SchoolArts Magazine

March 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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29 Areas for Action: Process Matters L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G OLIVER HERRING A R T I S T A N D E D U C AT O R F rom the period of his earliest works in the 1990s until those of today, Oliver Herring has created artwork that is an emphatic document of human activity, the elusive nature of time and movement, and, particularly, artistic process. He has transformed digital photos and knitted Mylar into sculptures that are poignant references to mortality and loss. He has also transformed the sociopolitical art happenings of the 1960s into joyous explorations of countless art media by groups of total strangers. Born in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1964, Herring now lives and works in Brooklyn. He received a BFA from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in London (1988), and an MFA from Hunter College in New York (1991). His plastic work is as novel as his video and performance work. It progressed in the 90s from elegant, hand-knit fig - ures and objects in Mylar to figure sculptures composed o f hundreds of cut-up digital photographs. From 1998 on, he has explored video as a way of documenting his never- ending fascination with, and obvious affection for, the human condition. The human figure, whether as sculpture, or as a par- ticipant in a TASK event, is an integral component of H erring's body of work. From 2002 to the present, his TASK events have proven to be inspired celebrations of spontaneous creation, where groups of volunteers col - lectively create art out of common household items. He h as also explored the creation of temporary paintings in the form of participants covered in food color by the act of spitting. Herring's more recent Areas for Action performances, in which he enlists groups of strangers, epitomize the innovative, daring process in which he celebrates not only the creation of art by chance, but also the freeing of the human spirit. Like his sculptures of the 1990s, they are indicative of his deep interest in the creative potential of his fellow humans, considering them collaborating artists rather than "subjects" or "actors." 29 See a high-school classroom put on an Area for Action event on page 38. Top: Filming Areas for Action, Chengdu, Color Spit Duet; A4 Contemporary Art Museum, Chengdu, China, 2014. Courtesy, A4 Contemporary Art Museum. Bottom: Areas for Action / TASK, ed Initiative, Timpanogos High School, Orem, Utah, 2015. help articulate as it relates to cre- ative processes? • How did this experience affect you? In each unpacking session, I found thoughtful student contributions about everything, from focusing on process and the importance of play and improvisation in school, to the usefulness of experimenting with familiar materials and the focus on unusual social interactions. Setting the Tone One of the great takeaways from hav- ing done Areas for Action with my classes was the tone I was able to set for the rest of the semester. As a teacher, I was hoping to communicate trust to my students by structuring this open-ended activity, and I believe that my students reciprocated that trust by engaging in an activity that allowed them to not only play with foil in a new way, but to also warm up to the many ideas and possibilities connected to contemporary art prac- tices in my classroom. Jethro Gillespie teaches art at Maple Moun- tain High School in Spanish Fork, Utah. T his year, on the first day of the semester, I started each of my six high-school art classes with a somewhat scaled-down (due to time and space limitations) version of Oliver Herring's Areas for Action. Each class had between thirty and thirty-six students. Artroom Preparation To prepare for this project, I pur- chased two large rolls of aluminum foil and several rolls of masking tape for each class. I moved all of the tables and chairs to the outside edges of my classroom, except for two tables that I left in the center. Temporary Sculptures When students arrived, I explained that we would be doing an activity that would require two volunteers to hold a position as temporary sculp- tures for the duration of the class. These students each took their place atop one of the tables. The rest of the class was given the simple directive, "You can add to these sculptures, but not take away. You have foil, tape, and each other. Go!" Collective Intervention For about one hour in each of my classes, students began with essen- tially the same situation. Each class quickly erupted into a collective flurry of diligent action, experimenta- tion, laughter, and energy, with stu- dents' interventions layering on top of each other over time. Unpacking Session After each session in our Area for Action, I led a brief ten- to fifteen- minute group discussion about why we did this activity together. Some of the questions I used to start off included: • Why do you think we would do this on the first day of class? • What do you think this activity has to do with art? • What value(s) might this activity Jethro Gillespie H I G H S C H O O L Each class quickl erupted into a collective flurr f diligent action, experimentation, laughter, and energ . Areas for ACTION in the Classroom 38 MARCH 2017 SchoolArts 39

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