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Issue No.12 - Eyes Wider

To define is to destroy, to suggest is to create.
- Stephane Mallarme



Eyes Knocked Open
After seeing the real world

Literal Misreadings
Dealing with Literalisms

The Archaic Becomes New
Old words into new words

Ani and Laurie
Praising two artists

Fire Traces
Fire and landscape

Those Naughty Designers
Watch out kiddies

Finding New Meanings
Re-reading objects

Touching Fame
Occasioned artists

Fiction Maths
Numbers meet words

After the Ruins
Beyond the climax

Family in art

Welcome to edition # 12 of The Creative Teaching Space.

It has been quite a while since I have written in the magazine and so I find myself slightly hesitant – ‘can I find any ideas, do I still have anything to say?’

Well only writing will tell!

Since the last entry my work with the Education Department in Hobart (in 2004) has focused on areas such as conceptual learning, transdisciplinary learning and various forms of assessment. Some of these ideas may find their way into my magazine.

I have also had responses to The Creative Teaching Space from teachers in many countries. This has been really encouraging. It is lovely to get personal responses from afar and it is fantastic to get a sense of a readership: I’m not sitting around waiting for a grant or a publisher’s approval. The Internet is a fantastic way of establishing an audience and getting feedback for what can at times be a lonely task. Be defiant. If you want to develop a readership create your own site. It really is a buzz when you get a sense that people are dipping into your work!

In the last week I have been looking at Weblogs. Does anyone know of really interesting weblogs in which teachers are documenting the day to day nature of their teaching? Are any teachers talking about their teaching practice and their creativity? A Weblog would be a fascinating way of approaching e.g. a Masters in Education – a real shared action learning project.

The site exploring the London Underground is fascinating. It shows the many ways in which one can approach a subject. This could be a great introduction to transdisciplinary learning and potential project work. Just think of the many angles and perspectives that teachers and students, from a range of disciplines, could utilize when approaching a subject such as the railway system.

There is also an admirable photographic site by R. Gardiner. I really admire his/her generosity as well as the skill of the photography. We are not assaulted by advertising. Instead the site is a generous insight into photographic possibility. I love the photo of a man standing in the snow called Snow Hat. If only there were more sites with this level of generosity. It is the generosity that also sells. One can’t help but identify a quality in the art, and a quality in the person. Just think of all the stories that students could write stimulated by these photos.

Eyes Knocked Open

The Indian writer Arundhati Roy once said the following:

I think my eyes were knocked open and they don't close. I sometimes wish I could close them and look away. I don't always want to be doing this kind of work. I don't want to be haunted by it. Because of who I am and what place I have now in India, I'm petitioned all the time to get involved. It's exhausting and very difficult to have to say, 'Look, I'm only one person. I can't do everything.' I know that I don't want to be worn to the bone where I lose my sense of humor. But once you've seen certain things, you can't un-see them, and seeing nothing is as political an act as seeing something. 

This must be similar to the experiences of people working in NGOs. We live in an extremely uneven world and to be faced with its realities, its contradictions, its ironies and its injustices, must be extremely disturbing.

Just think of the news that you hear on television. What are the big issues? Is the Sudan ever mentioned? Do we hear of despotic regimes other than Iraq?

I heard a riveting interview recently with the journalist Aidan Hartley. He spoke of his experiences in Rwanda. He witnessed and experienced a country in the midst of terrible trauma. He spoke of his reaction to witnessing such horror. His attempt at therapy is explored in his book The Zanzibar Chest.

I also saw a fascinating documentary called The Spectre of Hope exploring the photography of Sebastiao Salgado. He once worked as an economist. His photography seemed to address a deep desire to document the humanity of people; those often treated as statistics. At one point in an African refugee camp he was followed by children. This was affecting his ability to take photographs. He asked why the children were following him and they said that they wanted their photographs taken. As a result Salgado embarked on the journey of documenting displaced children. The results are extraordinary – a series of photographs that testify to the humanity of the children – as if saying " I am here. I am not a statistic!" These works rival those of photographers like Dorothea Lange.

The sad reality is that these are not children of dustbowled 1930’s America. These photos are contemporary, a tragic revelation that the many faces we associate with images from the dustbowl are worn by people in our so-called modern world. One doesn’t have to look far to see wrought faces. Similar faces I am sure can be found in Australian Refugee Detention Centres.

Salgado also makes a fascinating and rather poetic claim in this documentary. If all the images from his book Migrations were tallied in terms of shutter speed they would add up to about a second. Here in this modern age the moment of a second can capture so much of the larger world. Students could explore this irony. In a world with such a long history sometimes it is the ‘minute’ that can be the most profound. Here we have an opportunity to explore ‘micro time’ – the microspeed of computers, the power of minimalist art, the shock of photographic images, as well as the micro world of science.

How many neurons have fired in the last second of reading this sentence?

I don’t want anyone to appreciate the light or the palette of tones. I want my pictures to inform, to provoke discussion – and to raise money. Sebastiao Salgado.

I tell a little bit of my life to them, and they tell a little of theirs to me. The picture itself is just the tip of the iceberg. Sebastiao Salgado.

Only by rendering yourself as defenseless as the people you photograph, by entering their world as a vulnerable stranger, will they not only tolerate but welcome your presence. Sebastiao Salgado.

Literal Misreadings

Recently in Australia the Anglican church held a conference to explore the ordination of women. Ordination was refused. The church yet again revealed that much of its hierarchy is stuck in the Middle Ages. Upon hearing a lady defend the decision by citing the so called ‘truth’ of the Bible I felt like confronting her with a question of whether she had recently menstruated. What a horror to ask such a question! No more a horror than that cited in the Bible – where men take the decision to banish women based on their natural cycles! Did she realize that men had given themselves this power over women?

This so called literal citing of the Bible is offensive and is usually in the hands of people who are more interested in attacking difference rather than being compassionate. While there is great beauty in the Bible I am always wary of people who quote it.

I would also question the ability of many churches to comment on anything sexual: if churches can’t recognize the need for the equality of women they have little right to comment on the real world!

The following emailed letter is a great satire on those who take the Bible literally. The article at the Urban Legends site places it within a context.

This letter is an interesting example of how we can find and express contradictions in arguments. Literalisms can be extremely dangerous and are usually wielded by people who have a fair degree of nastiness. No document is solid and an exercise in challenging literalisms can be a fantastic way for students to understand the fluidity of language.

Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan

Encourage students to creatively explore ways of tackling bigotry. Creativity can be an excellent tool. Michael Moore has succeeded so well in expressing political ideas to the masses because of his ability to use creative hard-hitting scenes – e.g. taking throat cancer victims to sing Christmas carols to tobacco executives. This gives his work a different slant to traditional political documentaries. Even the film The Corporation is really funny at times. It uses the template of a diagnostic psychiatric report to analyse international corporations. If corporations legally structure themselves as people then why not analyse them as if they are people?

The Archaic Becomes New

The Oxford English Dictionary is full of many obscure words that are now considered archaic. These tend to be cited in word collections and dropped on the odd occasion for a bit of humour. Rarely do words make a comeback.

In this example a medieval word has been reappropriated by the computer industry. It has returned with a new meaning, but one also with strange echoes of the former. Do people in the industry know the cruel origins of the word?

defenestration - 1620, "the action of throwing out of a window," from L. fenestra "window." A word invented for one incident: the "Defenestration of Prague," May 21, 1618, when two Catholic deputies to the Bohemian national assembly and a secretary were tossed out the window (into a moat) of the castle of Hradshin by Protestant radicals. It marked the start of the Thirty Years War. Some linguists link fenestra with Gk. verb phainein "to show;" others see in it an Etruscan borrowing, based on the suffix -(s)tra, as in L. loan-words aplustre "the carved stern of a ship with its ornaments," genista "the plant broom," lanista "trainer of gladiators."

Nowadays "defenestration is a line of code that causes the program to exit the Windows operating system."

Can your students identify any other ancient words that have been resurrected? Investigate archaic words and explore how some can be reappropriated to our time.

Ani and Laurie

I had the great privilege of seeing in the space of a week, a year or so ago, a performance by Ani Di Franco and another by Laurie Anderson.

These were fantastic performances and confirmed the extraordinary artistry of both these talents. In the Melbourne performance Ani performed the song Self Evident. It is a highly evocative monologue. Any Dylan fan would see the similarity to the power of The Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie and the reference to Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Ani Di Franco is an extraordinarily vibrant and passionate performer – she was supporting Dylan on the night that I saw her – and her work is highly independent even to the point of having her own recording company. I was also stuck on the night by her extraordinary following. Here is a female who obviously speaks deeply to many women – a great thing to see in what often seems to be a male and sex driven industry.

A week later I saw an extraordinary performance by Laurie Anderson. Cited as the Happiness tour, she used her inimitable style of spoken narrative, poetry, song, synthesizer and violin to give her personal stance on the modern world. It was like no performance I have seen before.

Deeply compassionate and poetic, Laurie Anderson simply confirmed her place as one of the great modern artists. She wove many images into the performance and left one with a deeply poetic vision of a post September the 11th world. I happen to have a CD of her performance in New York only a week after this attack. The audience is very quite and thoughtful. They recognize the poignancy in the song Oh Superman, first recorded back in the early 1980’s, when she sings:

This is the hand, the hand that takes.
Here come the planes.
They're American planes. Made in America.

Anderson rightly dismisses the so-called prophecy within this song. This takes away from the fantastic range of material she has recorded and performed. Her work has consistently been at the cutting edge of multi-media and performance art – even if her website seems to be somewhat lacking.

Fire Traces

The landscape in Australia can be savagely as well as delicately marked by fire.

Fire destroys habitat, regenerates it, and can be a frightening force. Fire also leaves its trace in blackened bark, ash layers in the soil, and ash traces in the rings of trees.

The photographs of Larry Schwarm and the paintings of Tim Storrier show how fire traces itself upon the landscape.

Fire can be a highly evocative force with many shapes and patterns. Students may like to investigate the imagery and meanings we associate with fires. What has fire meant for different cultures? What does fire look like? Do we ever stop to take a look at its patterns?

Those Naughty Designers

Stories abound about designers who have placed adult material into childrens’ stories. Help me! I can’t find anything about the insignia on the bottom of the bunnykins plates and mugs. There is a long held rumour that it shows two rabbits mating.

The Captain Pugwash story has circulated for years and here is an interesting article debunking the myth that it contained rude character names.

Why do these stories evolve? Why is there a need to play games with innocence? Can students find examples of childrens’ material containing more adult content?

Of course The Simpsons can speak on many levels and I am sure there are many viewers have picked up the double entendres as they have grown older.

Here is a reference to a disputed episode of the UK childrens’ series Rainbow . Some believe it may have been an end of year cast/crew joke episode. I think that this is the case. I can’t imagine this section having gone to air.

Finding New Meanings

We often limit the meanings of objects. They are seen purely for their function not for what they mean within a society. Sometimes it takes the creativity of a writer to show what an object can truly mean.

Below is an example from Ockham's Razor on the ABC (Australia) website in which the light bulb is given new meaning:

Yet the electric bulb also consumes the darkness that surrounds it. In this way the bulb is not only a danger to itself but also a danger to the night. This is a different relationship to the night than that produced by earlier forms of artificial lighting such as fire, candle, oil, and gas. These lighting technologies were concomitant with the dark that humans lived with, due mainly to their low candle-power or lux. This was a workable adjacency, where the corners and edges of a room lit by a candle or an oil lantern would still be in some form of shade or shadow. In other words, prior to bright electric light, one lived with the dark in one’s intimate living spaces. In making light so absolutely today, tonight, the electric bulb consumes the entire darkness to such an extent that its only traces are shadows under tables and chairs or a crevice of darkness here or there. This is another of the light bulb’s material excesses, where light proceeds from its central filament to the edges of rooms and spaces where it effaces the dark, chasing shadows up against walls until they are dissipated. For these reasons a light bulb is not merely switched on but is set loose upon the night.

So, the light bulb’s material function, extravagant by nature, represents the values and tendencies of the society that uses it. This is why an electrical bulb is not merely an isolated, neutral technology, but an object and medium through which the ideology of culture emanates or becomes ‘material’. In this way, electricity and light is an idea. In its present form and our usage of it, the light bulb’s white-hot overabundance simultaneously maintains and produces developed culture within the night.

At such times an electric globe displays within its form the bias that a technological society has against obscurity and its preference for superfluent clarity, excitability and of becoming overheated.

In his short story Preamble To The Instructions On How To Wind a Watch from his short story collection Cronopios and Famas (1969), the Latin American writer Julio Cortázar (1914 – 1984) gives us a new spin on the watch.

What new spins can your students create? Encourage students to explore the meanings beneath simple everyday objects. Encourage creativity and the ability to move across disciplne perspectives: scientific, mathematic, historical, cultural, perspectives, etc. My gut feelings suggest that many Latin American short stories may be good motivators for creative student writing.

Preamble To The Instructions On How To Wind a Watch

Think of this: when they present you with a watch, they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air. They aren't simply wishing the watch on you, and many more, and we hope it will last you, it's a good grand, Swiss, seventeen rubies; they aren't just giving you this minute stonecutter which will bind you by the wrist and walk along with you. They are giving you - they don't know it, it's terrible that they don't know it - they are gifting you with a new fragile and precarious piece of yourself, something that's yours but not a part of your body, that you have to strap to your body like your belt, like a tiny, furious bit of something hanging onto your wrist. They gift you with the job of having to wind it every day, an obligation to wind it, so that it goes on being a watch, they gift you with the obsession of looking into jewelry-shop windows to check the exact time, check the radio announcer, check the telephone service. They give you the gift of fear, someone will steal it from you, it'll fall on the street and get broken. They give you the gift of your trademark and the assurance that it's a trademark better than others, they gift you with the impulse to compare your watch with other watches. They aren't giving you a watch, you are the gift, they are giving you yourself for the watch's birthday.

Touching Fame

Every art, or music movement, usually has a number of lesser-known participants who have touched that movement in slighter ways. I first came across the work of Gustave Caillebotte in reference to his support of the Impressionists. I now know, having looked at his works, that his name needs to be alongside the likes of Monet and Renoir.

Likewise music movements have their figures at the edge of the famous. I came across this really interesting tribute to the almost unknown singer called Jackson C. Frank. He mixed within the British folk scene of the late sixties and this tribute is as much about the driftings of human nature as about any heights achieved. It is a sad story and reminds us that we must never forget those at the edge of movements. Often they did not have the lucky breaks, or they were burdened by personal problems.

Here is a series of moving personal recollections and the extraordinary story of Jackson C Frank’s life.

Perhaps your students can invent the life of a person at the edge of a movement – a creative way of interpreting that movement; an assessment task using reminiscence.

Fiction Maths

How can mathematics and literature merge? How can mathematics and English teachers work together on projects?

Here are a number of references to mathematics in literature:

'So here's a question for you. How old did you say you were?' Alice made a short calculation, and said 'Seven years and six months.'

'Seven years and six months!' Humpty Dumpty repeated thoughtfully. 'An uncomfortable sort of age. Now if you'd asked my advice, I'd have said "Leave off at seven" - but it's too late now.'
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 1871

I don't think numbers are very important,' confessed Milo, too embarrassed to admit the truth.

'NOT IMPORTANT!' roared the Dodecahedron, turning red with fury. 'Could you have tea for two without the two? Or three blind mice without the three? Would there be four corners of the earth if there weren't a four? And how could you sail the seven seas without a seven? If you had high hopes, how would you know how high they were? And did you know that narrow escapes come in different widths? How could you do anything at long last,' waving his arms over his head, 'without knowing how long the last was? Why, numbers are the most beautiful and valuable things in the world.'
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth, 1962

This site explores a connection between mathematics and The Simpsons.

The Mathematical Fiction site explores links between literature and mathematics.

After the Ruins

The text After the Ruins by Hugh Clout is an academic book that explores a quite fascinating perspective of war. What happens after the battles have been completed?

Most history books explore the climax of war and rarely go into the effects on the landscape. I read this book because I have always been fascinated with what happened at the end of World War One. Belgium and France were quite devastated. Land was in ruins. Farmers returned to the land. Someone had to reclaim the land and remove the machinery and restore the towns.

This text investigates the administrative structure put in place to enable areas to become efficient again. It looks at the hired workers – including Chinese coolies and German prisoners – set the task of cleaning up the battlefields. It shows how towns were restored, some too ruined to rebuild. The text also covers the continuing exploding of ordinance. Farmers are still being killed annually when tractors hit unexploded bombs. The book also tackles this little recognized fact – we think that battlefields host soldiers and that town inhabitants have vanished. For much of World War One there was a delicate interplay between local inhabitants and soldiers as land continued to be worked, abandoned, as well as captured by opposing sides.

Rarely do we think of the consequences of war upon the environment. What chemicals are still in European soil? What happened to the bird life and animals? Did these vanish? When did the wildlife return? Was the ecology of certain regions changed forever?

War is a profoundly tragic event that affects people as well as wildlife. Anyone who has seen Werner Herzog’s film Lessons of Darkness will have seen the consequences of oil sabotage upon the Kuwaiti landscape. What about the continuing effects of depleted uranium bombs on the Iraqi people? What about the continuing effects of agent Orange? How is Hiroshima still affected by its nuclear explosion?

The haunting photographs of Robert Polidori bear witness to how humans transform their landscape. We break our hearts as well as break the land that feeds us!


Loudon and Rufus

Some artists choose to combine their art with the experience of having a family. Art is practiced at home. It is not separated from everyday experiences.

Whether it is Loudon Wainwright the third singing about his children, or Dylan singing Sara, some artists have spent considerable time exploring the experience of family life. Emmet Gowin spent his early career building a reputation on intimate photographs of his family. Stan Brakhage the experimental filmmaker explored everyday experience in his at times mesmerizing films. The photographer Richard Billingham has taken quite revealing photographs of his family.

Ask students to identify how everyday experience can be captured via art. Watch the documentary Capturing the Friedmans. What does this tell us about this family? Why was this family’s life captured on video?

What differing ways can we choose to capture the experience of family life?

John Milisenda has an interesting site exploring his family.

Darron Davies

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