February 2015. Light and Shade.

February arrived in light and went out in shade. We had gloriously crisp cold sunny days for the first half of February in North West England and wet, windy, stormy weather for the second half. It’s ironic that this should also reflect the light and shade around my working life and research practice.

At the beginning of February our first research paper about learner experiences in the Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum MOOC (Rhizo14) which took place at this time last year, was published.

Mackness, J. & Bell, F. (2015). Rhizo14: A Rhizomatic Learning cMOOC in Sunlight and in Shade. Open Praxis. 7(1), p. 25-38

In the spirit of openness, and because we were grateful to all those who participated in the research, we published this in an open journal, Open Praxis, and then on publication sought feedback in various locations, such as Facebook, Twitter, on our blogs and Google+. This has been both a light and shade experience, reflecting the light and shade experiences that we reported on in our research.

I’m not sure why light and shade have been perceived by some to be oppositional to each other. My perspective is that they need each other to be able to see each other more clearly. We learn from both. But the paper seems, for some readers, to have further polarized discussion about the learning experience in Rhizo14, making the light and shade even more obvious and oppositional than it was before. An emerging light for me is that some of the issues that were raised by the paper are being discussed, which is surely a better outcome than the paper being ignored.

Other aspects of shade dotted through the month have been continuing concerns about the effects of ageing, not on me personally, but on those around me. I now find myself sending 80th birthday cards more than I have ever done in the past. With respect to dementia, I have learned this month that many people with dementia become grazers in their eating habits and that the best way to deal with this is to leave small bowls of chopped fruit, vegetables, nuts, chocolate and so on around the house. This piece of information has been comforting.

Two highlights this month have again been around art exhibitions. The first was seeing a film about David Hockney, his life and work which prompted me to think about his recommendation that we try and see the wider picture.  February has been all about trying to see the wider picture and reading Iain McGilchrist who writes that there are two ways of being in the world: in one (the way of the right hemisphere) we ‘experience’ the world, in the other (the way of the left hemisphere) we experience our experience, that is a re-presented version. The right hemisphere sees the whole. The left hemisphere sees the detail. What is new must first be present in the right hemisphere before it can come into focus in the left hemisphere (the new versus the known). The left hemisphere then returns the known to the right hemisphere for further experience. These are not McGilchrist’s words, but my understanding of his words. It seems to me that they might have something to say about experience, interpretation and practice in research. I am still thinking about this.

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The other highlight on the last day of February was a visit to Liverpool to see a fantastic production of Educating Rita at the Liverpool Playhouse, a play that asks us to consider what we understand by ‘education’ and shows us the light and shade that can occur in the process of education. What could be a more fitting play for me to see this month? 🙂

Tate Liverpool

And this was followed by a visit to Liverpool’s Tate Gallery and the free Constellations Exhibition on the first floor, which explored connections between major contemporary works of art. There was a lot here that resonated with my learning this month, so I’ll finish off this post with a few images and observations, thoughts that struck me as I walked round, whilst still thinking about the meaning of education and the light and shade of the learning experience.

IMG_0426Robert Adams. Space with a Spiral 1950. (Steel Wire and Wood)

‘The spiral enables the incorporation of space into an art work as an       architectural element, bringing the surrounding space into an active relation with the physical volume of the sculpture.’

My attention was drawn to this sculpture and the role of space in its construction because of the discussion about our research paper (mentioned above), where the question was raised as to whether a participant who was not active and did not contribute openly in the course had the right to fill in the survey and feedback on the course. This sculpture reminds me of the value of not ignoring the invisible and not assuming that it does not have a role to play. In this sculpture the nodes and connecting wires are as much dependent on the space for their definition as the space is on them.

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Henri Matisse 1919. The Inattentive Reader. (Oil on canvas)

I have sometimes wondered in the past month and in reading the comments that have been made about our published paper (mentioned above), at some of the interpretations. Alternative perspectives are welcome and differences of interpretation are inevitable. As with any published writing, benefit from these alternative perspectives and interpretations can only come from close attention to the ideas presented in the text and a dispassionate attempt to discuss and understand them. What exactly did the authors say? Emotional responses might be inevitable, but might also be a distraction from focused attention, as for Matisse’s ‘Inattentive Reader’.

IMG_0442

Mary Martin 1966. Inversion. (Aluminium, oil paint and wood)

Of this work Mary Martin wrote: ‘Establishment of the surface is a primary move, since the parting from and clinging to a surface is the essence of the relief. Then that space which lies between the surface and the highest point becomes a sphere of play, or conflict, between opposites, representing the desire to break away and the inability to leave the norm.’

In her work she recognizes the tensions and conflict that can arise when trying to interpret and/or break away from norms. For me it is interesting how this work fragments the reflected images, emphasizing that everything can be seen from multiple perspectives and as multiples.

Finally this photograph caught my attention.

IMG_0429

Claude Cahun. I Extend My Arms. 1931 or 1932. (Photograph, black and white, on paper)

‘I extend my arms shows a dramatically gesturing pair of arms apparently emerging from inside a stone monolith of similar dimensions to a human body. Cahun’s photograph is a staged self-portrait in which her face and torso are replaced by inanimate stone, shielding her identity from the viewer.’

My reflections this month on light and shade have reinforced for me that our identities can be fragile and learners in ‘the open’ are vulnerable. The extended arms in this photo show a willingness to reach out, but the stone shield also suggests to me that we might need to protect our identities from open space. Open environments are spaces of both light and shade.

 Update: 06-03-15

In a comment on this post Simon Ensor has posted a link to a post he has made on his blog to which he has given the title – In a tangle. This made me think of another sculpture that I saw and thought about on my visit to the Liverpool Tate. Here is a photo of the sculpture with the artist’s name and details of the work.

IMG_0446

Leon Ferrari (1963)

Tower of Babel

Steel, copper wire, bronze, tin and lead

Seeing the Wider Picture

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 18.32.00 Source of image

I have been following David Hockney’s work since the 1960s and this week I saw a film which wonderfully captured his work and life and brought back so many memories for me; the sort of memories that people usually associate with music. This Guardian article provides good coverage of the contents of the film and this video clip provides a flavour of the film

In such a rich life, there is much that I could comment on, but anyone who knows Hockney’s work, will know that in addition to drawing and painting he is also interested in the role of technology in his work, using the ipad for drawing, and photography and film for seeing the world differently.

Near the end of the documentary film that I went to see this week, they showed his film work in which he has simultaneously used 9 cameras to film the changing seasons of a Yorkshire landscape.

I first saw this at his exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2012. What struck me in the documentary film I have seen this week, was that Hockney said that historically paintings have sought to take our eyes inwards, into the painting, using perspective and the well known vanishing point. But in this film he suggested that perhaps, rather than looking inwards, we should be looking more broadly and outwards, to the sides, above and below, as he does with the 9 cameras.

This seemed to me to resonate with Iain McGilchrist’s work on trying to understand the relationship between the left and right hemispheres of the brain – in his book the The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

The two hemispheres have different ways of attending to the world and produce different realities (p.176). The right hemisphere is the hemisphere of broad vigilant attention, of seeing the whole picture; the left hemisphere is the hemisphere of focused attention, just seeing what it expects to see (p.163).

It struck me in watching the film that throughout his work Hockney has been trying to make us see differently; in other words, to make more use of our right brains.

I wonder what that means for writing.

Update 20-09-17

I have been contacted by Jenna at Artsy to let me know about two upcoming Hockney exhibitions and to point me to their David Hockney page which features Hockney’s bio, over 400 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Hockney exhibition listings. This is a great resource for anyone interested in Hockney’s work.

The two upcoming exhibitions are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which is scheduled to showcase David Hockney. Hockney will also be featured in the upcoming exhibition David Hockney: 82 Portraits and a Still Life at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Thank you Jenna at Artsy 🙂

Art I have enjoyed in 2014

This year I have tried to take every opportunity to see an exhibition if it is in an area I am visiting. I am recording here some of the exhibitions and art I have seen and enjoyed in 2014.

January

In January I started exploring rhizomatic learning for research purposes. Through this I have discovered lots of drawings related to the idea of the rhizome.

Blog 1

When I used this wonderful drawing in a blog post the artist Mark Ingham commented:

The Image you are using from:http://socialdigitalelective.wordpress.com/groups/rhizomes/ is a drawing I made in 1999-2000 and is a multiple mapping of 12 of my Grandfather’s (The mathematician who supervised Alan Turing, A E. Ingham) transparencies. I call it ‘Boy Pool Rhizome’. More can be seen at my website http://www.markingham.org

More rhizome images that I have discovered in this research can be seen in this Prezi presentation.

February

Blog 2A trip to Denmark with friends. We visited (clockwise from top left) the Johanne Larsen House and Museum in Kerteminde, the Copenhagen Art Museum, the Round Tower Exhibition, and the Copenhagen Design Museum.

 

April

The wonderful Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy in London

Blog 3

This prompted a long blog post:

Sensitive Learning Spaces: what architects can teach us

And also in April

Textile 21 at the Macclesfield Silk Museum with Frances Bell and Ailsa Haxell. There was a wonderful exhibition of fashioned silk dresses

Blog 4.2 June

Henri Matisse – The Cut Outs, live streamed from the Tate Modern http://www.fact.co.uk/matisse-live-from-tate-modern . I saw this exhibition in Preston. It stimulated me to write two blog posts: Matisse: life-long researcher and Learning from those who have gone before

Blog 5

And…    The BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London, which was a real treat.

Blog 6

And also in June ….the Silverdale and Arnside Art Trail in my local area.

This involves spending the day walking from small studio to small studio (usually in the artist’s own house) or to a slightly larger venue such as a village hall or a hotel. There is an amazing amount of artistic talent in this area of the UK.

Blog 7

July

Visit to Amsterdam and the stunning Rijksmuseum  (Rembrandt and Vermeer) and… the Van Gogh Museum

Blog 8

Rembrandt is one of those artists you just have to see for real, i.e. see the original paintings, in a gallery.

August

Art in the Pen, Skipton, Yorkshire. Over one hundred selected artists transform cattle pens into miniature galleries from which they sell their original works of art.

Blog 9

And …….

Mondrian at the Liverpool Tate. This had me thinking a lot about the relationship between horizontal and vertical.

Blog 10

September

A trip across Europe took in visits to museums and galleries in Zurich, Innsbruck, Vienna and Venice.

ZurichThe Swiss National Museum – a real treasure trove and the Chagall windows at the Fraumünster church.

Blog 11

 Innsbruck – the Cathedral, Imperial Palace and the Maximilianeum Museum

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Blog 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vienna – Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt at the Leopold Museum 

 

 

Venice – Like Vienna, Venice is a work of art in itself; the architecture, the museums, the galleries, the churches and the Architecture Biennale.

Blog 14

 November

Ai Weiwei at Blenheim Palace, with Frances Bell

Blog 15

Edinburgh – The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art  Blog 16

http://www.inglebygallery.com/artists/alison-watt/

December

Rembrandt live streamed at Fellinis Ambleside  from the National Gallery, London and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Blog 17

A fitting note on which to end my visits for this year.

Matisse: life-long researcher

Source of video: http://www.artfund.org/news/2014/04/16/video-henri-matisse-at-tate-modern

The live streaming of the Tate Modern exhibition of 120 of Henri Matisse’s cut-outs, created during the last 10 years of his life when he was at his most frail, did not disappoint. The streamed exhibition was an exuberance of colour, dance and music, with explanations of how the exhibition was mounted and insights into Matisse’s latter years.

I found myself thinking of Matisse as a researcher. Perhaps all artists are researchers. His life was devoted to exploration and discovery.  He looked to nature, music and dance in his life-long exploration into how to express himself.  It is interesting that some of the quotes attributed to him can be thought of in relation to an approach to research. For example:

To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage.

An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success, etc.

The artist must summon all his energy, his sincerity, and the greatest modesty in order to shatter the old clichés that come so easily to hand while working (Henri Matisse)

But Matisse did not take a scientific approach to his work or start with a question. Rather questions emerged through immersion in his work. He recognised the complexity of the real-world. If we think of his work as ‘research’, then he took an approach similar to that which Stephen Downes discussed in his recent presentation – Digital Research Methodologies Redux – which I reported on in a recent post.

Of course as Peter Checkland has explained, a scientific approach to research has served us well for centuries and will continue to do so. In his work on systems thinking, Checkland writes about the 3 Rs of hard sciences – reductionism, repeatability and refutation.

‘We may define that method [the method of science] in terms of three characteristics: reductionism, repeatability and refutation. By means of it a continuously refined account of the universe is built up. This account is a successful guide of many kinds of action.’  (Checkland, 1999, p.13).

But, he then goes on to say that it is not a successful guide for all kinds of action and particularly not for the study of living and social systems and their ‘real-world’ problems. This is the point also made by Stephen Downes in his recent presentation.

In a similar vein, Ronald Barnett writes of the necessity for students to  ‘live with uncertainty’ and ‘to come to a state of self-criticality’ ,  explaining that ‘…..this criticality is achieved in the context of the spirit of research’. He goes on to say:

‘Such a spirit – the spirit of research – supplies a tentativeness not just to the student’s enquiries, but also to her profferings, her claims and her actions.’ (Barnett, 2007, p.127)

Matisse, Checkland, Barnett and Downes all seem to have a similar world-view, one where life is full of uncertainty and complexity. As Checkland has been heard to say many times …..

‘Let the situation talk to you’.

…. don’t try and pre-empt the situation by framing questions in advance. Immerse yourself in the situation and open yourself up to uncertainty and emergence. And

Iterate, understand the situation, enhance your understanding, visualize, act on it, and iterate again.

There isn’t a problem situation. There is just a situation, a context, a system, and we’re improving it continuously. (Checkland quoted in IASummit Conference Library)

What I learn from this is that a researcher who strives to do all this and keep an ‘open’ mind, in every sense of the word ‘open’, needs courage, as Matisse so insightfully recognised.

I also learn that research is not a one-off project. It is a life-long endeavour of inquiry, exploration and discovery. It is a way of life.

References

Barnett, R. (2007). A Will to Learn. Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty. Open University Press.

Checkland, P. (1999). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. John Wiley & Sons.

Further links

Hilary Spurling. 29th March 2014. The Guardian. Henri Matisse: Drawing with scissors

The Tate Blog: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs

Jon-Ross Le Haye. 4th Ocobter 2013. Cut and paste: Designing the Matisse poster

 

 

Learning from those who have gone before

Next week I will be going to the cinema to see the Matisse exhibition live streamed from the Tate Modern in London.

matisse exhibition

I live in the North of England, miles away from London. Occasionally I do get to London to see an exhibition (I wrote about the Royal Academy’s Sensing Spaces exhibition on this blog not so long ago), but the recent advent of live streaming exhibitions (as well as theatre, ballet and opera) has made such a difference to those of us who live ‘out in the sticks’.

My first experience of viewing an exhibition via live streaming was the Manet exhibition streamed by the Royal Academy last year. I saw this in Ambleside in Cumbria.

Manet exhibition

This streaming provided inside information about how the exhibition was mounted and in depth close-up information about most of the paintings in the exhibition. The experience is not quite the same as being there in person, but it comes a very close second.

In the run up to seeing the Matisse exhibition live streamed I have watched a short BBC4 programme in which the musician, actor and artist, Goldie, introduces the Matisse exhibition from a personal perspective.

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I have watched this on the same evening that I have read a comment on Cristina Costa’s blog post – The web and the academic divide – which suggests that somehow the older generation do not have the experience needed to understand the younger generation and by implication, that the experience of the older generation cannot be taken seriously. But it seems to me that we are still learning from Matisse many years after his death.

Goldie starts his personal tour with a look at Matisse’s cut out – The Bees (1948).

The Bees

It’s interesting that he talks about this cut out in terms of Matisse splicing and editing ‘in his own head’. He talks about how the cut out relates to graffiti, movement, video and brings method to the madness in the chaos of nature.

Goldie also talks about Matisse being ‘far ahead’ –  the paintbrush comes along and everyone is using the paintbrush – but all of a sudden Matisse comes along and says ‘let me just use a pair of scissors’ – the equivalent of aerosol use by graffiti artists. Two Dancers (1937-8) is a great example of the use of scissors.

Two Dancers

In Creole Dancer (1950) Matisse brings order to chaos by balancing colours – ‘he balances the two oranges in the middle here, he has the two pinks here, he has these two blues here and he has this black weighing in with the blue there – it is so balanced – that is a real artist that can do that’.

creole dancer

Of Blue Nude IV (1952), Goldie says:

This was his colour, this was the colour that made him feel safe, this was the colour that made him feel at ease, this was his resonance, this was his ‘hum’ – the sound that a musician finds, it vibrates so much that it stays still, it makes you feel at peace with yourself. Goldie calls this the humming bird effect – that beautiful vibrant blue was Matisse’s humming bird.

Blue Nude

And finally in A Thousand and One Nights (1950) we see Matisse ‘elongating his life’ – telling the story over and over again in a thousand and one cut-outs, which have become bigger, bolder and larger with his advancing years.

a thousand and one nights

All this confirms for me the value of experience. We can learn a lot from the past and the experience of those who have gone before us – those who have learned to achieve balance in their lives and uniquely express themselves with confidence, without worrying about whether the paintbrush is a better tool than scissors or vice versa.

Update 31-05-14

I have been told by a friend that the point of this post is not clear. And on reflection, I see that perhaps it is not. The point I was trying to make was that Matisse, four years before his death in 1954 was using scissors to make these cut-outs, when the received wisdom of the era was that ‘art’ should made with a paintbrush. Sometimes the older generation are ‘far ahead’ (to quote Goldie) of the younger generation, despite their advancing years.

Sensitive Learning Spaces: what architects can teach us

On Tuesday of this week (April 2nd) I went to see the Sensing Spaces Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London.

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On the next day (April 3rd 2014) I attended a one-day conference at UCL in London and ran a workshop with my colleague, Elpida Makriyannis, in the space that you can see in this photo below.

UCL  space for learning

The two spaces could not have been more different. In his introductory talk to the UCL audience, the Provost recognized that space is a problem at UCL. There is not enough and much of what there is needs refurbishment. If UCL has the necessary finances, what a wonderful opportunity to think about the influence of space on learning. As one of the Grafton Architects said on a video on the Sensing Spaces website:

If you put students into a certain kind of space they will expect to be fed. If you put them in another kind of space they will expect to be challenged. Space prepares you to receive or to respond.

The aim of the Royal Academy Sensing Space exhibition was that it would ‘radically transform the apparently dominant character of the classically planned and detailed interiors; transformation that will simultaneously amplify and diminish, mask and frame, illuminate and shade, and reinforce and unbalance the familiar gallery experience.’  The exhibition wanted to help visitors re-imagine architecture – just as when we design learning spaces we hope that they will encourage learners to re-imagine learning.

Bruno Zevi suggested in 1948 that we are ‘illiterate in our understanding of space’. (Zevi, B. 1948. Architecture as Space, Horizon Press). Is this still the case? It certainly isn’t the case in relation to the architects exhibiting in this exhibition. These architects could teach us a lot about how to design spaces for learning. That was not their explicit intention for the exhibition, but that is what I came away with. Through their installations it became clear that a carefully designed learning space will give the learner ‘a sense of being able to claim the territory.’

The exhibiting architects understand that the experience of space is a holistic and relational one. Light, temperature, smell, colour and texture all play their part. Learning should be a sensual and embodied experience. As learners we should be in control of our learning paths, following routes of personal and individual interest, moving from lows to highs, from vertical to horizontal, from light to dark, from quiet contemplative spaces to engaged interactive community spaces, through doorways that allow us to make connections between our past and present, between outside and inside and take us consciously or unconsciously over learning thresholds. The learning space should be adaptive and allow us glimpses of as yet unreached vistas that fire our imaginations. It should be experienced from within, not externally imposed.

In his keynote presentation to the UCL conference, Etienne Wenger said that learners in the 21st century need to be able to work in a landscape of practices, with engagement, alignment and imagination. The Sensing Spaces exhibition was for me an experience of a landscape of different spaces, where I could envisage different practices emerging through engagement, alignment and imagination.

The Royal Academy published a very helpful education guide for the exhibition (Sensing Spaces education guide). I have quoted liberally from this in what follows, to show how each of the architects ‘spoke’ to me, not only about space and architecture, but also about the kinds of learning spaces I would like for my own learning.

Álvaro Siza (Portugal)

Siza’s installation is the first you see when arriving at the Royal Academy. The installation is of three columns located outside the Gallery, which connect the outside with the inside. They reflect his interest in continuity, both the theoretical continuity of architectural history and the physical continuity of place. His work is based on a deep emotional response to the site.

Alvaro Siza

Alvaro Siza 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘…… we are always building in relation to something else. What we create is not an isolated object but transforms and is transformed by what exists’.

Entering the Exhibition

There is no set route for viewing the installations. You enter an octagonal room, which is a central pivotal space to which you can return as you create your own pathway through the galleries.

On the wall of the octagonal space is written: ‘Experiencing architecture involves moving within and around it, absorbing its qualities through our bodies and senses. We react consciously or not, to the characteristics of different materials, vistas, volumes, sounds, spatial relationships and proportions. As well as engaging physically with space, our experience of it is also informed by our memories and habits.’

The exhibition sets out to awaken and recalibrate our sensibilities to the spaces that surround us. As such, it is part demonstration and part experiment, which in the spirit of enquiry requires interaction and participation from its audience. Visitors are invited to observe, move through and around, touch, adapt and occupy a series of specially commissioned architectural installations. (Sensing Spaces education guide)

From the octagonal space the route I chose was to first go through Eduardo Souto de Moura’s door. De Moura created two replica door cases – precise facsimiles of those in the Royal Academy and placed the copies at 45-degree angles to the originals.

Eduardo Souto de Moura (Portugal)

De Moura’s installations make passing through an aperture a more present experience – an experience of movement and transition.

Eduardo Souto de Moura

Of his work he says:

‘Space for an architect does not exist, so we design the limits that give the impression of space.’

‘For me architecture requires continuity. We have to continue what others have done before us, but using different materials and methods of construction.’

‘It is not possible for an architect to design a space – such a concept does not exist. Instead, we design the thresholds and the limits: the walls, doors, and so on. I’m interested in designing the elements that give the impression of space’.

This aligns with Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s comment:

‘Good architecture is often invisible, but it allows whatever is happening in that space to be the best experience possible’.

I don’t only interpret this in terms of physical space, e.g. the rooms/spaces that UCL or any learning designer might design, but also the opportunities for ‘internal’ spaces that are personal and individual to each student.

Moving through de Moura’s doorway I came to an interactive community space.

Diébédo Francis Kéré (Africa)

This was a room within a room, made of honeycomb plastic panels, and designed as an interactive and adaptive space, which relied on the engagement and contribution of the gallery visitor.  Visitors were offered brightly coloured plastic straws to thread through the holes in the honeycomb structure.

Diebedo Francis Kere3

Kéré states that his main aim is ‘ to create comfortable spaces for informal gatherings, and to help communities build their own inspiration’.

‘I believe that it is important to engage people in the process of building so they have an investment in what is developed. Through thinking and working together the built object becomes part of a bonding process.’

‘For me, architecture is primarily about people, about asking questions such as: who is the user? What is going to happen here? How can I respond to the user’s needs?’

For Kéré space, and learning in that space, is social and collaborative.

In the next space the architects took us to places and spaces that we would not normally be able to visit or reach. They took us into the roof space of the immensely lofty rooms of the Royal Academy.

Pezo von Ellrichshausen (Chile)

Pezo von Ellrichshausen

Pezo von Ellrichshausen 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘We are not trying to express the structural properties of our buildings. The emphasis instead is on the proportions of the rooms, their sequence, the way they open – simple things, but which taken together suggest something more complex.’

Eduardo Souto de Moura3

 

Then across another threshold, through another of de Moura’s doors ……

 

 

 

 

 

…. I entered a contemplative space. Here the influence of space on the visitor/learner was so apparent. You could have heard a pin drop. If anyone talked at all, it was in whispers and hushed tones.

Kengo Kuma (Japan)

Kuma created two delicate installations made of lengths of bamboo whittled to a diameter of 4 mm, bound together to form a fragile structure, impregnated with liquid scent of Japanese Cyprus or Tatami and lit by LED light fittings in the floor.

Kengo Kuma 3

Kuma’s aim is to ‘achieve the maximum effect with the minimum use of resources’.

‘The more the volume of the material is reduced, the more the human body becomes sensitive and tries to concentrate on the limited, thin, small and slight material in order to smell out or catch ‘something’ from it.’

‘I always start with something small – breaking down materials into particles or fragments that can then be recombined into units of the right scale to provide comfort and intimacy.’

What I took away from Kengo Kuma is that ‘less is more’, which immediately I related to less curriculum could be more learning, less resources could be more inquiry, less teaching could be more discovery and so on.

Grafton Architects (Ireland)

The Grafton Architects also created a quiet space in their dark space. People also whispered in this space.

Grafton Architects

They made two dramatically different installations, both suspended from the roof lights. ‘Choosing only to work with the roof lights, both installations feature a series of suspended surfaces and forms that manipulate the light and reshape the space in two entirely different ways; one as an exploration of lightness, with what is referred to as a waterfall of light, and the other being the exact opposite, exploring weight, containment and the formation of carved-out space.’ (Sensing Spaces education guide)

Grafton Architects 3

The Grafton Architects seek to ‘make as much nothing as possible’, and to structure space through the careful orchestration of the passage of light and movement through the void’. They have said:

‘There is a sense of pleasure in moving from darkness to light or vice versa because as human beings we are cyclical. How light reflects and how light is contained is the stuff of architecture.’

‘Here we are describing spatial experience using not words but light.’

I can certainly recognize learning in terms of dark and light.

Finally I moved into Li Xiaodong’s maze, where I could create my own journey to the Zen Garden.

Li Xiaodong (China)

According to the ancient Chinese Philosopher Lao Zi, what is important is what is contained, not the container.

Li Xiaodong5Chinese architecture develops from the idea that the building is something to be experienced from within. Li Xiaodong’s installation ‘ adds a new maze of spaces to an otherwise familiar route’. The timber frame is infilled with small sections of coppiced timber and placed on an acrylic floor lit by LEDs. The route through the maze culminates in a Zen Garden.

 

Li Xiaodong states that there is a ‘fundamental difference between “being present” in a space, where you are absorbed within it, and looking at images of a space, where the mind is detached’. Li Xiaodong6

Xiaodong’s work seems to me to be all about identity, which comes full circle to Etienne Wenger’s keynote for the UCL conference in which he said that ‘The 21st century will be the century of identity’. It is interesting to think about the implications of the design of learning spaces for this.

For more photos of the exhibition see https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/sets/72157643464527454/show/