Expressing Memory Through Art – Experiential Living/Learning

When we think about memory in an educational context, we might recall cramming dates, people, places, formulas, vocabulary, and mnemonic devices into our heads so that we would excel on the seemingly countless examinations. However, memory should also serve a more essential purpose in an educational setting, which is to have students analyze, reflect, contextualize, and present moments from our personal and collective identities. Memory is largely subjective, which means that everyone remembers and expresses memories in a unique manner. We might remember things similarly and objectively such as that America was attacked on September 11th, 2001, June 6, 1944 was D-Day, or that Napoleon was the Emperor of France from 1804 to 1814. However, we each bring a specific association to the event, person, place, and time in question. In other words, experiential learning combines both experience and education, a combination of the subjective and objective, which informs how we perceive and relate to certain memories. Therefore, one individual, upon reflecting on September 11th, 2001, will have a different memory of it than their classmate because they experienced different memories. For example, someone who lived in New York City will have a fairly different account of the tragic course of events than someone who was across the country at the time. A WWII Veteran will have a different recollection of D-Day than a young history scholar. Both of these dates might have been unique in that it was someone’s birthday, or anniversary, which has an entirely different emotional association. A person thinking about Napoleon’s conquests might also remember their first dog, a French Bulldog named Napoleon, or that the first date they went on with their wife was at a patisserie where they shared a sweet slice of custard known as a napoleon.

Since the first artist put pigment to surface, memories have been vividly recorded. Throughout history, works of art have expressed a wealth of personal and collective memories. For example, paintings such as Raphael’s The School of Athens (1509-1511) contain symbolism, recognizable figures, and narrative information that is both well known and open for interpretation. Viewing works of art evoke specific memories depending upon a multitude of factors including (but not limited to) where they were seen, when they were seen, the context of viewing, and what about the work relates most to the viewer. Many artists throughout history have relied on their own memory of the past, present, and future to create their works of art, like Raphael did in his imagined scene.

Contemporary artists Krzysztof Wodiczko, Ofri Cnaani, Maya Lin, Natali Bravo-Barbee, and Do Ho Suh all make works of art where the subject matter reflects and presents personal and/or collective memories. Wodiczko’s multi-media projects such as Abraham Lincoln War Memorial (2012) transform public spaces into sites of collective memory and historical memorialization. In Abraham Lincoln War Memorial, each projection of a soldier provided a different account about the toll war has had on the individual. We all know the facts about past, present, and current wars (cramming for those history exams!), however, the personalized recollections provide alternative and intimate insights into these widely known events. While text books teach us the what/where/when/why/who of past and current events, we learn about the social and emotional aspects of war through Wodiczko’s installations (more about his work in relation to memory has previously been discussed in an earlier post).

Ofri Cnaani’s Moon Guardians (2013) reflected memories from historical residents in New York City’s Meatpacking District. As a result of gentrification, the neighborhood has changed from a working class, immigrant, and avant-garde community to a high-end shopping mall and cultural scene for the rich and famous. Cnaani projected videos of a butcher, a drag queen, an art gallerist, and an elderly couple, that could no longer afford to live there. Each former resident recalled the memories they had while living in the Meatpacking District. The videos provided a diverse and vibrant narrative of the neighborhood’s rich history and the personal lives it impacted (read more about Moon Guardians in this prior post).

 

 

Maya Lin’s most famous works are large scale memorials that pay tribute to such subjects like the soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War, women’s contributions to higher education, and nature (much of her work is environmentally themed, addressing concern for the depletion of natural resources and land). Lin’s memorials are important sites for a variety of people. They provide a cathartic, solemn, and efficacious reactions depending on how the individual remembers the victim or event that is being memorialized. Many of the family and friends of soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War return to the site of Lin’s Vietnam War memorial each year. For them, the memorial itself becomes a place where memories are formed and live on.

Do Ho Suh’s Rubbing/Loving (2016) utilized drawing and creative rubbing techniques to memorialize the apartment and studio where the artist lived and worked for eighteen years. The flat was the first and the last place the Suh lived in New York City and he began his career as an artist while living there. The building was slated for the market and would eventually be renovated, so Suh’s act of creating a life-size rubbing of his apartment became the only physical traces that remained. Most of us remember our childhood rooms, our first college dorms, apartments, or houses. These are uniquely personal memories for a variety of reasons, whether it be social, emotional, or physical. A person’s room is arguably the most intimate place that exists in their life. By sharing his apartment with the public, Suh is asking us to recall our own feelings and perceptions of what home means to us.

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Natali Bravo-Barbee, Don’t Let My Collar Fool You, Cyanotype on watercolor paper

Natali Bravo-Barbee‘s practice as a photographer is, in essence, to capture memories at specific moments in time. Bravo-Barbee’s  photographic process of making cyanotypes, explores the intricate memories that are conjured from material objects. She does this by arranging and composing still lifes from personal articles of clothing or objects from her families past, which speak to her intersectional identity as a woman, an immigrant, and an artist. Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1993), stated that when left to its own devices, the mind begins to hallucinate. Therefore, we need objects to help give direction and purpose to our lives by stabilizing the mind. He describes objects as having positive and negative consequences on our personal lives and amongst the culture we are a part of. Objects give us power, they become extensions of ourselves, and remind us of social interactions and other moments in our lives. They can also become an addiction or a crutch for us to get by more easily. Bravo-Barbee’s works of art show us how personal objects have the power to hold and exhibit memories and express a sense of self. 

In the educational environment, students should be encouraged to share and reflect upon their memories and past experiences. Sharing how one perceives a moment in time is inspiring and can spur an in depth conversation, which builds empathy and a greater understanding of our personal and collective identities. We all remember differently and our interpretations of these memories adds to the richness of our culture and intersectionality as a society. Making art is a great way to contextualize our memories and express them to others. Good motivating questions to inspire the creative process include: “when was a time when you felt sad?” “when was there a moment that you felt powerless?” “who’d like tell us about a time you helped someone in need,” and “what is one thing that you can’t live without?” These questions open the door for personalized reflections that are rooted in each student’s memory. The results will be empowering because recalling specific memories enables deep connections to be made in relation to the students’ lives.

 


References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Cslkszentmlhalyl, Mihaly. “Why We Need Things.” In History from Things, essays on Material Culture, edited by Steven Lubar and W.David Kingery. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993. pps. 20-29.

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Making Our Space / Documenting Our Place – Building and Maintaining a Better World

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In the traditional Capitalist method of production, the finished product is the only element of importance. Making takes place between a starting point and finishing point without much reflection on the process that goes into the production (how many of us actually think about the factory our gum was made in while we’re chewing happily away?). Someone comes up with an idea, it gets green-lighted, and it is produced. The final product becomes the impetus for the way we conceptualize our human identity by developing a sense of desire (“I shop therefore I am”) and need for the latest, most luxurious thing.

Once upon a time, humans lived in self-sustaining communities where various community members contributed a range of skills such as farming, metalwork, woodworking, paper making, and weaving. During the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914), Progressive educators such as Jane Addams (1860-1935) and Ellen Gates Starr (1859-1940) promoted an educational system bolstered by the arts, which they argued would lead to a more skilled and autonomous workforce. Their thesis was that learning through the arts would not only produce a more competent workforce, but more importantly, it would inspire a group of individuals to share a sense of pride and ownership of their labor.

Beginning around the 1860s, companies like the one founded by William Morris in England, produced handcrafted decorative art and design. Morris’ company was a major counterpoint to the burgeoning aesthetics of mass production and remained in business until the early stages of World War II in 1940.

Today, our society has become largely divorced from producing our own goods and services. Most of the old artisan trades have been superseded by giant corporations like Walmart and Monsanto.

While it is arguably easier to drive to the grocery store than to grow and cultivate your own produce, the act of consuming versus producing has put us in a state of dependency for consumer goods. We are less creative as a whole because we’ve given up specific skills and techniques in favor of a convenient readymade object. Ingold (2013) states that we ‘think through making’ rather than projecting an idea onto a readymade material. Through improvisation with materials, we web together a series of experiences that lead to the progression of our mindfulness. During that moment of making, we gain insight to phenomena through an exploration of materials and techniques. 

Thinking through making is the crux of Fröbel’s Kindergarten, the Reggio Emilia approach, and Montessori education. Each of these early childhood learning methods focus on student-centered learning, where relationship driven environments afford the child a path towards self-directed and empirical learning. In these early childhood methodologies, documentation (see: Wein, Guyevsky & Berdoussis, 2011) is essential, because it provides a continuum of discourse around a student’s experience and provides a visual process for building upon observations in a collaborative environment. Students should have an unrestricted means and opportunity to express themselves repletely, and this should be practiced in a setting where everyone is an active participant in constructing this learning. Students are given a liberal offering of materials and allowed the freedom to explore, discover, and make insightful connections that are relevant to their daily lives.  

These aforementioned pedagogical frameworks shouldn’t have to exist solely within elementary school environments. Mitchel Resnick argues that the model of imagining, creating, playing, sharing, and reflecting, are necessary elements of living a creative, well rounded life. This echoes Ingold’s “thinking through making approach,” as well as Freire’s “problem-posing education,” and Dewey’s theory of experiential learning. It is increasingly more and more essential that we as a society become producers rather than being reliant upon consuming mass produced goods and services. Being a producer, whether programing an app for the iPhone, planting a community garden, building a house, or making art; enables us to think via making. We are creating for the world we want to live in. Therefore, an enduring question we can all think about is how can we produce/make as a form of ethical maintenance?

Several contemporary artists have made work that comments on the effects of maintenance work. Vik Muniz and Mierle Laderman Ukeles have paid tribute to the sanitation workers, while bringing to light a poignant visualization of the surplus refuse human beings create. Allan Kaprow, Maren Hassinger, and Bryant Holsenbeck have also envisioned trash as a “readymade” and the process of maintenance as the path towards creative discovery and insights on the effects humans have on the environment. 

Ukeles, the founder of “Maintenance Art,” focuses her artistic practice on the connections between the art world, the natural world, and human labor. She alludes to how just as important works of art art are painstakingly preserved, so too must we take similar concern in preserving our natural environment. The care of fine art is given great precedence, whether it is in a museum collection, a private custodian (i.e art collectors), or in an art storage facility. Additionally, restoring a work of art (which is inevitable for any work of art that has been created) takes countless hours and is a great financial undertaking. Ukeles suggests that maintenance of our ecosystem must also be given the same priority. Her big question is whether an expression or the application of ecological maintenance (i.e. sanitation) processes can create a sense of responsibility and affirmation amongst community residents. Thinking of maintenance as an artistic process and the result (refuse) as an art object, isn’t it therefore our cultural responsibility to care for, repair, and archive our ecological system with the care, attention that priceless works of art receive? Ukeles’ work echoes Ingold’s ‘think through making’ approach to being mindful producers. In this case, the readymade already exists in the form of refuse so the creative process, which is maintenance work realizes the human potential to maintain our shared environment. Furthermore, Ukeles is celebrating the work of contemporary laborers by equating their work preserving our urban ecosystem to the work of a visual artist, curator, or art restorer.

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Maren Hassinger, “Performance of Pink Trash” (1982) (performance documentation courtesy Horace Brockington)

We typically think negatively about the garbage we see all around us. Litter in our streets and parks doesn’t leave us feeling good. Many of us might also consider the job description of sanitation workers to be undesirable.  The unsightly vision of refuse tarnishing our shared environment was elevated through the maintenance based performance by Maren Hassinger.

Hassinger’s Pink Trash (1982) performance used garbage –which the artist made stand out by painting pink– as a material and arranged it aesthetically throughout three New York City park’s (Central Park, Prospect Park, and Van Cortland Park) in order to critically question the civic and ethical role we have with regards to our shared public spaces. As Muniz and Ukeles have shown us, our sanitation workers are incredibly hard at work cleaning up our city, however, the burden of maintenance falls on every single one of us too. We can take major steps by volunteering to clean our parks and public spaces. By working alongside the city’s laborers, we can better understand what is at task and how we can offer our services to prevent our city from being over polluted. If we see something that strikes us as being in contrast with our urban ecology (cigarette butts, empty food wrappers, plastic bags, etc), we should act accordingly and dispose of it properly. 

During the 1960’s, Allan Kaprow’s installations and social sculptures (Kaprow called them “Happenings“) such as Yard (1961) and Fluids (1967) addressed the effects of consumerism and labor within a capitalist society through the use of unconventional materials (tires in Yard and ice in Fluids). The crux of Kaprow’s “Happenings” was the interrelational connection between performers and materials. For Kaprow, these events had no preconceived outcome. The process was largely improvisational and viewers often became participants in the playful arena, which established inter-disciplinary relationships between art and the natural environment. Kaprow stated: 

“happenings invite us to cast aside for a moment these proper manners and partake wholly in the real nature of the art and life. It is a rough and sudden act, where one often feels “dirty”, and dirt, we might begin to realize, is also organic and fertile, and everything including the visitors can grow a little into such circumstances.”

These happenings are a good transition to thinking about how Reggio Emilia style learning is implemented outside of the classroom and how contemporary art has profound implications for the playful, creative, collaborative, and reflective habits of mind that are necessary for achieving success and good well-being throughout life.

Another artist who makes strong connections between art and the natural world is Bryant Holsenbeck. Holsenbeck’s installations frequently use everyday objects collected from public spaces like parks, beaches, and city streets. Her sculptures allude to mass production and its effect on the environment. Her artistic practice is multifaceted, she is partaking in the act of maintenance by removing litter from the environment, engaging in play through her creative use of these upcycled materials, and reflecting on the ways that humans can increase their environmental awareness.  

In addition to environmental concerns, there are other forms of labor that contemporary artists like Cinthia Marcelle,Chloë Bass, and Santiago Sierra engage with in their artworks. Marcelle, a Brazilian artist, investigates the effects of labor on an economic system, as well as its role in the process of making a work of art. Through symbolic use of materials such as the chalk she used in her site specific installation Education by Stone (2016), Marcelle symbolically depicts the material through the lens of history. Chalk is a stone, which has become a traditional tool with a pedagogical function. Chalk and chalkboards are archetypes for education (although interactive whiteboards (SMART boards, etc have started to replace them). Chalk’s frequent use in classrooms is an expression of language, literacy, communication, and learning. Education by Stone‘s symbolic message came largely through its placement within MoMA’s Ps1, a contemporary art museum inside a former New York City public school. The museum is also a major pedagogical institution, which promotes visual literacy and expression through displaying works of art for the public. The chalk was affixed inside cracks within the museum’s brick wall by a team of laborers who worked to install the artwork to fulfill Marcelle’s specifics. The chalk crumbled, cracked, and fell to the floor, poetically expressing the fragility of the education and labor systems, which are significantly undervalued in relationship to capital gains and finance.

 

Overall, Marcelle’s body of work portrays the absurdity and the disconnect between labor and capital. She has experienced the widening economic gap between the financial class and the working class in her homeland of Brazil, and depicts the absurdity and the impossibility of these systems ever being equal in the current economic system.

Santiago Sierra‘s frequently controversial works, examine the exploitation of laborers by the wealthy class. Through having performers, who are actual laborers, perform menial and physically exerting tasks, Sierra addresses issues of immigration, the relationship between poverty and Capitalism, and the widening economic gap in Capitalist society.

Chloë Bass’ conceptual artworks examine the intimacies of social and professional relationships and the effect they have on daily life and the environments we live in. Her  process includes interviewing others, engaging in daily activities with a diverse range people, and investigating the intricacies of specific localities. For example, The Department of Local Affairs was an investigative project maintained by Bass that developed an interactive, locally crowd sourced guidebook for a geographical location, based upon the expertise of local residents and laborers. The contributions included designing a pamphlet, making a map, writing a review, or leaving advice. The project began in Omaha, Nebraska, and then took place in the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, New York. The result was an alternative travel guide that focused on people, places, and activities that were important and relevant to the local community, rather than a commercial/generic pamphlet for tourists. The process of residents expressing, reflecting, and presenting their personal and collective experiences within their neighborhood is efficacious in maintaining a sense of pride and belonging to a place.

Having students explore their communities and the many facets that make up the environment they live in can open the door to engaging projects. They could take the role of an urban planner and work with local communities to convert empty spaces into public places, or design a campaign that raises awareness regarding the litter in city parks. Students should have the autonomy to develop these projects, while the teacher can facilitate by showing them examples from the aforementioned artists (and others). The teacher might also initiate contact with advocacy groups in the community in order to form an ongoing collaboration with the students. Throughout the project, students should document their process through photographs, sketches, mapping, journals/blogs, and field notes (such as interviews of community advocates or the population they have chosen to work with).

Students will become absorbed in a creative and collaborative process, while gaining understanding about a social, cultural, or environmental issue, and have an opportunity to creatively solve a problem. By becoming producers of valuable shared experiences, students will hopefully be motivated to continue to shape and maintain the world they want to live in. They are the future planners, leaders, and activists in a world that needs creative solutions to a myriad of issues.


References, Notes, Suggested Reading: 

Ingold, Tim. 2015.Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. United Kingdom: Routledge.

Resnick, Mitchel. 2017. Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Wien, Carol Anne, et al. 2011. Learning to Document in Reggio Inspired Education. ECRP, 13 (2).

Summer Reading List

It’s that time of the year when both educators and students are dreaming of long days on the beach (or anywhere outside the classroom really!) during Summer Vacation. The two months outside of the classroom is also the perfect time to catch up on reading some very engaging books on Contemporary Art, Education, and Activism (and beaches are the perfect environments to read!). There are so many worthy titles to read and the list can go on and on, however, for the sake of constraining it to a short period, below is an abridged list of some essential publications that anyone who’s interested in arts-centered learning should pick up.

Against the Flow: Education, the arts, and postmodern culture, Peter Abbs, Routledge (October 4, 2003)

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Peter Abbs is one of the UK’s (and the world’s) leading practitioners and theorists in Arts Education (and a very celebrated poet too!). In Against the Flow, Abbs argues that the quantitative focus of modern education –the reliance on a universal proficiency standard to measure student assessment– is a disservice for students because it doesn’t acknowledge that students develop at their own pace. Furthermore, by using proficiency standards and “teaching to the test,” institutions have regarded essential subjects like the arts to be mere specialty areas of study. Abb’s brilliantly argues why this practice is short-sided and how the arts add vitality, engagement, and relevance to the overall contemporary education environment. This book will prepare educators with a wealth of topics, which they can bring back into the school environment. Especially, during the meetings where other educators may snidely say to the art teacher “well art is easy, I wish my students were as engaged in ________ class” or “how do you even asses something as specialized as art?” The answers that art educators can respond to these questions with will have profound influence across the curriculum. Every student can be engaged across the curriculum if they are thinking like an artist (studio habits of mind) and are engaged in creative, collaborative, problem solving activities. The lecture where the teacher talks for 45 minutes straight is a relevant as the arrogant “educated” owl in the Tootsie Roll Pop commercials.


Art as Social Action: An Introduction to the Principles and Practices of Teaching Social Practice Art, Gregory Sholette and Chloë Bass of Social Practice Queens with others, Allworth Press (May 22, 2018)
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What is Social Practice Art? Well, if you refer back a few posts, you’ll have your answer! Social Practice Art is a recent, much needed artistic movement that is rooted in socialization, pedagogy, and activism. Social Practice artists focus on the interconnectivity between diverse groups of people and explore ways that humans can express themselves through a collaborative, and embodied process. Art As Social Action is a refreshing publication that should be of interest to all educators and art professionals alike. The book is edited by Gregory Sholette and Chloë Bass of Social Practice Queens with contributions by a diverse group of artists, educators, and activists. The book contains a well balanced combination of theory and practice, including lesson plans that are sure to inspire educators who want to make learning more involved and relevant to their students’ experiences. John Dewey and Paolo Freire would be elated to know that their visions on progressive education have been put into action and are shaping the way we think, collaborate, and produce within the arts and education communities. There is something for everyone in this tome, which is just as engaging to read as the actual projects being described. If you want to do your part to bring some much needed change into this world, read this book, share it with others, and put these words to work in your community!
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Resnick states a problem: today’s educational system is zapping the creativity out of learning, even at the Kindergarten level, which is typically an age of exploration and discovery through artistic processes. His solution is that the Kindergarten model, started by Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel, centered on play and activity, is an enduring model that has benefits for individuals of all ages. Imagining, creating, playing, sharing, and reflecting, are necessary elements of living a creative, well rounded life. Kindergarten has typically been the arena for these elements to thrive, however, Resnick believes that the methodologies of Fröbel and other early childhood educational philosophies like Reggio Emilia, should be continued throughout one’s life. We are living in a time when technological advances occur on a daily basis. Resnick believes that we can learn a lot by embracing technology and harnessing its creative potential. By engaging in collaboration, exploration, and play via technology, we can live an artful life. Teachers who are looking for inspiring ways they can bring digital projects into their classrooms will be delighted by this book’s content.

Art-Centered Learning Across The Curriculum: Integrating Contemporary Art in the Secondary School Classroom,  Julia Marshall and David M. Donahue, Teachers College Press (August 29, 2014)

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 6.39.57 PMThis publication was highly influential on my own writing and thinking about creating an inter-disciplinary curriculum that is relevant to contemporary life. In this book, Marshall and Donahue present the framework for inquiry based art-centered learning across the entire Secondary School curriculum (social studies, math, science, and ELA). Many of the ideas are inspired by Harvard’s Project Zero and are further supported through a wide range of examples from the Contemporary Art field. The book breaks down how art projects can relate to students’ lives and support a lifelong thirst for knowledge through visual learning and enduring understandings.

 


These are just four examples of the amazing array of literature that will quench your thirst for learning how to live, work, and educate artfully! If you have a particular book, publication, or blog that you’d like to share, please add it in the comments!

Living in a Digital (Material) World

Within the ever developing digital world, one might predict that we’re becoming more and more untethered from material constraints. This was the premonition that the architect Nicholas Negroponte made in 1995. Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop per Child Association, was certainly correct in his assessment that we have become a collective culture under the influence of digital technology. It can be argued that throughout the world we are experiencing a Digital Colonization, a new empire that is ruled by mass media’s effect on the minds of the masses. In other words, digital technology has shaped the way we think, consume, produce, and act on a daily basis.

This is not to suggest that technology is an evil force that needs to be eradicated. It is obvious that advances in technology and industry have had overwhelmingly positive effects on society. Art for example has always been at the forefront of technological advances to the way we communicate and express ourselves repletely. Some examples of art-based technological breakthroughs throughout history include the invention of a process that permanently adheres paint to walls (Frescos), the creation of depth on a two dimensional surface (one point and two point perspective), and immersive interactive experiences such as 3D animation, video art, and virtual reality. Artists who embraced technology early on became innovators of their field. For example, the Impressionists’ acceptance of the newly invented portable paint tubes allowed them to paint en plein air (outdoors). Nam June Paik couldn’t have become the “Founder of Video Art” without the innovative explorations, discoveries, and insights being made in the telecommunications field at the time. In fact, Paik is often credited for his innovated concepts in the field of telecommunications and for using the phrase “electronic superhighway” in his 1974 proposal “Media Planning for the Postindustrial Society – The 21st Century is now only 26 years away,” Paik stated that:

“The building of new electronic super highways will become an even huger enterprise. Assuming we connect New York with Los Angeles by means of an electronic telecommunication network that operates in strong transmission ranges, as well as with continental satellites, wave guides, bundled coaxial cable, and later also via laser beam fiber optics: the expenditure would be about the same as for a Moon landing, except that the benefits in term of by-products would be greater.”

Contemporary artists have continued to utilize advancements in technology and digital material as inspiration and subject matter. By doing so, they develop contemplative and intimate responses that are based on the human experience in relation to the ever-changing world around them. Some artists use digital technology to comment on pop-culture such as Cory Arcangel, who appropriates aesthetic and other sensory elements from digital technology such as old cartridge video games or Photoshop’s preset color gradients. He re-contextualizes existing digital media in order to construct new experiences and narratives for the viewers of his work. Below is an example of Arcangel’s twist on the traditional Super Mario Bros. (1985) game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). In Super Mario Movie (2005), Arcangel distorted the familiar video game environments to both confound Mario, the protagonist in the game world, as well as us, the viewers in the real world. This surreal and existential exercise leaves us with far more questions than answers. However, we have the capability to construct our own interpretations. By now, images from early NES games like Super Mario Bros. have become archetypal imagery for several generations. Just like the artists of the past were painting religious iconography, a contemporary phenomenon of their time, a generation of artists today are depicting characters from their favorite video games and animated cartoons.

In her paintings, drawings, and films, Debora Hirsch juxtaposes contemporary and historical archetypes from the internet and pop culture to comment on how society fragments reality.

Hirsch’s ongoing series donotclickthru is an interactive website featuring a series of traditional drawings that combine popular and imagined imagery with philosophical statements or media headlines that have been created by mass marketers as click-bait. The drawings are presented one-by-one and the viewer must click on the current image to move on to the next one, an existential activity that traps us in a surreal environment full of Internet ephemera. The series explores how clicking through random images presented often in the form of a meme or a thumbnail advertising sensationalized media articles is both exquisite and meaningless. Are we gathering significant information that will inform us of our place in the world or are we wasting our precious time scrolling through the endless content of the World Wide Web?

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In the painting above, Hirsch blurs the line between fine art and online advertising by depicting Andy Warhol shopping for cans of Campbell’s Soup above a headline that reads “25 Reasons Your Life May Change At The Supermarket.” This painting provides a witty innuendo, which speaks largely about our culture as consumers. Warhol, known for portraying common place objects as works of art, is most famous for his series of Campbell’s Soup cans, which he painted verbatim based on the large variety of canned soup flavors the company manufactures. Therefore, you could suggest that the Supermarket elevated his career to epic heights (he also appropriated Brillo boxes, another Supermarket item, as sculptures). Today’s generation of consumers were brought up on Pop-Art imagery used by advertisers to sell their brands. It is often hard to tell what is art and what is an advertisement because fine art imagery has seamlessly permeated our visual culture and has been manipulated by corporations and media outlets to generate revenue. Hirsch’s work asks us to question what we know about the world around us. What is fact, fiction, art, or advertisement? How can we tell? Being conscious and critical of the ways Digital Colonization is altering our general perception within society at large is important in order for us to be liberated and rational citizens.

STEAM based curriculums in today’s schools are developing tomorrow’s digital entrepreneurs. Regardless of whether students go on to become techies or teachers, embracing technology is paramount to their ongoing success. However, it is important that while they’re learning the benefits of digital media, they are presented with a critical dialogue regarding responsible and ethical practices for using digital platforms. Educators should have students scrutinize different media reports and stories in order to develop their abilities to fact check information and discern between “Sponsored Content” and real investigative reporting. They should also be engaged in discussions regarding fair use of media and the differences between appropriation and plagiarism. Having students analyze works by contemporary artists like Arcangel and Hirsch will express to the students that artists can take on an important societal role by re-presenting archetypal imagery and text in order to make powerful statement about our collective culture.