Archive for the ‘place-based’ Category

While I was reading the articles assigned for class introducing us to Liisa Robert’s film,  “What’s the Time is Vyborg?” on a Sunday afternoon, I instantly was inspired by her work.  I believe this inspiration came from the many layers this project presented and how she and her collaborators successfully captured the history of the Finnish-Russian conflict, the current state of Vyborg, Russia, the story of the famous Finnish Library by architect Alvar Aalto, and the perspectives of some local Russian high school students in a creative writing workshop.  I believe my interest also stems from my own Masters Thesis Project that looks at using place as a way for students to  create narratives that critically reflect on their relationship with their local environments.  Thanks to Drea, Hannah and I were able to meet with Liisa before she took off to the airport and was able to learn a bit more about her experience working with the high school students.



The creative writing workshop did not have a predetermined curriculum.   Liisa and the students worked together, day-to-day, on the structure of the workshop. This approach created a democratic experience, allowing the students to have just as much say as the people helping to facilitate the project.  Liisa mentioned they started out with simple questions, such as Who Am I? or What is your favorite part of the city? and later entered  improvised writing excercises with the theme Vyborg as a Prison. Other times they would wander the city using their senses to describe the houses, buildings, streets, sounds, and smells.  The  activities from the first day would influence what would happen the next, creating a very fluid and spontaneous workshop.  At the end of the day the group would critique the activities of the day to help determine what would happen then next day.  This writing workshop is a great example of a democratic learning environment, an approach not commonly used in the public school system in Vyborg.  Liisa mentioned the schools in Vyborg are rather technocratic and do not offer classes that focus on student experience and perspectives.

This creative writing workshop relied heavily on developing trust within the group.  Much of the trust building activities took place in the Alvar Aalto library, allowing this space to not only act as a way to connect with the history and current state of Vyborg, but also as a safe zone.  As seen in the film, there were several examples of creating trust:  the girls lifting a member of the group into the air or the entire group walking blindly in a line down a flight of stairs while holding on to the shoulders of the person in front of them.  The well-being of the participants was a major priority.  These kind of activities allowed the participants to develop the trust needed to become active members of  a collective and improvisational work space.


Liisa also mentioned that the performative aspect of the creative writing workshop was a natural progression from their writing and wandering research activities.  The girls who participated in the project decided that their fictional stories needed to be enacted, or performed, therefore, leading to the camera becoming part of the process.

Another thing I find most interesting is the fact that the clips chosen for the film were initially intended only to be a form documentation. The structure of the film showing the architects working on the building, the girls performing their stories in and around the city,and  shots of the creative workshop activities was an aftermath.  The clips were separate pieces of  documentation that later became constructed together into a  beautifully poetic film. Now, we asked Liisa if she had a suggestions for working in such a improvised way, with so many unknowns.  She mentioned the importance of having confidence in being an artist and teacher is letting this confidence embrace  whatever happens in the classroom.   She gave us the website for the project, check it out.  You can also go to the main website that houses the former link and you will find  a live cam of Vyborg…right now it is snowing!


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I first came across this website back in Spring 2008 as part of my Thesis research topic. I liked the the site more after doing observations at Chicago Academy HS because one of the students was a big time young graffiti Artist. The art teacher acknowledge his mastery by giving him space to do or use his art to express himself in some of his class projects.

Who? And when?


Artcrimes is an online was started back in May 1994 by Susan Farrell with images from Prague and Atlanta, she went public later that year in September. From then until 2005 Susan worked with a professional photographer, Brett Webb who help to things off the ground.

Giving Props/Recognition to Artists from the Fringes:

Street graffiti

This is street art, the artists may not all be from fine arts schools or colleges and so forth( this is based on this information I have gathered from researching for this presentation). Bringing elements of this art into the school would be a way to give recognition to Graffiti Artists also.

Legal Issues?


In most cities its illegal to do graffiti, but Susan felt that it was necessary to find spaces/wall for it because it is a fascinating art from. I share on that idea because this is another form of Art, but since it is from the “fringes” its has not been accepted by the mainstream culture.

. . . but what else is possible with this Art form?

A direct talk about Cultural IDs



Talking about the idea of “deference” when it comes to children of immigrants, D. A. Yon, in his book “Elusive Culture”, refers to the fact that these kids are from two worlds, one ancestral the other the current status as young Americans whose parents are immigrants. This art work gives room for exploring ideas about their views and experiences with cultural identity (ethnicity, race, gender, cultural) and ideas about Home.

SocioPolitical Conversations though Art-making:


Le lec


This art from is also rich with interpretations of the world as the artists see it, so this site can also help in allowing students to talk about their interpretations of society, how they view for example, the school. . . This is right up there with spoken work poetry.

The ongoing project …


The project is dependant on volunteer efforts and collaborations. It has now become an international network of graffiti artists, the work is divided into “Crews” or artists clubs. The artists support this cite out of pocket and through donations and other sales such as T-shirts and Murals, tattoos and other forms of art.

The artists names and emails of the artists are on the site along with their work. . . . Go to:


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I recently came across a site called Chicago Art Map. It contains reviews of art exhibits and events going on around Chicago, a calendar, and feature articles. I find the calendar really comprehensive, and you can search it by event type, venue type, and neighborhood. Their reviews are also categorized by venue: alternative spaces, institutions, and commercial galleries. This site has just recently gotten off the ground but it is affiliated with the Art Talk Chicago blog, which is also a great resource for what’s going on here in our city.

If you are interested in writing reviews for either site, you can find their writer guidelines here. I love the way they describe the purpose of their reviews:

We are not attempting to write highly scholarly and highly analytical pieces for art theorists. Instead, our goal is to bring the art world to the “everyman,” to provide insight into contemporary art in Chicago without being too dumbed down or too theoretical. We want our reviews to provide a glimpse of the show or event, plus some well thought out and illuminating insight into the work. Basically, we want to help people enjoy contemporary Chicago art.

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Artist Layla Curtis, calls herself a “topographical designer” that makes subtly 3-d collages and drawings as a “gentle mockery of cartography” changing the names and locations of places like in this collage “Hard Cash” (2004):

A detail shot of “Hard Cash” (2004):

Curtis not only does drawings and collages tied to place, she has done many performative and video series, such as one involving collections of Souvenirs from Manchester and her Message in a Bottle project.

Message in a Bottle: From Ramsgate to the Chatham Islands


On 25th May 2004, fifty bottles containing messages were released into the sea off the south-east coast of England near Ramsgate Maritime Museum, Kent. The intended destination of the bottles is The Chatham Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The islands, which are 800km east of mainland New Zealand, are the nearest inhabited land to the precise location on the opposite side of the world to Ramsgate Maritime Museum. It is anticipated that the bottles may be found several times before reaching the Chatham Islands. Several of the bottles are being tracked using GPS technology and are programmed to send their longitude and latitude coordinates back to Ramsgate every hour. The information they transmit is used to create a real time drawing of their progress, that looks something like this:

Each non-GPS bottle contains a message from residents of Ramsgate to the residents of The Chatham Islands, a pencil and an instruction leaflet which requests anyone finding a bottle to report to her website and record where and when the bottle was found. In addition they are requested to document their find on a form inside the bottle before returning the bottle to the sea to continue its journey. A page is maintained archiving the found bottles reports here.

Curtis shows an interest in connecting places through her artwork, by releasing these bottles to be found by those far away, in a location-specific place, however she is also interested in the journey of her work, by having people report when and where they are found. I think this project conveys a great concept of what you can do with your artwork to connect where you are currently with places afar, physically or metaphorically, that would be great to show students. I would love to explore a lesson plan, having the students create multiples of objects that mean something to them or where they are from personally, to leave in places or send out to various places, so they are able to experience where they end up or how they are reacted to.

Extra Fun:

Although my main intent in this blog posting was to share with you this particular place-based project of Layla Curtis’s, I can’t help being inspired by this hilarious scene from The Office, a couple weeks ago….

to now show you some more recent work of Curtis’s, from 2008, wherein she participated in a Parkour Thermal Images Documentary project. Curtis’s motivation was her interest in “capturing marks on surfaces as sort of evidence of somebody moving through a space”. Place-based too, huh? Yup, so using a thermal imaging camera and the help of Westminster residents, Curtis followed parkour artists to capture the thermal traces of their movements or through spaces. Called “a temporary piece of public art that references the place of Mayfair,” by Charlotte Ferguson (Arts Liason of Westminster), it is another absolutely fantastic concept that would be very interesting to show students and open a discussion on the imprints we make on the spaces we inhabit in our daily lives.

The full documentary is also available to watch here!

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For architect Samuel Mockbee (1944-2001), place-based education was a the center of his life and work as an artist.


Mockbee’s work is often referred to as the Architecture of Decency, where he believes that smart, avant-garde architectural design should not be something reserved for the upper echalons of New York or L.A., but instead should be used to better the lives of the American population who need it most.

"Butterfly House," Image by Timothey Hursley

"Butterfly House," Image by Timothey Hursley

Because of his strong belief in the social importance and implications of architecture, he believed that an architecture student cannot learn about the complexity of their social role unless they leave the abstract classroom and learn about how their practice works in the fibers of the larger community. As a professor at Auburn University, in 1993 Mockbee created the Rural Studio, an off-campus study opportunity for Sophmore Architecture and Thesis students as a way to show how good architecture can be used to impact and change the local community, rather than merely being reserved for the elite.

The Mission Statement of the Rural Studio program is:

To enable each participating student to cross the threshold of misconceived opinions to create/design/build and to allow students to put their educational values to work as citizens of a community. The Rural Studio seeks solutions to the needs of the community within the community’s own context, not from outside it. Abstract ideas based upon knowledge and study are transformed into workable solutions forged by real human contact, personal realization, and a gained appreciation for the culture.

With this in mind, in this program sophomore architecture students from Auburn University spend  the semester away from campus living in Hale County, and other rural and impoverished parts of the state of Alabama. Working with other community organizations in the area, Mockbee, and now his team, identifies families in need of housing, and it becomes the work of the students to build houses around the needs and aesthetic desires of the family, for the smallest amount of money as possible. Under these conditions, students are immersed in the community and collaborate directly with their clients, come up with strong, innovative designs with very low cost materials, and are then responsible for carrying out all of the construction work that is usually only an abstract concept for many architecture students. Each year the undergraduate students involved in the program design and construct a house, while Thesis students work on community focused structures including chapels, Boys and Girls clubs, community centers etc. To date the Rural Studio has completed over 80 projects in Western Alabama.

Projects created by the Rural Studio must organically arise out of what the community itself identifies as needs, and the must students work to bring these projects about. Working with a limited budget, students must rely on community resources and often uses salvaged materials such as street signs, pipes, hay bales, cardboard, and even car windshields to complete structures. The intended result is to create culturally appropriate, socially and environmentally conscious buildings to benefit these rural communities.

The Rural Studios website explains:

“Mockbee once said that ‘Everybody wants the same thing, rich or poor … not only a warm, dry room, but a shelter for the soul’. The Rural Studio epitomizes that aspiration. Working from this ideal, students enrolled in the Rural Studio are exposed to the concept of ‘context based learning’ where they actually live in and become a part of the community in which they are working. It is through this process that they learn the critical skills of planning, design, and building in a socially responsible manner.”


The NPR Program “Speaking of Faith” ran a piece about the work of the Rural Studio. The show’s website includes great information about the Rural Studio including slide shows, audio, video clips of various projects, and interviews. To view the “Speaking of Faith” site click here.

Lesson Connections:

It is interesting to consider the model of the Rural Studio as a way to develop similar kinds of learning experiences for students in the urban art classroom.

  • How can we create “real world” art making experiences for our students so that it becomes more meaningful?
  • How can we encourage our student’s to view art making as something that could help to directly strengthen the community?
  • In the way that Mockbee believes that his students benefit from having to complete the entire construction process of their projects, how can we use technical skills to empower our students?
  • How can we create opportunities for students to leave their geographic comfort zone and have the chance to collaborate with people different from them?

Additional Resources:

Oppenheimer Dean, Andrea. Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency. New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2002 (Book)

Moos, David. Trechsel, Gail. Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio: Community Architecture. Birmingham, Ala. : New York, NY : Birmingham Museum of Art ; D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, c2003. (Book)

Documentary on the Rural Studio: Rural Studio Film, http://www.ruralstudiofilm.com/launch.html

Interview with Samuel Mockbee, from BOMB Magazine: http://www.bombsite.com/issues/75/articles/2380

Gallery Images from flickr user Samuelmockbeedotcom: http://www.flickr.com/photos/samuelmockbeedotcom/

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Chicago Guerrilla Gardens:

Guerrilla Gardening:

PHILOSOPHIES AND OBJECTIVES – political gardening, a form of direct action, primarily practiced by environmentalists. Neglected public spaces are reclaimed and maintained by the people. It is rooted in land rights, land reform, and permaculture.

DESIGN: relatively low maintenance, self-sustaining, perennial flora and crops


Milwaukee / Oakley
near Odd Obsession and the teacher supply store
what to look for: wild flowers and greens

Evanston central Stop
exit train. walk one block east. make a right. walk along the train to the end of the cul-de-sac.
look for: peonies, lily pond, vines, rose gardens, small twiggy fences


City Farm is a sustainable vegetable farm bordering two very diverse Chicago neighborhoods: Cabrini-Green and the Gold Coast. The farm boasts thirty varieties of tomatoes as well as beets, carrots, potatoes, gourmet lettuces, herbs and melons. All produce is grown in composted soil generated from various sources, such as restaurant trimmings from some of the city’s finest kitchens.

CITY FARM in all its summer glory


The Farm has a compost deposit for the local residents, produce, flowers, and plants used in paper making.  Paper making demos and Art Installations too.  It brought life beauty and information to the logan square community.


work exchange program for organic farms around the world! Room and board, not to mention training in organic farming.  Knowledge and experience in exchange for labor… sounds like an ideal trade off

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artifact room detail 1Ever since I was a child, I collected things.  Things from my backyard, things from the woods, things from abandoned houses, wire, glass, shells, old wood, cattle bones, rodent skulls, unidentifiable objects, the list can go on.  I guess I was one of those kids that was fascinated by the objects that make up our world and collecting was a way for me to fantasize and learn about the stories, histories, or secrets these things possessed.  Now, later in life, I have come to understand how my childhood hobbies have influenced my career since I have become an artist and teacher who is interested in exploring our complex world through the discovering of things.  In other words, I want to not only find ways to integrate science into the arts classroom, but ways to critically examine visual culture and use things as inspiration in the art making process.  With this in mind, the intriguing history and use of the Wonder Cabinets, or Cabinet of Curiosities, in contemporary art came to mind.


Ole Worms cabinet etching

“Musei Wormiani Historia,” Ole Worm 1665

Cabinet of Curiosities are exactly what the term entails:  a cabinet, or some sort of furniture, that houses a collection of strange, interesting, mysterious, wierd marvels of nature and human cultural productions.  Now, I imagine these type of cabinets to have started over hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago, since I view collection to be an ancient act or practice our ancestors most likely engaged in for whatever reason.  Us humans are inclined to be curious and are designed to investigate the things that make up our worlds.  Besides this, the first Cabinet of Curiosity was often associated with a Dutch man named Ole Worm.  He is known for his research in embryology, but become more popular for being an avid  collector of things.  During the Renaissance, Ole Worm, along with Athanasius Kircher, were the two most well known people to have a Cabinet of Curiosity.  During this time, these collections became the craze and were often something the wealthy could show off to their friends during gatherings.  Yet, these cabinets were not only for the aristocrats and famous, but also was a part of the merchant class and practioneer homes.  Collecting and displaying mysterious,objects was for everyone and is acknowledged as the precursors of our modern day museum collections.


The objects that could be found in the old versions of Cabinet of curiosities were endless and usually involved things that were not yet categorized or labeled by western science.  The collections often were objects we now associate with anthropology, archaeology, botany, ethnography, natural history, geology, and relics of religion and ancient civilizations, much of what you find in contemporary museums of art, history and science.  What is interesting is how these early cabinets are also known to for creating many fictitious ideas about various items, cultures, and origins of things, giving birth to many myths and legends we all find fascinating and sometimes degrading.  With this in mind, the Wonder Cabinet can be a great avenue to start critically investigating with students cultural production, history, science, and art all in one.



What I find most interesting about these wonder cabinets is the potential it has for helping us decipher and understand visual culture of contemporary society.  More and more, visual culture is a critical and dominant theme in art education, emphasizing the importance of youth having access to learning experiences that incorporates what they see and use everyday.   I cannot help but connect this current trend in art education to the amazing potential of using the idea of collecting, categorizing, and analyzing objects in the art classroom.


Kevin Rej, 418 pieces of pop-culture


All this talk about Wonder Cabinets has me thinking about the artists that are continuing this old tradition in contemporary art, but in a very post-post modern way.  One artist that comes to mind in Mark Dion.  His installations emphasize an interdisciplinary or integration-like approach to art making.  By  using familiar forms of display and scientific-like work processes in unconventional contexts, his collections  brings into question the traditional, or dominant voices in western science, knowledge, and inquiry. Moreover, Dion’s work invites us to question how dominant forms of thinking influence history and how we understand the world.  His work is very interesting, and I encourage you to explore him more.  Below I have posted some images of his work.


Providence Cabinet, 2001

Hand-built cabinets with mahogany finish, filled with finds from the Providence Dig, 100 x 74 x 19 inches.


New England Digs, 2002


Scala Naturae, 1994,

Courtesy of Tanaya Bonakdar Gallery, NY


Mark Dion – Aviary (Library for the Birds of Massachusetts), 2005


Wonder Cabinets are not just for science, installation, or sculpture anymore.  In the age of 21st century digital technology, wonder cabinets have found their way onto the internet in the form of blogs, such as  Wunderkammer, Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities , and Bioephemera to only name a few.  Blogs are becoming sites where people house their collections, finds, or discoveries that resemble much of the old tradition of the Wonder Cabinets.  Many of these blogs are even called “Wunderkammerns”, the dutch word for Wonder Cabinets.  As for art education, the blog can become another avenue to document and give space to the wonderful creations and forms of cultural production our students will be creating, collecting, investigating, manipulating, critiquing, …..I think you get the point.


Some Elements of Sculptural Crochet, (creator unknown)

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