Year XI, n°36, May – August 2021 [ Education in the body

Year XI, n°36, May - August 2021
§Education in the body.
For a somatics of the pedagogical relationship

curated by Anna Chiara Cimoli e Pietro Gaglianò

How do you look when there’s nothing left to move? The title of Yvonne Rainer’s performance (2015, Getty Museum and MoMA) in Italian has a beautiful ambiguity between the action of looking and that of appearing in someone else’s eyes. When there is nothing left to move, here we remain ourselves in our bodies: seemingly passive, yet perfectly receptive. The relationship between gaze, comprehension and movement, investigated by neuroscience, remains marginal in the field of education, often because of the spatial conformation of the places that host educational relationships; but also because of the training of teachers, because of the implicit assumptions of how one should “teach a lesson”, for questions of proxemics or opportunity. Also, above all, because of a vertical, transmissive and strictly hierarchical conception of education, where the acceptance of the body as a place of the sensitive would introduce variables that are risky for the authority implicit in the didactic architecture. And then: which bodies for which education? Described, evoked, silenced, assimilated, labelled, positioned. And the “others”?  Modernity is studded with groups of students/actors/dancers/performers who have tackled the study of visual culture by moving within forms, before designing them: from Hellerau to Monte Verità, passing through the Goetheanum, the Bauhaus and other European avant-gardes, up to the psychogeographical Situationist drifts, to Black Mountain College, to the fertile area of experimentation between art and feminism, to some Italian architecture faculties in the 70s, and beyond.

The present call welcomes contributions on the theme of corporeality in education, and in visual education in particular. It stems from a question that stops being personal when it bounces among many colleagues and solicits stories of experimentation, alliances and possible paradigms. The topics on the table are numerous and intertwined: the status of the body in school, the spaces of education and their consideration of the diversity of bodies, the relationship body-school-museum, the language of bodies and their representation in education, the eye as a body attribute, body consciousness in artistic education, the intersection between performance and museums, the possibility and the criticality of a pedagogy of movement, and much more.

Virgilio Sieni, Babele, ph. Sara Arfanotti

Anna: When I enter the classroom, I would ask my students, as the first act of the day, to breathe, or to look out the window very far, and then very close. My colleagues, however, have advised me to be careful. This can’t be done, and neither can that. In the faculty where I teach, there are fixed desks, very long and rigid, with folding chairs: the students who arrive first sit down towards the corridor, so that those who arrive later, little by little, have to get them up; the same at the end of the lesson. I deal with visual culture, I teach both teenagers and adults and I reflect on the incorporation of the gaze. It has always seemed to me, intuitively, that we need to warm up our sight before starting to observe forms, just as we warm up our muscles before articulating a dance sequence.

Without any mysticism, but with a sense of threshold, I would like to suggest making a personal gesture, reciting a formula or even just closing one’s eyes for a moment, to mark the passage in and out of the educational dimension. As if to say: now I’m here for me, now I incorporate the world and try to make sense of it, and it’s such a difficult task that I have to direct every cell of mine in that direction, therefore I celebrate the effort. Hans Christian Andersen, in The Snow Queen, writes that “Kay was so frightened, he tried to say his prayers, but all he could remember was his multiplication tables”. Prayer as a recited dimension, and therefore as a bodily dimension, in the mystical tradition is breathed, acted out by the body, not just fantasized in the mind [1].

Rehearsals for BodyCartography Project, Follow, 2018. Photograph by Olive Bieringa

Pietro: For years I was lucky enough to teach Performance Art in an art school for foreign students, a practical course – a studio course – equated to painting or ceramics. From the pedagogical point of view the most curious aspect is that from the first lesson, and then for years at the beginning of each semester, I didn’t know exactly what to do. I’ve studied the history of Performance Art for a long time, I’ve curated many projects focused on performance, but this is not enough to entitle me to be a teacher of such a complex language (and then no, I’m not an artist, and if we exclude a negligible parenthesis of contemporary dance study I don’t even have a special confidence with body practices). What happened then? From the first moment, I let the body speak, the body of the students. Without even introducing myself, I asked them to remove the chairs and move the tables: walk, run, collide, stop, close your eyes, run again, touch things, look around. From the beginning, and then each time, the miracle happened: the course found its way and at the end some beautiful performances took shape, and almost always I was greeted by people more aware of themselves (and perhaps of their artistic limitations). Sometimes in history and art theory courses there comes a blocking phase: me and the class no longer speak to each other, because the topic is boring, or I am, or for other reasons. When I feel the dialogue dropping I implement a tried and true solution: remove chairs, move tables, walk, run, bump into each other, stop, close your eyes, run again, touch things, look around. It works every time.

[1] “The Physical Method”, in Tales of a Russian Pilgrim, also online.