Art at Ashé: COLLABORATION as CREATIVE ASSEMBLAGE

By Kee, Jessica Baker; Bailey, Cayla et al. | Art Education, September 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Art at Ashé: COLLABORATION as CREATIVE ASSEMBLAGE


Kee, Jessica Baker, Bailey, Cayla, Horton, Shabreia, Kelly, Katrice, McClue, James, Thomas, Lionell, Art Education


What happens when artmaking is approached as a community-based process rather than the "independent" pursuit of an individual product ? in the fall of 2015, an instructional group of undergraduate art majors supervised the Unpacking Student identities Through Art project as part of a preservice teaching internship mentored by a graduate instructor. At the beginning of the project, 24 K-12 students participating in this extracurricular art class each received an antique hard-shell suitcase. We guided them to develop two- and three-dimensional art techniques to transform their suitcases into mixed-media artworks representing their personal, family, and community identities-reflecting the cultural "suitcases" of diverse influences we all carry with us as we move through the world. What emerged was both a colorful installation art series and an intergenerational learning community of working artists.

This article describes our project in depth to explore how art educators can use assemblage to facilitate collaborative learning in their classrooms. It also explores how "assemblage thinking" facilitates collaboration by moving beyond static approaches to artmaking and encouraging students to draw on their own identities to develop their artworks. As a co-authored reflection piece, this article offers our diverse teacher perspectives around artmaking as a collaborative, communitybuilding process (Figures 1 and 2).

Assemblage: Art, Theory, and Practice

Assemblage is a rich concept spanning studio practice, cultural theory, and art education, and helps us to understand how art classrooms can be envisioned as collaborative environments. As a studio process with its own rich history, it comprises a three-dimensional, sculptural form of collage combining found and altered objects with mixed-media processes. It emerged as a mid-20th-century art genre associated with modern artists including Marcel Duchamp, Jean Dubuffet, and Louise Nevelson, and juxtaposed heterogeneous forms to provoke nostalgia, humor, irony, or other complex reactions from viewers. The Unpacking Student Identities project was inspired by the work of contemporary artists Flo Oy Wong, Betye Saar, and Renee Stout, whose mixed-media installations addressed Asian American and African American identities in the United States.

Assemblage as a thinking process moves beyond studio practice to understand how identity is never fixed or static, but continually in the process of construction through encounters with other places, bodies, objects, and ideas. Deleuze and Guattari (1987) described assemblage as multiplicity, with diverse forms organizing into knowledge through "semiotic flows, material flows, and social flows simultaneously" (p. 22). Other theorists drew attention to the "complex flows, connections and becomings that emerge and disperse relationally between bodies" and characterized assemblage thinking as "an adaptive, fluent and ongoing process" in contrast to more static and standardized approaches to the construction of knowledge (McCann, Zapasnik, Kennedy, & Bruce, 2013, para. 3). Thus, assemblage can function simultaneously as a genre of mixed-media artmaking, an accumulation of encounters around a single idea or concept, and a way of thinking and working that focuses on interactive processes of learning rather than finished products alone.

This article addresses all three approaches, using the Unpacking Student Identities project as a case study to explore classroom-based assemblage art as a collaborative and open-ended process. It employs the personal reflections of undergraduate instructors to offer diverse instructional perspectives on artmaking as a collaborative community process. Garoian and Gaudelius (2004) suggest collage, montage, assemblage, installation, and performance art function as "disjunctive" genres in art classrooms allowing students to explore and construct their own forms of knowledge (p. 308). When experimenting with these art forms, students develop skills as curators of their own identities, selecting materials and images from their everyday lives and discussing how they might clash, interact, and collaborate into an artistic whole. …

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