Back in Uganda.
In this final part of my Touch-Project, I will conduct research right across the students. I am very curious if there is a significant difference between the students who have participated in my workshops, and the students who haven't!
I will be presenting the results during a presentation at the end of May, together with an explanation of my Touch Workshop in relation to creative stimulation. Watch this space....
Thursday, 12 January 2012
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
13 Th of December
Reading through my papers again, in order to prepare finishing of the dissertation, I came across this interesting article written by Fiona Candlin, in The Senses and Society, vol.3, issue 3, (November 2008 ). She argues that 'Placing handling objects in the middle of a visual spectacle could be understood as highly anachronistic .' Now that was exactly my intention. I believe there is nothing wrong with controversial ideas in establishments. On the contrary, I believe that a museum is an organic object in itself, which should grow new limbs on a regular basis . The Touch Cabinet is such an incentive. In my conversation with one of the curators, we discussed interaction and tactile involvement. He told me that a small group of people at the museum had been discussing the same subject. I was still pleasantly surprised that , on the second day of my visit, a table had appeared with numerous jars, two boxes, covered in cellophane, filled with colourful birds, (deceased, of course, ) and a box with what looked like prehistoric remains of a stegosaurus.
I was excited and repulsed at the same time; The creatures in the glass jars, varying from a hedgehog to a chameleon, looked highly embryonic, colourless phantoms of what they once were. Victims of cruel experiments, but more , much more visceral than the paper frog behind glass, which was also displayed in the museum. There was a visitors book placed beside the display, and a warden to give explanation . The visitors shared more or less my reaction ; A fascination the same way one has a fascination with a haunted house , or a ghost ride on a fun- fair, a bearded women . The birds were stuffed in a card board box, colours had faded over time in a dusty night sky blue. the opaque, milky eyes half closed. Underneath the cellophane they looked as if they were ready to be prepared for some medieval feast, where they used to dress up swans, and peacocks. The fossils , which the warden explained to me as a rich source of information about the vegetation millions of years ago, were there to be touched. Suddenly my Touch-Cabinet seemed very dull and uneventful. And yet, both place in the museum reflected the same mood, an excitement, a new narrative was added to the stuffy image of this Museum. People will probably get nightmares about the staring eyes of dead hedgehogs and tortoises on paramalithe (?) who died long ago, but it invited discussion, like the Touch-Cabinet invited discussion. The big difference was, that the Touch- Cabinet also produced smiles, and happy faces.
Friday, 9 December 2011
When I had returned in the Happy space, people were looking at the Touch-Cabinet. They were cautious, and even when I had explained the meaning of this piece of furniture, some were reluctant to stick their hands in the drawers. It was a very timid response, which actually did not surprido believe that the biggest factor to produce these beautiful smiles, was the fact that interaction was invited.
I also believe that the surprise element of having to open up drawers and see what was inside it, added to the big number of happy faces People had to be encouraged to take out the objects. All of them took extreme care not to break things. So, unlike the popular belief that object- handling might cause damage I like to argue the opposite; Visitors acted in such a responsible manner, that the change of breaking was to be neglected.
The Touch -Cabinet is in the Kampala Museum on permanent display. My aim is to return in March, when I shall be visiting Uganda again. It would be wonderful if there was actually a change taken place with the objects inside it Already some of the objects were put back in different drawers.It would be great if the entire content would be changed on my next visit. On the second day of my visit, I discovered that one of the knobs had come off. When I was leaving that day, three people had become involved with the cabinet; The lady from the drums informed the girl from the entrance-desk ,who came running and produced the wooden knob. then informed the carpenter in residence, who consequently spent an hour fixing the problem.Not only did he fix the knob, but also spend much time making sure the drawers ran smoother by applying some lubricant.The African twist is then, that this didnot made any difference, but i did not have the haert to tell the elderly gentleman. Already the story had start to gather momentum.They probably go home and tell what happened with this Touch-Cabinet.
One is not used to be invited to touch. Having direct contact with an (unseen object) can be intimidating and sometimes, even a little scary.
However, once involved in the process, the visitors started to relax, and they always left smiling. When do people ever smile when they look at an object behind glass ? She also informed the carpenter in residence , who subsequently spend the best part of an hour working on it. Not only did he put the knob back on, but also lovingly ensured that the sixteen drawers were running more smoothly by applying some lubricant. The African twist is then, that after spending all this time the drawers did not move any smoother. Graphite would have done the trick, but I did not have the heart to tell this elderly gentleman. I just profoundly thanked him and made a mental note to bring a pencil back on my next visit. Something else I have to correct is the artist statement and the sign for Touch- Cabinet. That will have to become more permanent. I can then also invite people to change the content of the drawers on the more permanent plaque.
The space I was allocated in the Museum, was a happy place. When I arrived a lady was beading beautiful necklaces from seeds and hand made paper beads. On the other chair, a young mother was breast feeding her 14 month old daughter. I knew the toddler was 14 months, because the minute before, the little girl was helping her mum with brushing the floor, and I enquired about the age of the her. There were musical instruments; Drums, and string instruments which where used enthusiastically later on that morning by visitors to play, and dance.I couldnt help noticing they were all very tactile activities.
The door was open, which led to a big grassy patch which upon traditional huts were build. The huts were constructed to celebrate a Common Wealth meeting in 2001. I had no idea that there were so many different types of traditional huts in Africa. Later I spoke to a guide from the museum about my Touch- Project and the fact that I am promoting more interactive Touch in museums, but, that, actually, the huts were a really good example of this philosophy; Everything inside the huts, the pots, the pans, the plates, the slippers, the animal skins, could be touched, and examined in an haptic way. The 'Do Not Touch' signs were nowhere to be seen, and all the objects could be freely explored. (see also images on Face-Book).I spend a very happy hour displaying objects for photographic images without anybody interfering ! The last time I was at the museum all the doors of the huts were firmly closed. Let's hope that this opening up of the huts is a trend that will continue. I like to think that, perhaps, my advocacy of Touch in Museums , and the discussion I had about the importance of this, might influence this decision....
This afternoon I will be leading a work shop with the teachers of Michelangelo School of Creative Arts.
And I believe this is the best way to be beneficial for the students. To instruct the teachers with some creative and mind expanding techniques,* create a dialogue about the importance of conscious Tactile experiences, creative stimulation, and the immediacy of touch , they will be able to reach out and , if the tutors choose to do so, they will be able to integrate these techniques in their teaching methods
I will introduce myself and speak very briefly on the subject of Touch.
The hand-lotion exercise
The conscious -Touch exercise
The Hat exercise
The sheet exercise (outside )
We will then discuss the benefits of tactile activities. I will explain more about my touch programme, the work in the museum yesterday, and how Touch- Exercises can be beneficial for the students. I will briefly explain the proprioception concept,in relation to the sheet exercise and the last exercise. and how that can affect some students .
Finish of with' sitting in space' exercise, to demonstrate proprioception , now knowledge
been gained on the subject.
I started of working with the students, hoping that they would gain from the series of workshops. Now my aspirations have become much bigger; I want to make changes in relation to the whole art college. I want it to become my project, and help them raise , not only their profile, but also the connection with the outside world, by improving their computer situation, their PR skills, their library . I will not be able to do this on my own, and I will need the help of experienced people. Already I have had meetings, and brought a person out, who shares my interest to improve this educational institute. I can see my self continuing giving the Touch-Awareness workshops, the first series I will be conducting in March , working with the new students, on invitation of the school, but I will also be spending a lot of time working on improving the school, so that the students will be no longer held back by lack of internet or by books about science published in 1954.
Apart from my involvement in school, I like to stay connected with the museum. I would really like to follow the process of the Touch-Cabinet, and spend time observing visitors. I would like to promote Touch in museums, by actually being there and talk about the subject,Especially when the contrast is as stark as it is here.
I feel that the students benefited greatly from the whole experience.
To take part in a research project raised their self-worth and self confidence. This was observed by Mr. Million, in a evaluation we had. It exposed them to new and mind expanding experiences. This affected them on a personal and creative level. They were involved in the preparations of the exhibition; some of them had never even been in the museum. I was able to provide them with relevant web-sites and blogs related to art and culture in East Africa. they did not seem to have any knowledge of the art and design scene in Uganda at all.(Part of a plan I want to develop in future is improve the computer situation in the art-college ) I brought some design and interior magazines for the library in the college. Mr. Million told me that every night , there are many students soaking up the images and reading the articles. Again, this is about opening a window into another world. I told one young student, after we spoke extensively about his work, to bring his black and white work in the museum, and give a demonstration. This created a lot of interest among the visitors. Again, it is about action-interaction ; Visitors see something done manually , which creates immediately a tactile interest. Only by touching Francis' work, Mr. Katabaazi, one of the visitors in the museum, realized that this work was not printed, but cut.
This interest was a great incentive for the artist; He prepared. He thought of different designs, and it looks good on his CV that he demonstrated in The Kampala Museum. He left a feeling slightly different artist, than the one who entered the museum that day earlier.
The musical instruments provided an unexpected bonus : The lady present to demonstrate played on a traditional Ugandan string instrument and Julius, Godwin and Francis started to play the Drums. I made some interesting sound recordings , which I will possibly able to use for the exhibition in Belfast. instrument (what name ?)
From research in touch, many other aspects have sprouted. Yet, they are all related. Touching is about experience. About having a tactile experience. I feel that , because of the Touch exercises we did at the art college, the group shared a common interaction , and this consequently created a base which was very easy to work on.
I once observed, that the touch of the branches of a weeping willow, caused the ice of the canal to melt. This Touch exercise had the same effect. Although the metaphor of ice in the tropics is hard to maintain, I feel this is exactly what happened.
I guess they don't call these activities ice-breakers for nothing.