bilateral kellerberrin

May 20, 2005

Cunderdin Workshops Post-Mortem

Filed under: education? — Lucas @ 4:22 pm

So that is the end of the Cunderdin DHS workshops. What are my overall impressions?

First, it was good to see that avant-garde “performance-art” stuff is not at all inaccessible to 13 and 14 year olds. Of course, this relies on the art being sufficiently “self-contained” ie the “meaning” is able to be grasped from the experience of the piece itself, rather than requiring the audience to be well-versed in the history of art. Not all performance work would meet this criteria. But the kind of stuff I’m usually interested in is like that anyway.

Second, I enjoyed allowing the workshops to form their own shape.

In the first workshop, I showed slides of my work. I then asked the students what they were into, and what they’d like to do. Their feedback indicated games and music were high on the priority for them.

The second workshop was all about games: junk elements had to be employed creatively, and rather quickly, with an outcome within the hour. From this workshop, rhythmic and performative aspects emerged. At the request of the students, it was decided to pick these up the next time, with music as the main focus.

In the third workshop, similar household items were used explicitly for making sound, and we discussed the relationship between “noise” and “music”. The skill of “playful misuse” that had been introduced in the games workshop was further developed here.

In the final workshop, this was pushed even further. The students had less time to prepare for their performances, and yet displayed much less anxiety at having to come up with something. In many cases, their public presentations were improvisational, and they coped with this by using communicative gestures between themselves.

This final point, about communication, is a key one for me. Although I was not big on “skill” in general(ie the perfecting of particular competencies), one of the challenges presented by the workshops was all about collaboration. Each week the students had to work in groups of two, three or four, and come up with an “outcome” within a fixed time frame. Often, this presented some difficulty. If one group member was unco-operative, or felt that it was “uncool” to participate, it created a kind of contagious lethargy which made playfulness heavy and slow. On the other hand, many of the students were more than happy to get stuck into the task, no matter how silly. For them, the challenge was to focus and find consensus. Alternatively, they had to find a way to allow their lack of consensus to still be ok. Sometimes this meant dissonant individual contributions living side by side in a performance.

A few weeks ago I spoke to my mum, who is a teacher, about the Cunderdin workshops. She pointed out that the kind of activity I was proposing was the sort of thing usually reserved for what are known as “gifted and talented” students. That is: self-directed, free-form tasks requiring large reserves of creativity and lateral thinking, channeled through a social form (collaboration). This is not an easy process, by any means.

My friend Bianca Hester, from Melbourne, has been no small inspiration for my “art of play” workshops in Cunderdin. Bianca recently ran a workshop called “studio everybody” with Uni Students at the Victorian College of the Arts. Obviously, their level of sophistication was much greater. But in a way, we are trying to do a similar thing: to break down the focus on individual authorship which is created by our assessment-crazy educational systems; to re-introduce play as a valid form of “intellectual activity”; and to think about communicative forms (art, music, film, whatever) in a fluid way – ie not to be genre-specific. Bianca encouraged her students to create their own blog during the process of “studio everybody.”
The ramshackle “results” of that blog process are here:

On May 8th, Bianca very kindly emailed me the following:

I especially love the GAME GAME stuff…..the story of them moving the desks together in the library sparked a memory of when I was in high school (and a real rat bag), I got all my class mates to pile their desks on top of each other into a huge pyramid, so that when our english teacher came in we’d all be sitting askew and wobbly ontop of each other, but acting quite normal. FUN! I loved those crazy moments at school (like holding biros dangerously close to the buts of bent over teachers, daring to poke them but trying not to)….anyway, enough of my trip down memory lane(sure your getting plenty of it)…..i just think those kids will remember the crazi-ness very fondly…

Bianca’s email brings up an important issue for me, and one which was highlighted by our noisy behaviour in the Cunderdin DHS Library. Classroom behaviour and “art-play” behaviour are difficult to reconcile. Trevor was frustrated at the lack of “respect” and the “atrocious” behaviour of his class, but I can’t help feeling that the activities I proposed, and the context of the classroom, were responsible for this mis-match. Behaviour which elsewhere might be considered positive and enthusiastic ends up being punishable within the school.

Of course this is not the full story. The students, by no means, went out of their way to “capitalise” on having an artist in the class once a week for a month. Generally, they lacked curiosity, and were at times wilfully bored, sullen, and “naughty” even though I was a “guest” in their midst. Fortunately for me, I was there on a fly-by-night basis, and this behaviour did not shock or frustrate me. Of course, it made me thankful I was not a fulltime teacher. But since my expectations were fairly low, I was, on the whole, pleased with how the students responded to sophisticated stimulus material, and challenging practical tasks.

One Response to “Cunderdin Workshops Post-Mortem”

  1. Poppy van Oorde-Grainger Says:

    I do this sort of work too. Doing really improvised stuff with groups can be really scarey and daring and hard to make it work. I find I need to structure the lessons alot to encourage spontinaity ie. find something, transform it, shed light on it, show us. I will read on…. Love hearing other people experiences. Would love to see your “lesson plans” Lucas.

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