Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Vibrant Matter" in the art room

"It is never we who affirm or deny something of a thing; 
it is the thing itself that affirms or denies something of itself in us." 
Baruch Spinoza, Short Tretise II

Hello my friends,

I visited Jeanne Walker's room today at Hancock High School. The art room was gorgeous and full of vibrant matter and possibilities. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am reading about new materialism and post humanism. Now I look at this beautiful art room exploding with "thing power" and wonder what might these "things" be calling us to do?

Reinforcing the sculptural chairs with paper mache.
A non-chair related project involves these beautiful mannequin heads covered in gold leaf. The beauty of these materials cannot be captured by a photo. One has to feel the materiality of gold leaf.

This one seems to speak to me as a throne.
Recently I have been wondering, what if we were to re-conceive of the art room's materiality differently?  Jane Bennett who I mentioned in the last post says "'thing power' works because it's in the nature of our bodies to be susceptible to infusion, invasion, collaboration by or with other bodies." Are these "things" that are in the art room more than mere objects? How do they call to us? How do our bodies interact with a sense of inter corporality through the "things'" bodies? Our bodies and the bodies of "things" have a protective membrane and yet somehow these "things" become us or do we become them? They permeate us and we permeate them. 

In our Studio Night conversation yesterday several people spoke about the way in which school administrators cannot see the potential in the art room. So often the administrator is baffled by the "chaos" present in the art room. I think we could re-think what is actually going on in the art room through the concepts of vibrant matter and new materialism. I also want to share what Elizabeth Grosz has written in her book Chaos, territory, art. She says "the arts produce and generate intensity, that which directly impacts the nervous system and intensifies sensation." (2008, p. 3). So what if the outsider entering into this "chaos" is actually having a somatic experience where the material sensations in the room are so powerful they shut a person down? As visual artists we take for granted that materials speak to us and that perhaps "chaos" opens us up to new possibilities. 

These materials do indeed stimulate the body and produce new sensations, new ideas, new potentialities. How can we help others enter into this experience especially when students and teachers are in the midst of production/creation? This is time of great intensity. These are really exciting ideas to think about because they do produce real affects (overwhelm, claustrophobia, fear, longing) and real effects (low ratings on teacher evaluations due to a misunderstanding of what the art room does).

The materials collected for these chairs are indeed vibrant. I invite you all to consider these questions. What if we write a piece together and/or co-present at the NAEA next year in Chicago around these ideas? I am always honored to come into your exquisite spaces. Thank you.
Jeanne's students are working on these stunning sculptural chairs that invite people into safe spaces to have difficult conversations. These chairs/sculptures will be installed outside of the school for a performance/celebration on May 12th from 4-6 p.m. for a project called On the table.  A cookout and conversations will be held to inaugurate the chairs in the space and feature the opening of the safe spaces art and sculpture exhibition. Please come to 56th and Kosner (near Pulaski) for this special event!

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