Thursday 21 November 2013

Activities as ways to engage with original works of art – solutions

Experience of teaching Landscapes to Year 5 students. Read part one here
Ralph Hotere's 10-panel work Aramoana, currently on display as part of the collection  show Toi Aotearoa
We were looking at Ralph Hotere’s Aramonana 1982, to get children to think about how artists are inspired by, and reflect on place. And how artists can react to that place being threatened. So the following makes some sense….all our programmes have a critical thinking framework of: observe, describe, compare and contrast, make connections, interpret, synthesize and evaluate.

This is what I did:

Observed and described the work - after the delicious descriptions of the metal, the colours, the application of paint I have now started asking:

So if this was a place that you were in, what type of place would it be?

Whereas before, their observations and descriptions were not given valid purpose by me and were falling into an abyss.

Responses to this question were:

  • Somewhere dark
  • It’s like a forest of dead trees
  • It looks Smokey and like it would be hard to breath
  • It would be abandoned, haunted, there would be no life there


I introduced a drawing activity. They have 60 seconds to sketch the artwork. They then swap the drawing with a neighbour. They then look back at the artwork and ‘finish’ the sketch with formal and descriptive language). The language they produced got more sophisticated: Such as:

Rust Sharp Empty Haunted Mysterious Space Quiet Old Broken


I introduced content (meaningfully – not just as a ‘hey look what I know about this work!) about Aramoana, the smelter, the protests, and why people were against it.

I then asked: with this new information about the work, how does that change how you see this artwork?

And then: How is this reflected in the artwork? Think about the words you have used in your sketch

The Responses ranged from:
  • It makes sense why he chose metal as his materials because of the smelter! That’s why he has used metal! 
  • It would make the landscape lifeless that’s why he has left so much empty 
  • • No one would want to go there that’s why it looks abandoned 
  • • All those dots and white could be the dead trees 
  • • The pollution and smoke in the dark colours, the splatters etc. it looks like it would be hard to breath in this artwork 
Their responses used language they had developed in the activities, which gave their interpretation a sense of ownership, but linked directly to the artwork where they found evidence to justify their responses.

I then said: 'Ok so now I will show you images of what Aramoana looks like! Have a look at this photograph – how has the artist referenced this place in the artwork?'

'What is the same/different about this photograph and the artwork?'

Oh the white is like the sea foam! The waves are like the ripples in the metal! It’s a really empty place

So why has Hotere not just showed us how this place is? Why choose these colours/materials etc?
  • Because he is worried this is what it will become 
  • Because like this people will listen more 
  • Because it is a warning to people 
So what I had discovered was: In my teaching practice, don’t not do embodied activities, don’t not do activities – there is a real place for them within Gallery sessions. But always be clear to yourself, and your students, why you are doing the activity and how you want this activity to be a way into the work.

It will forever be a challenge to keep the pendulum swinging evenly, when something is new it is so natural for our brains to purely focus on this because it is not yet second nature. But what is important, is that I remain critical and reflective about my practice, be observed, take feedback and adjust. And then I just might get the teaching moments that keep me out on that floor every day.

- Selina Anderson, Senior Gallery Educator

Ralph Hotere
Aramoana 1982

lacquer on corrugated iron and wood 
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki 
gift of the Transfield Corporation, 1985

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