Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Thinking through Bodies: Bodied Encounters and the Process of Meaning Making in an E-Mail Generated Art Project

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Thinking through Bodies: Bodied Encounters and the Process of Meaning Making in an E-Mail Generated Art Project

Article excerpt

In the West we are accustomed to thinking of knowledge and perception largely on the basis of vision, which is distant and objective, a perspective that posits the separation of mind and body (Foti, 2003; Vasseleu, 1998). 'I see' commonly understood as 'I know or understand' reveals the use of visual terminology to convey mental processes. The other senses marked by the body's effluence were historically separated from reason and knowledge. Understood as interior sensibilities, touch, taste, and smell establish boundaries between private and public, normal and abnormal, familiar and strange. Western sensibilities mark the senses as physical rather than cultural, a hegemonic practice which controls and objectifies bodies (Classen, 1993). In contrast, body knowledge through touch poses a proximinal understanding of knowledge production, troubling the boundaries between inside and outside. As a contact sense, touch offers contiguous access to an object. Touch is differential and comparative (touching texture, we can distinguish objects) while sight only intimates this on the level of judgment (Vasseleu, 1998). It is a temporal sense bounded in space and time. Touch alters the ways in which we perceive objects, providing access to depth and surface, inside and outside.

Touch as a way of knowing can be understood through two modalities: One, as a physical contact of skin on matter that includes experiencing things as sensations conveyed through the skin. The second modality is a sense of being in a proximinal relation with something. In visual culture this has often been addressed as synaesthesia (Carson & Pajaczkowska, 2001). Synaesthesia refers to the blurring of boundaries between the senses so that in certain circumstances art becomes a synthesis of imagined and material experiences, where evocations of touch, taste, warmth, and smell arc possible and we are immersed "in a world where we can hear painted images" (Stewart, 1999, p. 24). Both modalities express active engagement and involve the body in the process of meaning making. Touch poses different ways of 'making sense' of the world, challenging the mechanisms of visual perception.

It is precisely because touch is a bodied sense that threatens boundaries that it becomes a powerful and disruptive theory for thinking through bodies, visual culture, and education (Springgay, 2004). Touch poses a relationship to the world that is proximinal, contiguous, and sensual. It informs how we experience body knowledges as encounters between beings. As a contact sense, touch is a way of thinking through the body as opposed to about particular bodies. It is a mode of inquiry that dislocates binary opposites questioning the role the body plays in the construction of knowledges.

Similarly, within the field of an education, scholars are responding to research that places art making as a process of knowledge production (Sullivan, 2003). This shift in awareness from art as objective and illustrative of culture, towards an understanding of art as a way of knowing and being, is a displacement that calls attention to the body and the ways in which we come to know, with, in, and through the body (Springgay, 2001, 2002). If we align ourselves with the perspective that experiences are mediated with, in, and through visual culture then it follows that questions need to be asked about the ways in which the visual is negotiated as a bodied encounter. My research in working with a group of secondary students examines the ways in which youth understand and negotiate body knowledge through touch. This article highlights one such visual encounter, posing the question: How is touch encountered through digital environments? The focus is on discerning the nature of student understandings of body knowledge that un/ravel in an e-mail generated art project.

The Research Site: Context and Methodologies

The research setting is an alternative secondary school in Vancouver, Canada. …

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