Thursday, 28 April 2016

Leaps Of Learning: A Living Art Gallery


A major leap of learning came for me in my first ever class at university; learning which has guided me ever since. It was my opening day studying Contemporary Theatre and Performance at Manchester Metropolitan University and perhaps the teacher thought it would be just a good class for starting off the course, yet the simple premise on which it was based has become a cornerstone in my understanding of drama, art and of life.

Our teacher presented a clear and simple task to the class- to go for a walk along a re-purposed canal path and to make some basic installations using just our bodies and some empty photo frames. For the first half of the session we walked along a mile section of the path, working in groups to select locations to make 'paintings' out of. Using the backgrounds of trees, fields, streams and bankings, we made little vignettes of a range of stories and images (things like Romeo & Juliet, The Creation Of Adam, a baby in the womb, a western shootout, etc) then held up the photo frame for the audience to view the picture through. For the second half, we walked back along the route, showing and viewing the images we had all created, as if moving through an art gallery filled with living paintings.

The Salt Line in Cheshire, UK

The ISB MS production of FRAMED in 2014, a devised piece in which we used empty 
picture frames as part of the performance.

All the time we were getting to know one another, tentatively testing out ideas and discovering the different personalities in the group. Apart from being a great way for our class to break the ice and begin building an ensemble, it taught me one of my most important lessons as an artist- that everyone and everything contains multitudes.

Do I contradict myself?Very well then I contradict myself,(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
-Walt Whitman 

A tree can be a plant but also a compilation or bark, wood, sap, leaves. It can be a mix of geometric shapes, a source of food, a habitat, a playground, a network of atoms. In the context of an audience's gaze it can be a Greek pillar, a wall to hide behind, a seat, its branches the cradling arms of a mother, its trunk the stoic body of a shunned lover.

At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this very minute lose the illusory meaning with which we had clothed them, henceforth more remote than a lost paradise . . . 
-Albert Camus 

There is a multiplicity to the world and everything in it beyond the 'illusory meanings' which we give. Up until that point, my sense of this had been vague. I knew from my science lessons that at the same time as I was Carl- a person, I was also a human made of organs, blood, bone, but I was also a collection of cells, a network of atoms.

I am now more capable of seeing things through many different lenses, when I'm making art but also in life generally. On a most basic level to see something's form as well as its content, then after that it's possible to notice many other levels of semantics.

I wonder if that teacher knows of the impact her lesson had, far beyond helping me to get to know the colleagues on my course. I wonder if she expected that lesson to be recalled time and time again as I further my understanding of making art, of living. 

As a teacher myself now, it's remembering leaps of learning like this that remind me it is not necessarily our 'important' classes, the ones in which we 'really get stuck into the material', that are the most impacting. Sometimes a simple task, presented in a gentle, easy-going way, can have a huge impact on a student's learning.


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