Room with a View: Ethical Encounters in Room 13

By Grube, Vicky | Art Education, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Room with a View: Ethical Encounters in Room 13


Grube, Vicky, Art Education


Students are in charge and collaborate in unconventional ways in a unique art classroom in Scotland.

Two boys were hunched over a scanner. They spoke:

"We only need the rough outline"

"Let's put it on the scanner. Now we need to plug in the scanner"

"Oh, that looL· pretty cool"

"What we need to do now... I'm trying to do something... tell me if the scanner moves. Oh no... a tiny wee bit."

"Now we need to give it some flames."

"You need some people on the ground as well."

From a corner armchair in Room 13 at Lochyside Primary School, Scotland, I observe two 9-year-old boys clutching black Sharpies and curling over a scanner. A blank sheet of paper glows on top of the screen, the boys draw for a while, look up and down at the computer screen, and draw more. The boys stop to ask the adult artist-in-residence Rob Fairley what he knows about the Falklands. There is a conversation about amphibious assault and Margaret Thatcher. I overhear words like "battleship" and "Gulf War." When the two boys return to their sketch, I step closer and see flames and billows of smoke consuming the ship's main battery. Eight pinhead-sized windows shaped like tiny scrabble tiles flank the approaching fire. I hear the boys' plans to replicate the explosion on a larger piece of paper and to use colored paints.

This art studio offers much to the children. From where I sit, Room 13 opens the door to an intersubjective space to welcome the physical, complicated, emotional, and radical that asks the question, "How are we together?"

I traveled to Scotland in the fall of 2009 to see Room 13 after reading Teresa Roberts's article "What's Going on in Room 13?" (2008). I arrived at Fort William curious about a schoolroom where children made what they wanted, posed their own questions, and ran an art room like a small business. In Room 13 children had the responsibility to maintain all aspects of the art studio. Specific decisions fell to an annually elected management team, a small group of children between the ages of 7-12. The affect among young children, working together as respected partners with the power to impact a large audience of their peers, spurred my curiosity on how the particular conditions of the children's learning in this specific location addressed ethical behavior.

Housed in two primary schools in the Highlands of Scotland about five miles from the town of Fort William, the original two Room 13s continue to flourish. In 1994 Rob Fairley was working as an artist-in-residence at Caol Primary School, and at year's end the children asked him to stay on. Rob told me his reply: "Yes, if you pay me." The children found the necessary resources and have since continued to fundraise, to write grants, and to receive donations to support the art room.

Years after beginning Room 13 at Caol Primary, Rob Fairleyand Claire Gibb established a Room 13 in a former Junior School home economics lab at Lochyside Primary School. Like Room 13 in Caol, Lochyside offered texts, resources, and ideas that triggered complex discourse. Children seem serious about their work and are ignited by a freedom to organize their own studio encounters. The open space in Room 13 and the lack of assigned seats and a few tables allowed children to roam, cluster, stretch, hover, crane, and collapse- in short to use their bodies. The elasticity of the room rebounded with the intricacies of movement and children's freedom of choice, humming with an energy of a body that cannot be separated from the mind. In the free interaction of both, children encountered difference, experienced affect, re-interpreted questions, and created new truths.

With no constrained seating or need to ask permission to move, the body, like an aggregate of fragmented encounters, can send and receive the affects of others around them. Bergson described the body's ability to engage in an "affective openness" (Briginshaw & Chandler, 2009, p.

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