Alison Kearney and Theresa Giorza
This was the title of an 8 week undergraduate pre-service arts teacher course modelled on a collaborative public art project. The course was team taught by Theresa Giorza and Alison Kearney. Most of the students were women between the ages of 35- 45 who are foundation phase teachers from Limpopo Province [28 out of 32]. The title of the course was a reference to the wind action and the weather vanes which tell us from which direction the wind is blowing, and also an oblique reference to the students who have come a long way, but whose journeys are as yet unfinished.
Students were required to work in groups to design and construct a site specific working weathervane from recycled metals for installation around the Wits School of Education campus in Johannesburg. Their designs had to be personally meaningful motif’s that were inspired by a story, and whose importance might resonate with the students and staff on the campus. Some students chose stories and symbol about learning, about knowledge and about overcoming difficulties, and perseverance- all things that associated with being at Wits. The use of multiple languages was an important aspect of the project. Students had to use visual language with visual design. They began with stories, made visual texts, and then added signs in different languages to the poles. They were communicating with different audiences. Students were encouraged to choose a direction, and make a sign to point to a place on campus, far away and also a metaphorical place. This is one of the levels in which their works were connected to local context and also extended beyond the local to connect to students own complex contexts. It was also a way for students to assert their own personal identities and languages in a space in which they often feel alienated, despite that the campus is for them- academic discourse is not anyone’s’ mother tongue.
That students had to plan, negotiate, and present their ideas to each other provided an opportunity for students to engage in dialogue- to use the oral modes which they don’t always have an opportunity to do in their academic courses. In this their voice came through rather than was lost in the mire of academic discourse which many of them struggle with.
This course employed principles of situated learning, in which students learn by doing and authentic problems emerge in the doing. Situated learning is rooted in constructivist theories of learning which acknowledge that learning abstract concepts cannot be separated from the situations in which they occur, but rather that learning is most effective when contextualised in authentic situations (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Davis, 2004; Pitri, 2004). With in this, knowledge is situated in as much as it is a product of an activity in a context with a purpose in the culture in which it is developed and used. Applied to our project, the social and physical contexts that co-produced knowledge included the relationships and life experiences of our participants; the contexts of the school campus, the studio/workshop and the places from which the participants came.
In this project students were asked to behave like artists would- they had to solve real problems of how to make a site specific artwork for a real audience and place- and that fitted a brief. In doing this, we brought together some of the practices of certain kinds of contemporary art making, as well as created an environment in which students were learning about art making and about the discipline of art by engaging in authentic art making, for a public audience, rather than learning about art. Students had to source materials and also worked with professionals to realise the projects. As facilitators of the project, we also play an artist’s role- steering the process, negotiating with various people. Ensuring that the works were installed was crucial for maintaining the claim of this being an authentic art making activity rather than a rehearsal or training for a future possible enactment.
The project allowed us to explore the relationship between teachers and students (and the disruption of the expected positioning of these identities that introduces the dynamic relationship between knowing and not knowing); the students themselves had to work in pairs- this was another kind of collaboration; the relationship between artworks and the viewer/public (inviting a conversation among the wider school community); the relation between the world of the classroom and the world of ‘real’ art making (asking questions about the relation between art practice and art pedagogies). There was also a symbolic relationship between the campus and the world out there because the signs pointed to places on campus and places beyond the campus. We also collaborated with a number of professionals at different stages of the project. We found that through the multiple collaborations in this project that working in a collaborative manner in the art classroom disrupts notions of the art teacher as pedagogue. We extended this by designing a project in which we were not expert makers- but drew on expertise around us. Drawing on local art practices. In doing this we modelled practice as art teachers- art as collaborative project in which you can work with range of experts.