Friday, March 27, 2015

CIES Field Trip - Oh, Canada! Art Exhibition

On Thursday, March 26, 2015, three part-time SE LINC classes visited the Oh, Canada art exhibition at two different galleries: Illingworth Kerr Gallery and Nickle Galleries. Oh, Canada, curated by Denise Markonish from MASS MoCA, is at present the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside this country. This exhibition runs from January 31 to April 26, 2015. Since we are nearing the end of the Winter 2015 semester and our students have recently completed their benchmark tests, I thought it would be a good idea for my students to unwind by having a feast for their senses while picking up some Canadian culture and history at the galleries.

My first field trip that day was with my CLB 4-6 PT pm SE class, and we went to the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD). The works of art there which stood out included Ruth Cuthand's Trading series. At first glance, I was attracted to the beautiful bead designs, but I was slightly repulsed when I realized that I was actually looking at images of microscopic viruses! Cuthand's work stems from her intent to portray colonization visually, wherein glass beads from Aboriginal people were traded for epidemics of disease from European traders. The work which was the biggest hit with my students and their kids, however, was Widow, Janice Wright Cheney's imposing rose-covered bear. Although this friendly-looking bear may inspire romantic sentiments, it is meant to represent loss, grief, and survival.

In the evening, both my CLB 4 PT eve SE and Erin Brann's CLB 5 PT eve SE classes visited the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary. Although there were not many works on display there, the ones offered were mostly very large and involved the creative use of video. One of my favourites was Garry Neill Kennedy's Spotted, an arrangement of photographs of airplanes. This work may appear mundane, but it contains indirect yet powerful political commentary. Spotted captures shots of planes used in the CIA's rendition program, wherein suspected terrorists are transferred to US controlled sites for torture by proxy. Most popular with the students, however, was David Hoffos's Scenes from the House Dream, which uses a combination of scale dioramas and pre-recorded videos. Both the students and their teachers found this work of art confusing and creepy yet strangely enjoyable! Unfortunately, the one child who came with us was too spooked and declined to enter the dark room housing this work!

In terms of pedagogical application, I can understand why many ESL teachers may cringe at the idea of incorporating modern art into their language lessons. I myself do not pretend to be an art expert. Another concern teachers may have is their immigrant students are likely to have little interest and would balk at learning about art. Such concerns are definitely valid. Earlier in the week, Erin and I discussed some of our students' poor response, and we started to second-guess our choice of this week's theme. However, when our students explored the galleries, it became clear that they began to see contemporary art in a much more positive light. Therefore, I firmly believe that a field trip to an art gallery is essential to a unit on art. For some ideas on activities you could use with students in conjunction with such a field trip, click here.

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