Week 1, Day 3:
I was feeling a little better, and trying to play catch up, so on Day 3 we jumped around through many topics.
We started with the Caption Game, in which everyone writes a sentence, then passes the paper to the left, the next person draws a picture illustrating that sentence, then folds the paper to conceal the sentence and passes again to the left, the next person writes a sentence captioning the picture, then folds the paper and passes again, and etc. Most bees know this game, I am sure. It is always a hit, with any group, and no exception here. We talked briefly about the difficulty of translating between words and pictures, especially when trying to depict vague or complicated concepts. But mostly this game is just a fun ice-breaker, and we got lots of good laughs.
1. Games! Remember to set limits, set goals, and always stay on the “learning edge”
2. Idea Generation: includes research, and mind-mapping – this part is “expansive”
3. Refining: edit and critique… often multiple iterations of this step
4. Drawing only comes after these 3 steps, some times it is the smallest part of the process
5. Division of Labor – artists vision, organizers initiate, educators research, everyone involved in story development, then artists represent, educators share, organizers recruit…
– The drawing process also benefits from division of labor, divided into different types, very similar to assembly-line style process of comic books… this allows each artist to play to their strengths while together we create something much more elaborate and skillful than any one could ever do.
– After drawings are finished, they are reproduced large (on fabric) and small (on paper) – “cross-pollinating” follows, the drawings are just the beginning!
– Often we continue making derivative works like narrative booklets, translations of those booklets, mini-posters and patches, slide-shows, presentations and workshops, videos and online tools, for years afterwards – these graphics and stories continue to be living and evolving as long as we continue making use of them.
Students were very interested in this part, and asked many detailed questions. Probably they were just trying to figure out what they were getting themselves into! In general I have noticed that it is very important to have a proper lesson detailing the upcoming process and especially divisions of labor, it makes the endeavor tangible and realistic.
I showed examples of murals and cantastoria, the 2 most important predecessors of the Beehive’s work, and we had a couple of brief discussions. I coaxed them into sharing their reactions – students seemed to think, generally, that murals are impressive and that cantastoria is silly. I am certain that by the end of this course they had more nuanced opinions, and probably would have been much more willing to share them, but at that point it was difficult to take the conversation much farther than those sort of succinct and superficial observations.
I gave a mini-lecture about some key ideas in avant-garde art and education, both formulated in books published in 1968: “Society of the Spectacle” and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”
I wrote the following quotes (first and second are partially paraphrased) on the board:
Guy Debord and other members of the Situationist International:
– All that was once lived directly has become mere representation, “being” downgraded into “having.”
– We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy… becoming a substitute for real experience.
– Against unilateral art, situationist culture will be an art of dialogue, an art of interaction.
– For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.
– The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.
I also included some references and listed these key concepts:
– “alienation” & “reification”
– “self-empowerment” & “humanism”
– “the word is the world”
I talked about 1968, a time of great turmoil and violence and also great promise, many different peoples striving for freedom and justice all over the world, including the ongoing decolonization of African and Asian nations which had been inspired in many ways by India’s independence two decades earlier, and the continuing freedom struggles which were stirring uprisings within India at that time. I also mentioned briefly the often extremely violent reactions against new ideas and increasing aspirations of oppressed peoples, alluding to Naxalites in India, Black Panthers in the US, the Vietnam War. I explained that some of the concepts which inform our desire to blend art-education-activism originate from key ideas of this time.
“The Spectacle” says that we are being gradually turned into mindless atomized consumption machines, but that we can overcome this by art and love that transcends alienation and builds interaction. “Popular Education” says similar things in the field of education. Standing against the “banking model” in which the teacher is the only actor, inserting and withdrawing knowledge from passive students, “pop ed” asserts that teacher = learner, all contribute to each others knowledge, and true learning is a path to self-empowerment and liberation.
It is very easy to explain the concept of the Spectacle to young people. Just point at “reality” TV, facebook, billboards, etc. Popular education is much harder to understand, especially for Indians who often come up in rigid, high-stakes, memorization-oriented schools. We spent the rest of the week demonstrating popular education through a variety of exercises.
An interesting thing that I noticed was that most of the students were not able to sit and listen for even 10 minutes, which was my self-imposed lecture limit. Pinak told me this is normal, they are just accustomed to more stimulating stuff, videos and whatnot. And he also pointed out that nearly all of them were not understanding at all what I was saying, because they actually had no knowledge of the 60’s, decolonization, or any of that. He said he would bring some films to show the next day to help drive the point home.
So I just let it drop at that, and then we moved on to a series of more engaging activities. First we did a classic popular education introduction called “Tree of Knowledge.” It involves everyone writing down different things they have learned, on different colored paper corresponding to different sources of that learning. In our case, we made yellow roots = “things I learned from my parents,” brown trunk = “things I learned from my community,” orange branches = “things I learned from school,” green leaves = “things I taught myself,” and red fruits = “things that I can teach to others.” The beauty of this exercise is that it is really fun when everyone clusters around sticking bits of paper on the wall, gradually filling out a tree that grows bigger and wider and wiser, symbolizing that between us all, there is an enormous wealth of knowledge in the room, and sometimes they also get surprising insights into the interests and backgrounds of their classmates. It is an excellent way to communicate the purpose and importance of popular education.
We followed this with our first mind-mapping activity. I gave a quick explanation simply by showing mind-mapped outlines of major themes of TCC and MR posters. It is good to do this because it is more engaging than showing a photo of some random sloppy mind-map, and presents a little more context than just jumping into the exercise. It is important to make clear that these are not examples of what we are about to do in the exercise (these are neat, that will be very messy), but they are a good example of the iterative process, because even our ideas were extremely messy in the beginning too, here we are seeing the finally refined stage.
Then we started with a very easy and generic topic, “Bangalore, identity and issues” and an entirely open-ended unstructured format, as a first tentative step to be expanded and deepened with further mind-maps later in the course.
It took a little time for students to get into this activity, and some were notably resistant. I really had to push them to go deeper, to try to at least touch upon some topics that were more interesting than famous landmarks or popular street food. Eventually we got there, though many of the topics listed in this mind-map are there because I asked about them, not because students felt compelled to talk about them.
Eventually we filled up the whole board, and I called the mind-mapping good enough. Then I prompted them to brainstorm symbols of any of the concepts on the mind-map. On another board I began roughly drawing those symbols. Again, many students were hooked on just shouting out famous landmarks and varieties of street food – I think it was a combination of missing the point of the exercise, and reluctance to talk about anything that might be contentious. So symbol-making was not very productive, but eventually we got at least a somewhat varied collection of interesting characters and objects.
From there, I split them into 3 arbitrary groups and gave them an assignment: translate the whole collection into a single sentence. It was the Caption Game to the extreme. They loved the challenge. I did not want it to be too restrictive, so I gave them permission to make a run-on sentence, or a cute poem, or whatever, as long as it was some kind of synthesis. Each of the groups understood these instructions differently, and they came up with some very different descriptions.
Here are their sentences:
1. She got off the G-9 into a cacophony of colour, culture, and chaos, the cop who is in a bad mood as his idlis got soaked in the rain, elbows her aside, the next thing she sees is a young boy hopping on gulugare from the temple who sees a traveller who has probably had too much to drink, wanders through chasing the Basilica and the Masjid trying to make conversation (which goes over everyone’s heads), that’s when he dievs into the water tanker, starting to leak in the middle of the road filling a pothole which becomes a lake from which a cow takes a sip and gets back to eating garbage under the broken streetlight, meanwhile a politician with his jiggling gold chains is happy to see the road problem taken care of, to which he treats himself to a corner store ice cream.
2. Buildings grow as trees fall, with water turning to sludge and dirt seeps through the cracks into the air, into the ground, between people who can’t understand each other, killing when consumed.
3. They couldn’t decide between these two:
As the demon terrorized Skybarat 10 // the people called the angry policemen. // The squad rushed in with cows, mice & hen //and shouted something that made everyone say “Come again?”
The man decided to leave the eccentric city as the demon terrorized Skybarat 10, // He got lost on his way out, with no one to help him out, // Not even the usual gang of angry policemen.
Obviously, Groups 1 and 3 took the liberties I gave them and stretched them to the max, but it was great to see such a wide variety of approaches to solving this little riddle. We had a mini-critique, mostly focused on comparing the strengths of these different approaches and a little talk about how creative it can be to translate words to pictures and back again. The students enjoyed this activity so much that some of them insisted that we stay almost 30 minutes beyond the time when class was over, in order to give time to this discussion.
By the way, this activity was also a great hit with an art class in Milwaukee, on my fall tour – I would highly recommend it to others.