Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Situated art, situated learning - En Route by One Step At A Time Like This

I caught ABC's Artworks on the weekend, where they covered a fascinating group of artists based in Melbourne called One Step At A Time Like This. The radio doco looked at their alternative theater production called En Route, and it turned out to be exactly the sort of participatory art production I've been looking for, one that captures the essence of situated and networked learning.
en route is a pedestrian-based live art event on the streets of your city. A love song to your city, in which the private and the public, imaginal and concrete, intersect and overlap.

Using audio, mobile phone communication, urban streetscapes, walking, passers-by, and cafes, en route invites participants on a journey, inward and outward, through the thoroughfares and back-alleys of both the city and what they make of it. Directions, instructions and audio - snatches of narrative, musings, sound, song, dialogue, philosophy – intertwine with the wanderings, observations and (found) experiences of the participant, opening up a field for multiple ways of seeing the city, themselves, and others. The spontaneous choreography of passers-by, streets, alleys, buildings, detritus, becomes the site onto which the participant projects their own narratives and meanings.

Part traveler, witness, voyeur, the participants are able to view a world in the process of making itself – en route – emerging, dissolving, as perceptions, insights, senses, make and remake the city they inhabit.

See the city like the first time.
The radio doco is fascinating listening, with particular highlights for me being discussion of the effect the experience had on its participants. The experience was curated by the group sending directions to individual participants via text and signs, and occasionally placing deliberate and therefore sanctioned art en route. People were directed onto trains, trams and buses, up lane ways and into cafes. Told to stand and wait, and then move on... While taking part in En Route, participants explained the feeling that their senses for everything around them, and their awareness of the very present moment were heightened. Their concerns for getting somewhere and how, where taken away, leaving them free to be in the moment, awaiting further instructions. People couldn't be sure what in the experience was sanctioned "art" and what was not, and so everything became potentially art, determined largely by what they themselves noticed in the free state of mind. Importantly, this sort of situationism subverts the idea of sanctioned and staged art, bringing it into 'the street' where its true value might be discovered.

I'm reading Lave and Wenger's 1991 book, Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation, with the foreword by William F. Hanks capturing its essence succinctly:
This last remark raises a final, still broader suggestion that is implicit in the book, namely, that learning is a way of being in the social world, not a way of coming to know about it. Learners, like observers more generally, are engaged both in the contexts of their learning and in the broader social world within which these contexts are produced. Without this engagement, there is no learning, and where the proper engagement is sustained, learning will occur. Just as making theory is a form of practice in the world, not a speculation at a remove from it, so too learning is a practice, or a family of them. This entailment of Lave and Wenger's provocative book brings it into line with important developments in a range of other human sciences

Similar to the En Route production, but much more aligned to the question of learning, is of course San Diego group AgitProp and their University 2837 project, which after running a series of lectures and talks, asks participants to then go out into the street and identify learning spaces and situations based on the new eyes they have for it from the lectures and talks.

Combine this approach with George Siemen's concept of curatorial teaching and we come even closer to One Step at a Time Like This' En Route concept, blending curated intent with participant freedom to discover what's in them and what's around them, with 'learning' being the primary question rather than, or as well as 'art' or 'space'.

I think the artistic intent of these concepts could be enhanced with study of Joseph Beuys' work, particularly the Free International University, as well as Situationist International and their desire to create environments for discovering and appreciating the true value of things rather than their staged value.

All of this makes for excellent examples to add to my essay in progress on Ubiquitous Learning - a critique, where I'm trying to argue that the words ubiquity and learning have nothing inherently to do with technology, and are instead words of ethical dimension, so the phrase ubiquitous learning should become one more to do with an ethical approach or framework to learning, and not one suggesting a technological determination of it.

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