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Project in Practice 24 August 2017
As a NoVA on exchange in Spring semester 2017 in Oslo, one of the courses offered at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences within Masters in Aesthetic Subjects curriculum was called Project in Practice (PIP). The course focused on development, planning, and production of practical artistic projects included in artistic research in diverse aesthetic fields. It emphasized the development of ideas through practical pre-projects, presentations, and demonstrations of the students’ own practical work. The students’ practical projects were contextualized through relevant contemporary discourses connected to the field of interest and direction of study, and it included examples of perspectives on globalization, resilience, diversity, and gender in the aesthetic field. The course also aimed at situating practical and organizational projects in a wider knowledge-based frame related to ‘sensuous knowledge’.
Particular to the PIP course was the opportunity to collaborate on a project with other Masters students participating in various Masters in Aesthetic Subjects programs at HiOA. In the beginning of the course, students were asked to describe their interest in working alone or collaborating on a project, and thereafter to describe in pairs their abilities, interests, and ideas. The result of the exercises, for myself, was the conclusion that collaboration was an opportunity I wanted to embrace. Together with a theater student, I became involved in developing a project we called Forum Teater Aktivitet: Exploring the Use and Value of Forum Theater in Norwegian Language and Cultural Learning.
Statement of Need
The recent influx of refugees and migrants into Europe from Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia has presented European leaders and policymakers with one of their greatest challenges to date. It is a complex issue that can be viewed from many different perspectives and has raised questions about security, sovereignty, and integration that could have a lasting social, economic, and political impact on the European Union (EU).
(T)he flow of refugees has become a political pressure point playing a major role in the wave of nationalist, racist, and anti-Muslim movements that now ravage Europe and the US. These refugees stand in the middle of a politically and culturally polarized society, splitting the people of Europe in two – an event already seen in the US since President Trump’s election. (Hvid, 2017)
Pew Research Center recently published a study of public opinion towards refugees and migrants in ten European countries (Poushter, J. 2016). The study showed that around 59 percent of ten EU countries voice concern about the prospect of increased terrorism with rises in immigration. The study revealed that 49 percent of the public believes that increased numbers of refugees from e.g. Syria and Iraq, poses a major threat to their communities, and in general, 43 percent have a negative view of Muslims in their community. Overall, the study showed that few Europeans believe growing diversity makes their country a better place to live.
While Norway at present is still less polarized than many other European countries, it is also seeing a shift in the electorate. According to FrP leader and Finance Minister Siv Jensen, Fremskrittspartiet will take a much tougher stance against immigration for the next election in Norway. Clear in the coming elections in September 2017, is that among the three main questions to be answered by all parties during the campaign is: How to prevent social division during a time of immigration? It is within the context and climate of the present moment that my student colleague and I chose to take up work with addressing this issue in the Project in Practice the course.
We decided our project design would cleave to artistic practice up to now known by many names: community art, participatory arts, community-engaged arts, socially engaged arts, arts for social justice, artist and community collaboration, relational or dialogical art, applied aesthetics, and community cultural development. With little serious experience of working with this practice for either of us, limited knowledge of the shared norms within the context of its practice, how it is being shaped, what historical background nourishes it, and least, what aesthetic issues it raises, I was initially somewhat hesitant to engage in a project which would intimately touch people’s lives or had the potential for real impact. The project raised many questions in me concerning the blurring of boundaries between socially engaged art, social work and therapy and I began to challenge my perception of the divisions.
Artists and art educators who approach art and art education as a social endeavor have inspired my interest, and I recognized my own impulses toward critical theoretical and political work in the PIP project as “fueled by a passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environments, an education that is worthy of its name—in short a better world” (APPLE, 2011, p.12). Inspiration for the project was partly drawn from our own lived experiences with oppression and immigrant education, and from the theater practices of Augusto Boal, founder of Theater of the Oppressed (TO), whose work was meant to “provide assistance to the oppressed own liberation, and to give them this help in the form of tools from the theatre language and aesthetics” (Aure, Bjerkestrand & Songe-Møller, 2013) and which was named in honor of Paulo Freire’s, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Both the Theater of the Oppressed and the Pedagogy of the Oppressed were powerfully transformational in their original contexts.
Similar research work in theater related instructional methodologies has been made by Songe-Møller and Bjerkestrand in their project focused on developing Solidarity Forum Theater (SFT), described in their article Empowerment of Citizens in a Multicultural Society (2012). In the article, Emancipatory Theater and Performative Didactics (2013), Aure, Songe-Møller and Bjerkestrand described their contemporary and experimental work with the innovative and holistic approach of SFT and its significance to learning and community development. Through our preliminary research, we discovered many similar studies conducted with a focus on immigrant education and applied theater techniques and we also used many of these projects as inspiration.
Goals and Objectives
The purpose of the workshops was to create a praxis (Freire, 1968, 2003) of critical aesthetics (Carey, 1998) in which participants engaged in a series of aesthetically grounded experiences aimed at confronting own lived experiences with oppression. This was to lay the groundwork for creating a community performance aimed at revealing and disorienting previously conceived notions about immigration. And to imagine alternative immigrant education which could be referenced as constructivist, student-focused, inquiry based, dialogic, collaborative, multi-vocal and project-based. The desired outcome of the project was to acquire knowledge of the intersection of forum theater and immigrant education to identify if and how effective pedagogical theory relevant to immigrants aligns with improvisational theater models towards a re-orientation of immigrant education based on perspectives of the “Other”.
The project had two main objectives:
1.) To explore the use and value of forum theater in the context of Norwegian language and cultural learning as non-traditional language pedagogy, understanding that pedagogy and language can be seen as a tool to construct people as the “Other” and force them to acculturate. (Sarabia, 2003)
2.) To respond to the profound challenges of integrating immigrants and building stronger communities through cultural production, with Forum Theater’s emphasis on the procedural, participatory, and liberatory, focusing on how it “can contribute to individuals becoming conscious and to changes in society.” (Aure et al., 2013)
Within the time frame of four weeks, my student colleague and I took Forum Teater Aktivitet through the following phases and touched on the last :
- Contact and Contract: The first phase consisted of contacting St. Olav’s Parish, a non-profit organization offering Norwegian language and cultural classes to newly arrived immigrants. We shared information on Forum Theater and agreed on how to frame the project. We met with the charity coordinator to discuss our project, time, place, and duration of work. The meeting resulted in the obtainment of an ongoing contract to use St. Olav’s facilities to make drama workshops available to interested immigrants within a specific timeframe.
- Knowledge and Invitation: The second phase consisted of visiting two language classes, introducing ourselves, sharing basic knowledge about forum theater with them, and inviting interested individuals to join. We described our affiliations and provided information about the project to the potential participants. Unclear as to what findings would be made, the project was framed in terms of the above mentioned two goals.
- Constructing the Workshop: We worked together to describe individual roles in the project, discussed our individual strengths and weaknesses, talked about how to support one another in the project’s aims, and how to collect data that within our focus area while following good, ethical practice. Having experience with forum theater, my student colleague was responsible for choosing relevant applied theater activities that fit the goals of projects objectives to work with the aims of TO. With experience with second language pedagogy and immigrant education, I would fill the role of language consultant and, would look for commonalities in models and strategies to apply to the workshops, while experiencing the workshops as a participant observer.
- Mutual Encounter: This phase involved encounters between immigrants and Master’s students and included introductory training courses with games, activities, and cases from Augusto Boal’s work. Due to participant inconsistency, and dealing with newcomers to the course, this phase took up a large portion of time in the workshops.
- Experienced Life Stories Became Theater: Master’s students and immigrants shared stories of oppression with each other. Everyday experiences taken from various places including doctor’s office, jobs, restaurant, and shops, where oppression was part of the experience, were used as cases and performed. These forum play presentations highlighted a reality where oppression was present and opened for our work with more serious issues. Both Master’s students and immigrant were actors.
The use of forum theater as a critical aesthetic approach made it possible to create a space for sharing stories and discussion of complex issues, where, together with the multi ethnic participants in the project, we dealt with race, class, gender, and citizenship issues common to their experiences in the community as immigrants. We used stories and performance to create living images about how to strategize about common problems experienced when integrating into the Norwegian culture and the barriers of otherness were broken down through work with improvisational theater techniques toward a mutual sense of commonality and community. What resulted was an authentic experience of cultural dialogue that provided participants with the means for communicating values, traditions, beliefs and experiences, and which my student colleague and I experienced, contained the potential result of better understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity.
Through this project, the “parallels between the processes of art and education” (Helguera, 2011, p. 11) Pablo Helguera describes having observed, became very clear and we began to understand what Helguera meant when he described how relying on the field of education can enable artists to address some of the greater challenges like immersion into communities and understanding their concerns, using communities as utilitarian capacities and so on (Helguera, 2011). Likewise, it was easy to see how many educators claiming to be inspired by Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, can mistakenly transform Freire’s notion of dialogue into a method, and lose sight of the fundamental goal of dialogical teaching, “to create a process of learning and knowing that invariably involves theorizing about the experiences shared in the dialogue process” (Macedo, in Freire, 1970).
Through the experience of facilitating the workshops, it became clear to us that the project enabled the participants as well as the facilitators to experience “how the arts can be used to release imagination and open up new perspectives” (Greene, 1995, p.19), and how it is possible “to work for the ability to look at things as if they could be otherwise” (Green, 1995, p. 19). We found evidence that supported the possibility to align communicative language approaches and pedagogy with improvisational theater methods, and the use of improvisational theater methods gave opportunities to work with material relevant to each individual participant and their own lives. We also found friction in terms of Norwegian language ability and use when working with personal issues of oppression, when without notice all participants and facilitators switched over to speaking English when communicating difficult experiences. We gained a lot of experience and insight through the project while learning to adapt to the many struggles and challenges experienced along the way.
We discussed how, throughout the project, we felt pulled in different directions: as critical analysts, art educators, activists, artists, and performers, while fumbling our way in our social praxis. Regardless of a lack of experience and confidence, reaching for the radical does not feel like a foolhardy task at this moment, and educating people toward a whole systematic way of looking at things is crucial, so more than anything, I am encouraged to continue my own development and work with art as social practice. What an inspiration it has been to work on such meaningful projects with the many talented students and teachers at HiOA, and how fascinating it was to experience the art scene in Oslo!
From the wild shores of Southcentral Alaska with 16 years living all over Denmark. Jennifer Skriver is currently participating in the NoVA Masters program at Aalborg University. She has a comprehensive pedagogical background with over 8 years in a variety of educational settings, including cross-cultural and international settings, immigration educational and adult second language settings. With a focus in art education, Jennifer is inspired and dedicated to promoting the arts in public educational and cultural institutions, enhancing understanding of and helping audiences to relate, connect and identify with modern and contemporary art through creating interdisciplinary links and incorporating contemporary art in various educational settings. She is currently focusing her coursework at the intersection of art, pedagogy, and democracy, with the goal of understanding how to foster civic engagement and social justice through art, education, and cultural work towards change and transformation. She is dedicated to working with youth and adults within communities and experimenting with social institutions and communal life. Passionate towards the aims of democracy and inspired by liberatory education and critical and feminist pedagogy, she also enjoys using photography and visual communication skills for storytelling and documentation.
The Game That Changed 6 May 2017
Video games have been studied for at least 20 years by now, but video games continue to change and turn into something that nobody had anticipated. How can we understand the changing content, values, and contexts of video games?
On March 27th of 2017, game researchers gathered together in Copenhagen to discuss the concurrent and the future of game studies. The topic included game design, history, cognitive science and game pedagogy. There, I had a chance to conduct a 30-min speech about the South Korean game studies and political discourses that surround them.
“The Game That Changed” seminar took place in The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK), coordinated by influential game researcher Jesper Juul.
South Korean translation of “game” is “gae-im(게임)”, which is a direct loanword from English. The word, however, does not conflate with the traditional games like in the West but instead disconnected from the legacy of traditional values. This unique positioning of the word game, therefore, affects, not only the (public’s) common sense but also, how we conceptualize them in studies and theories as well. With this in mind, my speech covered the “South Korean (boxed) PC game crash” that happened in the late 1990s, referencing my previous researches and artifact-based exhibitions conducted at Nexon Computer Museum (South Korea). The speech briefly walks through several sociocultural and economical incidents that occurred in South Korea during the late-1990s, including Asian Financial Crisis and rise of competitive gaming culture; the direct causes that formed concurrent South Korean gaming culture and discourses.
My discussion went more in-depth in the follow-up 90-min lecture Shacking the frame: “Game” in East Asia & South Korean game studies, which was conducted with the collaboration with IT University of Copenhagen, Center for Computer Games Research. Center for Computer Games Research. There, I’ve explained the terminological differences between word “game” and how East Asian languages (Chinese, Korean and Japanese) interpret them in their own languages, as East Asia do not have traditional linguistic terms that directly correspond to the western definition of ‘game’. Together with South Korean (boxed) PC game crash, I believe this terminological and ontological frame is one of the fundamental aspects that structures the game related discourses in my home country – South Korea.
As such, how the language constructs our subjectivity towards the concept of “game” and frames the local game studies triggers my curiosity most in recent days. I seek to dig deeper into this topic in my future research.
Solip Park is a current NoVA student and a former Researcher & IR Coordinator at Nexon Computer Museum (South Korea). Solip is pursuing her research focusing on game for learning, with the concentration on lifelong learning in digital era and game/computer museum exhibition and pedagogy. You can find more about Solip at: www.parksolip.com
Postcards from Suomenlinna 20 April 2017
As an exchange NoVA from Konstfack I decided to take the course Contemporary Art and its Social Context. The course gives an introduction to and explores understandings of contemporary art and its different roles and relations in society. A big part of the course consists of a project in collaboration with an institution, this semester with IHME Festival of Contemporary Art.
IHME Festival is an annual event where one artist or artist collective is invited to create an artwork inspired by Helsinki. The festival board encourages participatory or social artworks. This has been done either by an artist collaborating with a small group of people, doing interventions in the city or making an artwork that is formed and recreated by the visitors.
As a class we were asked to respond to this archive of previous projects. This could be done in various ways, we could delve deep into the archive looking for what we think is missing and in that case form our project around the lack of something, such as promotion, audience reactions etcetera. Or we could choose to make an artwork ourselves, which poses questions and open up for new questions and interests, which is what our group decided to do.
We collectively identified four themes that we saw in the archive: audience, public space/place, artist and national/international/local/global. My group formed under the last theme. We had many disparate ideas about the subject, but as time was running out we decided to work with ourselves, and our nationalities. We were a Swede, Finn and a Russian. Not only does it sound like the arrangement for a funny story, we were also representatives for decades of war, oppression and conflict. Starting in this we found a common denominator: Suomenlinna, a small island outside Helsinki where a fortress was built by the Swedes in 18th century, later invaded by the Russian army and now being one of Finland’s cultural heritage sites. We therefore had some sort of relation to Suomenlinna by simply happening to be born in a particular country. This relation activated questions regarding ourselves and ourselves as ’Swede,’ ’Russian,’ ’Finn’. What does it really mean? Does it matter?
We decided to visit the island using a ’global tool’ : Google Streetview. We set out to find ’our’ Suomenlinna and make postcards of it. Could we find our sense of home in this site of national heritage?
What then followed was a translation, an exchange of meaning, not really finding our own personal sense of home but rather interpreting that to the general image of our home countries, an interpellation of ourselves with ourselves as Russian, Swede, Finn.
The project resulted in three postcards titled Suomenlinna, Sweden, Suomenlinna, Russia and Suomenlinna, Finland. We also made a short video for the presentation at IHME festival where we shared our personal stories about national identity and the process of finding ourselves as Suomenlinna.
Anton Krohn (SE)
I visited Suomenlinna through my macbook, dropped the little yellow guy to the blue lines of google street view. I was searching for a personal postcard of Suomenlinna, ‘my’ Suomenlinna as a swede. My hometown (Karlskrona) is a world heritage, the entire city is constructed and built around the same time as Suomenlinna. ‘Walking’ around the island there were moments when I began to feel homesick, I guess it’s the vibe of cultural heritage, a preservation of 18th century that I recognise and grew up in. These images are not swedish for me, more like home, history, ‘european’ (if there is such a thing).
I found the little red cabin with white corners and decided that that would be the best representation when relating to myself-as-swedish, although I don’t have a strong relation to a red cabin. It is as distant and close to my sense of self as is ‘swedishness’.
Lari Rantalainen (FI)
Although I have lived in Helsinki region for the larger part of my life, my first visit to suomenlinna was only a couple years ago. I went with a friend from New Zealand, who was new in Finland and keen on exploring. We were both tourists. I felt detached from the long history of the place, as well as the small onnistu that inhabits this weird little island. In more than one ways I`m a stereotypical Finnish guy: prone to depression and quiet most of the time (until I had a few Karhu of course). On the other hand, I live in a metropolis, amongst people from all nationalities. I think and speak in English half the time. I live online and I google. So I don`t really care about my national identity and I don`t care who wins hockey (although the celebrations can get pretty epic!) I don`t even mind when I get mistaken for a Swede when I`m travelling abroad.
Valeria Nekhaeva (RU)
This postcard is my alternative souvenir from Suomenlinna, an attempt to better understand my national identity. Traveling to the island with Google Street View gave me the distance that I thought was necessary. If I had gone to the island, I could have been inspired by the scenery, by the atmosphere. I was looking for an image that would portray my home country best and, unfortunately, it is a cannon. The new cold war that started a few years ago makes it uneasy to be Russian abroad.
The project was a bit chaotic, and the time restraints demanding. But in the end we were satisfied with the outcome, talking about how we could not have imagined this happening two weeks before.
Anton Krohn has a hard time defining himself and prefers ’multidisciplinary’ as some kind of floating identity. Some of what he engages in and make is art, both visual and haptic, philosophy, especially new materialism and rhizomatic thought. He was born in Sweden and holds a Bachelor of Visual Production and Media Technology from Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden. He is currently studying Nordic Visual studies and Art Education at Konstfack.
The journey started from Cyprus… I was in my hometown when students from Aalto had the first meeting for the “Accidental Tourist Guide’’. The reality reconstruction project is a collaboration among three universities (Zurich University of the Arts, AALTO University in Helsinki and Hong Kong Baptist University). Through Skype I ‘travelled’ back to a familiar place in Arabia campus to meet my group members who were in Finland. We didn’t stay long in Helsinki since we were asked to virtually walk into the streets of Hong Kong through Google Street View and find interesting spots and details of the Asian town.
The succeeding online encounters and lectures for the project found me in Oslo, where I am currently spending an exchange semester. To be honest, the whole virtual communication and navigation made me feel distant from the project since I am used to meeting people and exploring places the old school way.
I did not have to wait long for the ‘real’ journey. You see, it wasn’t only the project that I was excited about – my first excursion out of Europe wasn’t a dream anymore! After our arrival in Hong Kong and the physical engagement with all the participants of the project – Hong Kong, Zurich, and Helsinki Students, I was trying to acquaint myself with my group members without the pixel and voice-cutting barriers. We finally met and I was grouped with Valeria Nekhaeva, Onon Pang, Laila Frauenfelder, Bobby Yu and Ozan Polat. We re-discussed our findings of Google Street View and decided to focus on Hong Kong’s Back Alleys.
The local members of our group showed us different areas in Hong Kong where back alleys are used as private spaces and we had a taste of the spontaneity of this action. Considering the difficulties to work in a large group -moving all together and discussing at the same time- we decided to spend a day individually and collected data regarding the back alleys. This decision was effective since we visited different alleys around Hong Kong and each one of us looked from an alternative gaze. Through our walks and by documenting the different types of back alley we noticed the frequent presence of the office chair in the area. Hence, this element -office chair- worked as an influence for our project development.
After several experimentation and observation of the general function of Back Alleys we created an Office, an extensive working place of the Connecting Space which was the meeting point for the entire Accidental Tourist Guide Project. We tried to imitate the character of the back alleys business by using materials which could be found in the streets of Hong Kong, such as plastic boxes, wood blocks, office chairs and plastic stools. We were sitting daily at this back alley as if it is a normal office. We started documenting people’s reactions, and we were trying to discuss with the pedestrians which seemed more interested or curious of our project. We ended up with an ‘Office party’ which attracted the locals (and the police).
Although, the relations with our temporary neighbors were good, during our placement I was struggling with ethical questions regarding our random ”invasion” to their daily routine. I believe, a project like this demands time, modesty and discretion. Our final exhibit at connecting space was an installation composed from the materials we had used for our office, collected all on a trolley along with the tablet and laptop used for photo and video documentation respectively.
If I had been asked to speak about my plans for this year I couldn’t even imagine saying I will be walking the streets of Hong Kong! It is indeed an Accidental Travel Masters Degree!
The outcomes of the intercultural artistic project will be shown through a Virtual Tunnel exhibition entitled “Accidental Tourist Guide – Exploring Hong Kong” opening on Wednesday 22.3. at 12.30 -13.30 Helsinki time at Node Space Gallery.
Myrtò Theocharidou is a Visual Artist and a lifetime ‘cultural explorer.’ Myrtò was born in Cyprus and she holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Performing Arts in Painting from the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice, Italy. Myrtò is currently a master student of Nordic Visual Studies and Art Education, at Aalto University. She is interested in art and museum education as well as in experimenting on new techniques in the fields of art and crafts.
MAKE A POINT – Interpretations of Checkpoint Helsinki 9 December 2016
The course Contemporary Art and its Social Context studied the ways in which contemporary art engages with its spatial environment, creates temporal events, and encourages participation. Checkpoint Helsinki provided a case study and material for a practical project. MAKE A POINT continues the discussions about some important questions started by Checkpoint Helsinki.
MAKE A POINT was divided into three groups:
One group focused on the idea of art in public space. They dressed up as a construction crew and installed a discussion platform in Kiasma and at the railway station to engage passers-by to give their views about the subject. They aimed at expanding the idea of openness of Checkpoint Helsinki by constructing an active dialogue with all citizens about public art. The ideas gathered during the events are presented in the form of a poster and projections.
The second group took the Checkpoint Helsinki archive (physical & online) as their starting point. They studied the remains of the processes of creating the Checkpoint Helsinki network and the art projects. The group was curious about the gaps in the “official” archive and decided also to collect participants’ personal memories to question and to complement the archive. The material is gathered in a newspaper-poster.
The third group asked how such a free and spontaneous project can function in the long term and what are the minimum criteria for an institution. They felt that Checkpoint Helsinki with its temporary projects lacked visibility and permanence in public space and, as a response, decided to open CHIOSK – a pop-up kiosk that offers information and art related activities, including a tool kit that encourages alternative encounters with contemporary art – on December 11th 2016 (a pilot).
Participants: Aina Bexell, Allen Damzel Centina, Minjin Chung, Diane Hymans, Matilda Löytty, Agathe Moretti, Eija Mäkivuoti, Annika Sohlman, Alexandra Stroganova, Aliisa Talja, Yu Ziyu and Kaija Kaitavuori (teacher).