Re-booting a 4th Grade Residency in Staten Island | Mark Dzula

After a month-long interruption, Learning Though Art started up again at PS 48 in Staten Island. Partly due to holidays, partly due to coincidence, and partly due to super-storm Sandy, the interruption had the potential to sap any momentum we could have built in our first few weeks together in the program.  Going back, I was afraid that the 4th graders might have lost interest in our work investigating collections. What potential stories, spoken and unspoken, might they represent? Perhaps in the interim, I feared, other more pressing issues would occupy the young artists.

We meet on Fridays. Luckily, the previous Monday, students were able to take the first of their three annual visits to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. This trip was lucky in many respects; many New York City school field trips have been interrupted in the wake of the storm. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Learning Through Art program is that it engages kids on their home turf, in the schools, and also invites them out to have several significant experiences at the museum each year.

This year we are relating our own artwork to the work of Gabriel Orozco—the kids love it and loved seeing it in person. To them, it is very exciting that garbage can become fodder for art. They are impressed with Orozco’s approach, and they came back beaming from their trip to the museum.

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In this way, a few very important things are highlighted for me as a teaching artist. Of course, it is essential to find work that is relevant, engaging, and accessible to our students. Initial discussions about collections with the students were very fruitful—it is hard to imagine a child without some collection or another. Students recognized that collections might represent affiliations, interests, or achievements. They could talk about collections and their relationship to memory.

The strange significance of things, the play of objects, seems even more pronounced than when we started.  Thankfully, most of the students are absolutely fine, although a few were displaced and are receiving help from relatives, friends, and the community. In our discussions about the trip to the museum, students expressed their reaction to the objects in Orozco’s collection as things “left behind” or somehow “lost”. Then kids were quick to point out how Orozco had made a new significance in “finding” the objects and re-presenting them. Perhaps he had a message. Perhaps the things tell us about the places they were found in.

It is good to get back into the swing of things, and I am especially grateful that the students’ trip to the museum was a success. In the upcoming weeks we will be working with memory and impressions (rubbings, tape sculptures, etc) and other art practices that will help us build our own communicative collections. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you explored similar ideas? What have you done with students?

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