In December I was invited to speak at Intensivdagarna 2012 (Intensive Days or the Global Exhibit Forum) in Sweden by the Riksutstallningar (Swedish Exhibition Agency). Riksutstallningar is Sweden’s think tank for exhibitions. With a history of producing travelling exhibitions, their mission has now shifted to being an innovation and dissemination lab for the country’s museums.
The sessions were 45 minutes per subject, which gave us time to get a deep sense of a project. I preferred it over the 8-10 minutes of 3-4 presenters typically seen at conferences, but then it was a conference of 200. There were many thoughtful, delightful, and inventive workshops. I attended primarily the English-speaking sessions, and followed the Youth and Art track. Here are my highlights:
Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000
Juliet Kinchin, Curator of Architecture and Design at MOMA
This is an object-rich, historic exhibition I saw back in September. Juliet framed the show as “how modernism shaped children and design.” She began with the iconic photo outside the exhibit of a child hanging on the wall as “children’s resilience and ability to turn modern architecture into play” (which echoes the history of skateboarding). She said that kindergarten tools were front and center in the show because they “flagged a design revolution”. The writings, sketches and tools of Montessori, Frank Llloyd Wright, and Froebel, Dewey, and others who shaped the playground movement were sprinkled throughout (tho’ I had wished they were highlighted even more. Yes me, more text).
She reminded us of what a century it was, given that in 1890 there was only one public playground in the USA.
Kunsthallen Brandts, Denmark, Sensory Exhibitions for Children
Marianne Ager, Project Manger
This keynote explored their magical, sensory exhibitions for children. It began in 1989 with Karsten Ott as the 1st director who “wanted to create an art exhibition for children.” An annual show, and signals it as a key part of the museum’s program- Marianne wisely noted “kids like the traditions.” The exhibition is so popular, that they have had to employ a booking system.
The Brandst is an old textile factory, a large area with two other institutions, the Museum of Fine Art Photography, and the Funen Art Academy. They are inside an art and design-rich neighborhood in the middle of Odense.
The goal was to create hands-on and sensory experiences so children would use their bodies and minds, often confronting abstract versions of reality. These subjects include life, death, and the imagination. At the museum, they see these shows as a playful introduction to the world of arts. While it is a fun and sensory experience, Marianne was careful to note that it’s not a playground or an isolated kids zone, or a parking spot for your child. They carefully select artists to partner with on the concept, and supply enormous technical, creative, and logistical support.
You could say their motto is what I call the Bugs Bunny effect: good art for kids is good art for all.
Here are two exhibitions she shared:
2010: “Far, Far, Into The Forest”
Experience 24-hours in 21 minutes, with lots of sounds, lighting so it changed color. Listen to stories from birdhouses with porcelain birds with human voices. Magical fountain filled with teacups. Rabbit had sounds. Children could slow down and find out what is hiding around the room.
Inspired by the concept of “what makes a home”, there no limits to where you could look for homes including an air princess room where the floor was made of gymnastics material and a wooden gnomes writing room.
These projects required intensive teamwork/careful planning.
They find artists by advertising online, in paper, and Facebook. Some are sponsored and picked out by curators. Recruiting has been interesting because they come from different creative circles, often with scenographers who have been doing the last 5 years. They work well because they are innovative, hands on, and good storytellers.
There is a report free for download on their work with younger audiences:
The Visitor Services and Learning Department at Brandts has during the last couple of years been working intensively with opening up the institution for a younger audience and has experienced both quantitative and qualitative success in the attempts to attract the under-30s. The point of reference is the two extensive user studies done in collaboration with the analysis company Anex ApS with funding from The Danish Agency for Culture. A detailed examination of this work is presented in a report available for download to iPad with iBooks or to computer with iTunes.
Bem-Vindo MixMax Brazil, Tropenmuseum Jr. Amsterdem, Netherland
Aby Cohen, Scenographer, Sao Paolo, Brazil
“An exhibition in Tropenmuseum Junior entails more than displaying a collection of objects. Looking and listening alone are not enough to obtain a real understanding of a people’s culture. All the senses are engaged to experience the richly diverse and mixed culture of Brazil.”
“Wearing flip-flops, visitors walk the wobbly boards between the mangrove roots, ending up on a Brazilian square with dozens of doors and windows, a boteco, a bottle cave, a gallery, a remixing studio and a roof terrace with an oceanview.”
Aby views scenography as a narrative and a way to tell stories. MixMax is a 2.5 year exhibition about a neighborhood in Brazil for children 6-13 years old, which they are immersed for 1.5 hours. Kids come first with their school, and then they come back with parents on free weekends. They have been doing this for 20+ years and Aby has met people who remember it from their childhood (in prior years, the museum has done China, Inida, Iran, Ghaman, Andes, Australia).
They had to choose where to focus in order to create an immersive world, so when they did India it was Mumbai, and the challenge was to find a job.
Cohen chose the rich culture of Pernambuco for her world, an area of 5 million people. All of the pieces in the exhibit come from Brazil, and Aby worked with a variety of artists, sometimes contrasted or collaborated in relation to one another (see graffiti image above).
Aby said that in presenting a culture you are looking for lines of identity – how to make this place turn into a specific neighborhood and not just anywhere else. She sees “narrative as a way to present a collection of immateriality.”
An inspiration for her was Peter Brook’s book, The Shifting Point: “The act of inviting the audience to break down with the traditional and habitual routine…”
Tropenmuseum Jr. publishes a book as a base for teachers before they bring the kids in to the exhibition. Wow.
Sally Studio Method: Estonia
Jane Remm, artist and art educator, part of Practice.ie, a professional network for artists working with children
“Sally Studio is a non-profit created to foster the artistic talent of children and young people educating them as tomorrows competent cultural producers and consumers. We also aim for a a better understanding of contemporary art amongst adults.”
This was one of the most revolutionary projects I saw- engaging children and youth in Contemporary Art through it’s own unique processes. This is a method they have developed that is fantastic for learning about the more scientific practices of how to create contemporary art: research, immersion, systems-thinking. Rich with 21st-century skill-building.
Students make mind maps using the internet and research and add info about politics, social life, and who is paying for artwork. They present and iterate concepts, and produce an exhibition. They work in cross-media and cross-disciplinary ways, mirroring the skills not only employed in contemporary art, but also in life. Existing in the gap between audiences and Contemporary Art, they believe that if students are exposed to this mindset early on, then it is familiar. If they are given a conceptual approach or problem familiar to them, they can be engaged.
The Sally Studio method works with the quite accurate premise that Contemporary Art is different from other art forms, so in order to get it, students are best served by walking the walk. The method is based on these 5 principles:
The process is based on problem-based art making, which is again, is research intensive and has scientific practice similarities.
Sally Studio has done collaborations with UNESCO where the kids focus on discussion and interpretation of an idea with the knowledge that it is an important skill to “manage the media”, which allows teachers to bring out the existing knowledge of students.
Teachers work with open-ended questions, contextual knowledge, art history, theory, and environment. They understand their interpretation “is not higher, but they have more knowledge to offer to help contextualize what the students are doing”.
The last principle as I mentioned was to have exhibit experience – the thinking is that even if they don’t continue in art, they will have knowledge with exhibitions, and if they continue in the arts, they will need this ability. Kids then are able to compete for Eksperimenta.net – a contemporary Art Triennial: it consists of 13 countries, youths ages 14-19 and is curated by partners and real curators.
“Art is interdisciplinary, so it makes for good exploration.”