Recap: Engaging Art, Building Community

What does it mean to build community today? What are the implications of technology for reaching new audiences and creating new links between people? How can art be harnessed for constructing new ways of interacting, engaging, empowering youth? Just some of the questions that inspired the workshop: Engaging Art, Building Community that was held this past Thursday at Stony Brook University’s Humanities Institute.

First, Phillip Baldwin and Margarita Espada described their process of creating immersive spaces through creative technology, hacking infrared sensors, writing cutting edge code, manipulating visual and sound content as part of their recent production of “Life is a Dream” (based on Calderón’s “La vida es sueño”). I was struck by the “kinesthetic grammar” that they described, a way for students to use the body not only as an expressive tool, but also as a means of communicating with and through technology; with and through the audience; with and through the layering of code, space, color, time, contrast. Very cool stuff.

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In the second half of the program, La Poderosa Media Project, represented by myself, Executive Director Alejandra Zambrano, and Theater Instructor Gabriela Espinosa, demonstrated one of the learning situations (mini projects) that we use in order to engage students’ capacity for observation, creativity, collaboration, and narration. The exercise focused on creating a narrative soundscape out of 5 individual elements. There was one story of an asthma attack, another of a jilted wife returning home to an unpleasant surprise, a game of hide and seek ended by an unfortunate sneeze. Iteration, pacing, volume, silence, combining to create an intelligible story through sound.

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What is art for? What is an audience in the 21st century? How can art build community? Some of what we discussed had to to with accepting and incorporating the now–technology and virtuality. And yet, interestingly, we also noted that the human connections that are central to ‘humanism’ are and remain embodied, corporeal, tactile. I think, in the end, there was a really generative contrast, a sort of productive tension, between how interpersonal connections can be made through technology and how the spaces and encounters that define–and in many cases produce–difference are felt most viscerally as embodied sensation. Hopefully we can continue to dialogue about pedagogies of community, pedagogies of technology, pedagogies of the body, not only in their application but also in the epistemological implications for humanism, decoloniality, and the future of activist practice.

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