Who is here? Today we were joined by Amina Abbas-Nazari, a designer working with sound and artificial intelligence.
What did we do?
We began the day outside the Eliasson exhibition. India and Yemi assigned each of us one of the five senses, and then asked us to stand in a line from the sense most valued in education to the one least valued. Our line was, in descending order, sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. We were asked to stand in the order of the sense we most preferred – and the majority chose sight. ( Probably not too surprising for a bunch of people interested in art!). We were challenged to think about the hierarchy of senses in education, and consider how this might be particularly problematic for neuro-diverse young people and adults.
We were then given a bag which contained five sensory tools to play with in the exhibition. We all had headphones and a mirror; there were a variety of tools for taste, touch and smell.
Many of us were approached by other visitors inside the exhibition who wanted to know why we had headphones and they didn’t – these had become markers of difference which made us visible in the gallery space.
After about an hour we returned to the Exchange floor and discussed our various experiences.
Many people had felt sensory overload in the crowds, chaos and noise of the exhibition rooms. Adding in tools which drew attention to other senses reduced our filtering capacities. Many of us found that having the headphones on was a way of producing a bubble of calm.
The final morning’s activity was to play further our with senses on the dining table, before and during lunch.
Inventory of the sensory dining table: squishy jells soaking in water, headphones, eye masks, plasticine, sound triggered by microphone, camera projections, stones, coloured paper, scissors, stone chips, tape.
Some people took sensory eating way more seriously than others!
After lunch we were introduced to Amina who talked to us about focusing on sound. We wore silent disco headphones to intensify our attention on what we heard. Amina asked us to think about listening – (1) deep listening, (2) active listening, and (3) machine listening. We were asked to think about how technology might allow us to listen to things that we wouldn’t normally hear. We were challenged to make a tool that would enable us to hear something that would otherwise be silent. The hidden sound might be something external – so make a listening tool that would bring the world to us – or internal – so a device that made something inside us available to the outside world.
A final group discussion canvassed the possibilities for using sensory teaching aids in the class or lecture room. How could we disrupt the ocular-centrism of dominant teaching approaches, India asked us.
I’ve been really aware of pace in the last few days. There’s now a lot of general talk in education and beyond about slow – slow working and slow looking. Summer School offers a space and place to go slow. While there is a programme with time limits on activities, there is also an emphasis on taking time for experimentation without the imposition of expected outcomes. Many people have spoken about feeling calm and relaxed and that seems to come from the flexibility of time and the apparently leisurely sequencing of activities that are built into the programme.
Summer School is always about embodied learning and a range of ways of knowing and learning, Today was an example of how the body can become the primary medium of learning. The focus on senses and reflecting on sensory learning, connected to issues of inclusion and equity, made the bodily aspects of learning explicit.
The arts afford what my colleague Chris Hall and I have called immersive professional development – people need to plunge in, commit all of their self/selves to learn – emotions, bodies, senses. Not just intellect. It’s a full-bodied experience. Engaging in discipline-based professional learning in the arts is never simply cognitive, never simply sit and listen. Not coincidentally, the haptic nature of experience is also of concern to Eliasson – engaging with his work is one of the Summer School avenues for moving from feeling/doing/experiencing/ to thinking/naming/explaining.
The arts offer lines of ‘doing’ which can interrupt our usual ways of doing things. It’s not at all uncommon in Summer School for people to be asked to look without seeing, to work in silence, to communicate without words, to hear the unheard. Removing our taken for granted ways of making meaning forces us to do what researchers call “making the familiar strange”. There is perhaps quite a lot for those who teach research methods – and thus ways to understand things as if for the first time – to learn from artistic ways of being/knowing,