Michael Sommer's talk was extremely helpful for me. We did two exercises that helped clarify some things for me. In one, we kneeled on the floor with a piece of newspaper on the floor in front of us. We then put our hands on the paper and began to move the paper slowly, animating it incrementally by pushing and crinkling the paper until it came off the floor and began to take life. This exercise reminded me that an intuitive and playful engagement with a material and its capacities gets me very excited. Then, we did an exercise in which we walked arm and arm with a fellow classmate and looked at random things and made statements of what sorts of thing they reminded us of. This exercise could be described as the practice of creating metaphors. I had much more trouble coming up with linguistic statements about material phenomena. I am much more interested in the possibilities of what material can do, and how it feels. In the process, the material also takes on metaphorical properties, but those are not based on the imposition of language on the material, but on the formal and active properties of the material. Inanimate material can fly, mold, float, zap, flutter, emerge, or fall.
Tasoulla Hadjianni's talk was also inspiring for me, and her thoughts on the role of craft in the homes and lives of different cultural groups in Minnesota made me consider the importance of the insertion of creative and artistic alternate realities into our daily lives. All cultures make art and practice ritual. Art has the capacity to give meaning and pleasure to our lives. In addition, craft can be a form of preserving memories and performing identity. Tasoulla and Michael's talks are making me think about how art has an important role in daily life as an insertion of metaphor, narrative, play, and joy. This insertion of an alternative layer of reality that takes us out of our daily experience, even as it is inscribed in the very midst of daily life seems to be an important function of art.
Finally, Mike Gould's art, in an extremely different way, similarly provides an alternative space removed from daily life even as it is situated in the midst of daily life, for the purpose of transforming how people interact with the world. By using familiar cultural practices like a dinner at someone's house, he changes the form just enough to wake up participants and show them that they have more power than they think over the world in which they live. I was inspired by Mike Gould's talk, not so much because he has an artistic practice that I would like to emulate, but because what he is doing, with earnestness and persistence, is finding innovative ways to promote dialog and community, evoke political change, and have fun in the process. I think that he is providing some excellent models for democratic education. As I think about how to teach students, I hope that part of my pedagogical practice can be to promote discourse and empower the voices of my students.
All of these guests, and the others we had the pleasure of meeting, were also inspiring because of their sincerity and integrity, and the generous and honest way in which they are intending with their practices and their scholarship to contribute to the world.