Lisa invited me to the Re:Purposed Exhibit at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota last week. I was delighted to have the chance to go.
The exhibit features ten artists who take discarded refuse from bottle caps to plastic bottles to faded pink flamingos to crocheted tams and audio cassette tapes to make art. According to the exhibition book, the artists’ first motivation is not to recycle or make a political statement about waste in society but to offer perspectives on issues of identity, record “time and changing circumstances”, and build spaces that co-locate “dance, performance art, community organization, and environmental activism.” Little of this was immediately apparent to me! But the exhibition guide had interviews with the artists that helped me appreciate each composition more than I could have on my own.
Some of the exhibition elicits “wow” while other constructions amuse and delight, and then provoke thought. One sculpture—Gravity and Grace—by a Ghanaian, El Anatsui, using thousands of bottle caps, was and is a communal production. It took many hands to collect the chosen detritus (which conveys part of Ghana’s colonial history of consumption), flatten it, bend it, and connect the thousands of pieces to create the sculpture that Anatsui envisioned.
With Anatsui’s encouragement, the creative experimentation continues as Anatsui’s sculptures travel between museums because curators further “sculpt” the work to install it optimally in each new setting. Every installation of Gravity and Grace encourages curators to learn from each other and try new configurations. In this way, each installation has the potential to grow curators’ skills (and reveal new facets of the art) whether they are doing it themselves or observing the end product of others’ work. They can also support each other to overcome technical problems that may crop up.
Similarly, our learning starts with the familiar–what we know–and deepens with new insight from experience, study, and interacting with advanced practitioners. Our minds may expand with these perspectives but in order to make it truly “ours” and share our views with others, it takes writing or some other external representation to transform our tacit understandings into explicit, and sometimes magical, interpretative objects.
The Re:Purposed exhibition book traced the start of “assemblage” to Marcel DuChamp’s “Readymade” sculpture, a bicycle wheel and a stool, in 1913. It also explored the term “bricoleur” as distinguished by French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss for whom the “‘bricoleur’ [creates] structures by means and events” in contrast to the scientist who works in the realm of the “imperceptible and … abstract.” I gained more grasp of the word from Wikipedia’s definition that bricolage is both the means for building new works from “a diverse range of things that happen to be available” as well as the result itself. Wikipedia also indicates that bricolage is a “French word for DIY (do-it-yourself) projects around the home.”
As our friend Brenda Kaulback has noted in our learning circle before, the DIY spirit of bricolage characterizes what we do in learning online. With the internet—our mobile, laptop, and desktop devices connected to the World Wide Web—we enjoy always-on access to diverse ideas and smart people. Some ideas resemble the discards used in Re:Purposed except we might call them spam instead of garbage. Or they might be gems hidden in a treasure chest aka closed discussion group or intranet. We cyber-bricoleurs:
- seek and locate relevant images, videos, blog posts, research findings, etc. via Ted Talks, YouTube, SlideShare, Twitter, Facebook, and Google search engines among others.
- organize promising items in Diigo and Evernote using key words to retrieve them for future projects.
- start from what we know to integrate ideas and create new premises by bringing together the mental manufacture of researchers, educators, and practitioners of all types.
- socialize with peers in communities or networks to test, affirm, and refine our conclusions before using them in our practice.
- have moved from consuming information to creating new meaning as we see it (one of the six significant shifts of learning in a connected world—See Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli’s book Personal Learning Networks summarizing David Wiley’s work here).
Guided bricolage occurred this month when Lisa and I registered for an asynchronous online workshop on Modernising Training Content by Jane Hart, a globally respected expert on workplace learning. The workshop is showing us how to develop micro- and mobile-content and foster the growth of social content in the workplace, that is, having employees develop relevant content through short videos to teach each other.
Lisa’s six-step plan contained in her April 8 blog post for benefiting from the workshop included following Harold Jarche’s Seek, Sense, Share pathway graphic. I, too, intended to seek, sense, and share my way to enlightenment.
However, it hasn’t gone exactly as planned. My first week was consumed with demanding personal travel that curtailed my time in the workshop. But I have been diligent (if not timely) about reading Jane’s recommended resources. I have also experimented with a few tools. I have lurked and read much more than contributed to the dialogue. This week, I hope to catch-up and post in the reflective discussion around the art-e-facts created by workshop participants and this shared experience. And I will finish the workshop with more ideas and tools to employ in our ECO project with Encore Tampa Bay. But that is a topic for another post.
We are learning with every project we do. How are you proceeding with your learning goals online? How do you benefit from the work of others? How do you reciprocate the freely given ideas of peers? Lisa, and my art bird shown here, and I would love to learn from you. Please login or register at the Studio (two step process) to comment and add links below.
Featured image of Nick Cave’s Soundsuit, 2008, from John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art website
 Matthew McLendon, Re:Purposed. Book published in conjunction with the exhibition Re:Purposed, on view at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, February 13-May 17, 2015.