Thursday, May 19, 2011

art:21 - Classroom Resources

The PBS series, art:21 (art in the 21st century), provides excellent teaching resources for several themes associated with Holocaust education. Free educators’ guide pdfs are downloadable from the website. Hard copies are available, by request, for seasons 3-5. The website is rich with short theme-specific video clips of the artists working and talking about their creative process; artists’ interviews; complete video features; an educators’ blog; and hundreds of lesson plan ideas. As with all video, please be sure and preview for content appropriateness before showing to students. Here are just a few examples of artists and subjects related to Holocaust studies:

Krzystof Wodiczko – Monuments, Collective Memory, Peace, Power
Wodiczko projects live feed, victim video testimony on buildings and monuments. He hopes to promote peace by publicly protesting violence and aesthetically reflecting collective memory. Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1943, Krzystof explains: “My mother, being a Jew whose entire family was killed in Poland during [the] ghetto uprising, gave birth to me in the midst of all of this – my childhood was on the ruins of war; physical, political, and perhaps moral, definitely psychological.” Much like Margaret Bourke-White’s camera while photographing the horrors of concentration camp life, Mr. Wodiczko’s sketchbook acts as a buffer between him and his subject matter. Krzystof admits he cannot relive each story as he hears it, because of the trauma it might trigger. So he sketches, and re-sketches, designing his video installations. Wodiczko’s work has received many awards and honors including the Hiroshima Art Prize for contributing to world peace.

Layhal Ali – Political Resistance, Bullying, Racial Inequality, Protesting Violence, Power
A person of color growing up “in an all-white school,” Ali creates abstract human-like figures in poses that are evocative of victimization, dominance, subservience, resistance, and protection. Her series of brown-skinned, gender-neutral figures named Greenheads engage the viewer in identity questioning with their stylized masks, weapons, wounds, and armor. She talks about how cruel the game of dodge ball is on a school playground, and asks intriguing questions about the physical properties of color and perception with regard to racism. In the video clip about characters and color, she ventures “Sometimes I wonder, is that what it is about . . . dark-skinned people? - their face absorbs more lights so you have to look into them more? They are more mysterious? I mean . . . what is it?? . . . Could racism be just attributed to bizarre visual phenomena, you know? . . . There’s a question!”

Jenny Holzer – Censorship, Media, Government’s Role
Holzer’s work, she confesses, “ focuses on cruelty in hopes that people will recoil.” She creates moving typography projections; word and image installation pieces; and signage that make people think about what they are NOT seeing, reading, and hearing. He artwork publicly questions authority and proclaims aphorisms such as “abuse of power comes as no surprise.” One of her studio projects recreates a series of redacted government documents, enlarged and presented in lovely, colored, jumbo silkscreened prints.

Matthew Ritchie – The Individual in Society, Conformity, Hope
Ritchie works with line, and large-scale graphic installation, to make ideas tangible. His sculpture piece which he refers to as a “human cell,” shows how people often imprison themselves; in their own thoughts, words, ideas, or even possessions. It is formed from a series of intricately designed and elaborately cut metal plates that interlock and intersect to create a void in the middle, just the right size for an adult human body to slip in and be visible, but immobilized. The cell evokes a type of cocoon or globe that completely traps an individual. Ritchie fashioned the husk, or human shell out of drawings that he enlarged and then transferred by computer to a metal smith, who in turn, cut them with a high-power jigsaw. Marks become monumental as these large, round, flat metal planes meet at the x, y, and z axes, creating a massive globe-like structure at least ten feet in diameter. The video features several of his other animated, but flat, calligraphic linear creations. Some of them are only inches thick, but sprawl all over a gallery at different levels off the ground. What Mr. Ritchie manages to accomplish is to make tangible what typically falls into the realm of pure emotion, mark-making, movement, and flow. Thinking takes on form and ideas become concrete. What if ideas about combating indifference and intolerance could take on form and become REAL enough that students could better “deal” with them? How could we motivate students to name and make real the aspects of human behavior that lead to marginalization, hatred, bullying, and we/they mentality? Once concrete, could these ideas then be destroyed, or publicly displayed in protest, for healing, hope, and re-creation?

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