SchoolArts Magazine

MAR 2017

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G ARTIST Q&A SchoolArts: Can you give us a short "elevator speech" summary of Areas for Action? Oliver Herring: Areas for Action (AFA) are eight-hour long performances in which I focus on either a material or pro- cess I already have a relationship with, for example, glitter, aluminum foil, choreography, spitting food dye, etc. The performances themselves are entirely improvised, usually with groups of people who sign up to work for me. Since its first iteration in 2010, I've re-performed portions of AFA all over the world. R ecently I've extracted a couple of AFA performances and transplanted them into educational settings because I think they have the potential to be effective educational tools, not unlike TASK. SA: How do you choose the different experiences and materials that make up AFA? OH: Initially, I approached AFA as a sort of retrospective of the more ephemeral aspects of my art-making practice . F or simplicity's sake, teachers might want to focus on AFA–Aluminum Foil, for which only foil is required. One or two students volunteer to hold a pose for the entirety of the session, while the rest of the group adds (without subtracting) foil to the "models." Participants tend to start tentatively with plenty of small gestures. As ideas and boundaries are tested, possibilities and potential grow in tandem with confidence and ambition. After the session, the room will most likely look like an amazing piece of installation art—an explosion of foil and people. By the way, foil is a great material that most people already have a pre-existing relationship to. And you get bangs for your bucks. It's glamorous! SA: Many K–12 art teachers have adapted TASK parties for their classrooms. How might they use AFA? OH: I recommend teachers use TASK followed by AFA, akin to a two-step program. TASK introduces self-directed, open-ended, process-driven engagement with materials, the surrounding environment, and fellow participants. AFA, while equally open-ended, is more specific in its choices of materials or process. Independent of what par- ticipants may do with the foil, the results will look and feel more unified than the remnants of a TASK party. The results of AFA–Aluminum Foil will feel like one ambi- tious piece of art, but made up, quite unself-consciously, of every participant's unique ideas and interests. The results can be discussed as a hybrid form of performance/instal- lation/time and process-based art as well as sculpture, dance, and socially engaged work. SA: In recent years you have brought AFA and TASK all over the world, including China. What have these experi- ences taught you? OH: Art can play an important role in helping us to live more intelligently and creatively with all that surrounds us, especially with each other. SA: If we walked into your studio, what would we see? OH: You'd find work in which the focus is quite introspec- tive, even though the process still incorporates working with strangers I find online. In the past few years, I've spent a great deal of time on the road working in public and/or with the public. By con- trast, the studio work has no built-in timeline or deadline. I don't abide by anyone's restrictions or parameters. Studio is my own personal anything-goes AFA or TASK party! The results are intimate, personal, and unself-censored. SA: Why are these creative forms important right now? What do you hope they can do in schools and classrooms? OH: Enter any gallery or museum and you'll find primar- ily examples of finished work. The way art is often taught is similar to a "how-to" catalogue. Do A or B to end up with C. That's skill-based learning, which is important. However, equally important, yet often neglected, is to focus on process as an end in itself. With process, I mean all those in-between moments that may or may not lead to the finish line. Process matters because it's a stretch of uncertainty, vulnerability, experimentation, and inquiry that is also fruitful from a learning perspective. For one thing, while you experiment, you have to figure out how to think and respond with flexibility and creativity, not only to a material, but in a larger sense to a situation, to other human beings, and so on. Those are important skills too; that can be applied to help navigate the world. DISCUSSION / STUDIO EXPERIENCE Lead students through an AFA–Aluminum Foil inspired experience or Task party (see article on page 38). At the end of the experience or during the following class period, have a group discussion including the following questions: • How was this experience different from what we usually do in art class? • How did you feel at the start of this experience? Did you feel differently at the end? What do you think changed? • Did working with others help you come up with ideas that you might not have considered on your own? • How did you react to the uncertainty of AFA–Aluminum Foil? Do you now feel more or less comfortable working without a plan? • What did you learn about yourself or others while work- ing on this? • What parts of the artistic process does AFA emphasize? • What implications might emphasizing chance and exper- imentation have for your own artwork? If you'd like to experience AFA yourself, you are invited to join Oliver at the 2017 NAEA Convention on Saturday, March 2, from 2–4:30 pm at the Sheraton/Metropolitan Ballroom East (second floor). Written by Karl Cole, Art Historian and Curator of Images at Davis Publications and Robb Sandagata, Digital Curriculum Director and Editor at Davis Publications. 32 MARCH 2017 SchoolArts

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