though the current body only partially implements the policies Kant recommends.
Thus, even with all its imperfections and awkwardness, the existing Part 2 of The Conflict of the Faculties provides ample evidence to enable us to conclude that for Kant the university was to be the primary context wherein, through the education of the public in an approach to law that is grounded in reason, the drama of the evolution of the human race from a random collection of warring nations to a single, peacefully coexisting partnership of nations with radically conflicting ideas, would evolve.
Kant sees conflict not as an evil to be abolished but as a preliminary step on the road to concord. “
This researcher’s broad definition helped me understand – and to question what we do in Universities.
‘Although he never actually used the term, Kant was perhaps the first to articulate the notion that universities could provide a public good through acting as a critical ally to national governments, the professions and society more broadly’. Joanna Williams (30 Aug 2014) A critical exploration of changing definitions of public good in relation to higher education