Teachable Moments

Back to the sandbox

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

For those who need a primer on what “pedagogy” is, the loaded word is defined as “The method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.”

Keep that in mind as you peruse “Back to the Sandbox: Art and Radical Pedagogy,” the exhibit currently showing at Western Washington University’s Western Gallery, and at an “Art and Radical Pedagogy International Summit” taking place Sat., Jan. 27 at the school’s Performing Arts Center Concert Hall.

In a press release focusing on the exhibit’s many layers, a screen shot of videos of four children sitting in chairs reminds viewers there are many ways of learning—and that some of them may be somewhat Draconian in nature. The image by Czech Republic artist Eva Kotatkova is titled “Sit Straight,” and features the kids in various chair-and-desk poses. In one, a girl young enough that her feet don’t yet touch the ground appears to be encouraged to sit straight by metal outlines surrounding her head and hands. The other “poses” are more innocuous, but just as effective.

A closer look at the rest of the works in the exhibit and the events surrounding it makes it clear that, when it comes to teachable moments, there is more than one way to explore the myriad concepts of education.

“’Back to the Sandbox’ brings together an international group of artists who ask radical questions about the nature and significance of education in contemporary society,” organizers explain. “Ideas about democracy, creativity and transdisicplinarity are examined along with ideas of freedom and equality and the institutional heritage of discipline and control. The aim is not only to draw attention to the vital role of education and to the challenges of reform, but also to introduce new perspectives on learning and creativity with potential new educational models in mind.”

In addition to viewing the singular works and collaborations by prominent artists, scientists and educators from around the world—from the United States to Norway to Uruguay, Guatemala, Portugal, Brazil, Germany, Kenya, Denmark, and beyond—those who choose to attend the accompanying summit will find creatively inclined educators at WWU who are also being given a chance to get in on the pedagogy party.

After exhibit curator Jaroslav Andel has his say and renowned artist Luis Camnitzer gives a keynote address on the pedagogy of art, visual, dance and theater artists will engage the audience in creative approaches they use in their education-oriented art projects.

For example, WWU dance faculty Pam Kuntz will probe where authority comes from, while theater professor Deb Currier will lead an interactive, participatory workshop on “Image Theatre” techniques. Attendees will also hear from Lummi language teacher William John and artist Kristina Lee Podesva, race researcher Vanessa Oliveira, and Andrew Brown, an assistant professor of performance art who will question interpersonal power dynamics based on “Pedagogy of the Everyday.”

If these ideas intrigue you, keep space on your calendar for the “Art as Radical Pedagogy Black History Month Summit” taking place Feb. 9-10 on campus. Performances, an African Diaspora Fashion Show, panel discussions, art and more will be part of the weekend, and if you don’t learn anything new about pedagogy, then you’re simply not paying attention.

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