28 October 2013

Art Educators With heART, Featuring Sarah Johnson.

Sarah Johnson is a fabulous arts-based educator out of the United Kingdom. She teaches with me at Stamford American International School. She also happens to make some of the best machine-sewn drawings and watercolors I've ever seen . . . Always dressed to the nines, Sarah is an absolute dream to work with: she is organized and thoughtful and full of energy.

Every time that she and Tanya and I had to meet up last year as a team, we laughed . . . about everything. We had the best time coming up with lesson plans, organizing events, and thinking up ideas for possible collaborations or celebrations. She made me the most fabulous cake on the planet for my birthday. Perhaps it's just because I am an icing person, but it was absolutely scrumptious.

Here's a group shot of us from last year swooning over One Direction at our students' art show: The Really BIG Show.

Sarah plays netball like a crazy person, which has caused me to call her Sporty Spice on several occasions. She even talked me into biking across town one day to look at some lumber . . . It was at rush hour and quite hilarious! (I hadn't yet figured out the dual-brake system that I have on my bike--the ol' back peddle and hand brakes--so it was an eventful ride to say the least.)

During the last part of the year, during our last school year, I co-taught an after school session with her based around fabric. Our students were in middle school and created giant patchwork plushies. It was inspiring to watch her interact with the students and really helped me to learn more about facilitating middle school young people. 12 students and 8 sewing machines is not an easy task to take on! But we did it, and had a blast!

Together in November Sarah and I will be working on a giant project with middle and high school students. As a way for the students to earn community service credit, we will be working with the Jalan Besar Community Arts and Culture Committee to create 3 large murals in a neighborhood down the street from Stamford. It's actually in my neighborhood, close to where I catch the MRT. We are running a call for proposals through our school and throughout the community. We will be combining the entries into three collaborative works that will then be transferred to and painted on the walls. Collaboration works!

So without further ado I give you Sarah Johnson, in her own words.

What is your name and where do you teach? What do you teach? How long have you been teaching? Have you taught the same subject throughout the whole time that you have been teaching?  

My name is Sarah Johnson and I teach Middle Years Program (MYP) Visual Art and Textiles at Stamford American International School in Singapore. I began teaching in 2009. I have always taught an arts-based curriculum, but the ages of my students have varied from kindergarten all the way up to 18 year olds in the United Kingdom.

How many students do you work with during a week's time?

I teach approximately 320 students a week, including electives.

Do you make your own artwork? If so, where do you make your artwork? Do the students know you make your own artwork? Have you shown it to them before? Do you think making your own artwork enhances, changes, or helps your teaching? Does working with young people enhance your personal artwork?

I do make my own work at my home studio in Singapore (when I manage to leave work on time and during vacation breaks). In the past I have made work out of my friend's studio, working collaboritively with her. 

I teach a textiles elective at Stamford. It is nice to show students different styles of textiles, motivating new and innovative ideas. Often I show them my own practice to introduce them to my own inspirations and context of creating artwork. 

Creating my own work gives me time to reflect and be inspired by new ideas. These ideas may be transformed into projects or significant concepts for the students I teach. It also encourages me to continue being creative and gives myself new goals to accomplish. I believe we should all take time to be risk-takers and try new ideas to challenge ourselves and expand our own achievements. 

Within the way I teach, I am constantly challenging students: helping them to achieve more than they believe they can. They also introduce me to new art styles and definitely help me when using technology in art. I am always happy to take on their advice. I am constantly asking students to reflect and develop their work (much to their annoyance). But it is a fantastic skill to have, one that I use every time I am teaching a project or making a new artwork. 

What is your favorite thing about what you do?

In teaching, my favorite thing is to see students be motivated by and inquiry into new art styles. When creating my own work, I love how relaxed I feel. Time passes by and I often can't stop until I'm satisfied it's completed to the very best standard.

Do you host any large events that feature your students' artwork so that the larger community can see what the students are making? What about school-specific events?

At the end of every year we hold an art exhibition, showing the artistic development and expertise of each student. Parents are impressed by the quality of work completed by their child and the high level of concepts being taught.  People from the school community are invited to see each exhibition, including teachers from the local area. I would love to be involved in wider community exhibitions, hence why I am organizing an after school community art co-curricular project where students can work with the local community and students from other schools.      

How does collaboration fit into your teaching methods? What about personal choice? And imagination?

I am a firm believer of integration between visual arts and other subjects on the curriculum. In the past I have collaborated with the science department on a cell project. I also facilitated a really successful project working with the humanities department and inspired by the Renaissance. Students studied and replicated a painting and wrote an essay piece to be displayed with the work. At the moment I am collaborating with drama on a poetry project: English with a figurative language inspiration and humanities again with a cultures unit. I believe it is important for students to make connections between subjects, it intensifies their learning, confirms concepts, and puts learning into perspective.

Students have plenty of opportunities to be inquirers in my lessons. They are provided with inspirations and have free choice of outcomes. When teaching over 300 students, inquiry does tend to be more structured as resources and time is a factor which young students are not able to conceptualize. But providing students will tools to be imaginative and creative will help them to become life long learners.

Do you bring in artists from the community to work with your students?

This year will be my first time using artists-in-residence as a primary resource to teach my students. A locally-based textile artist from a company called Talking Textiles will be coming to our classroom to discuss her practice, explain her artistic style, and complete a workshop with grade 7 textile students using screen printing. Later on in the year, I have invited another local multi media artist to run a workshop with grade 6 and 7 students. Artists are an important way for students to ask questions and feel a sense of accomplishment in their learning.

What are your top five favorite supplies to use with students, and why?

I like to introduce many different artistic skills to students as possible. I believe young people should have the opportunity to try new techniques as well as build on their experience. Personally I like to teach students how to transform 2D drawings into 3D clay sculptures. They often feel a sense of accomplishment in their products. I also enjoy screen printing. Students are amazed by the process, and it's a great way to teach positive and negative space. 

Do you have a favorite lesson plan you could share? 

Each year I try and change my units. I only repeat a few because they are enjoyable to students and develop a lot of artistic skills. Units like: clay gargoyles, animal eye paintings, Tim Burton historical figures, and Renaissance paintings.

Inspiring, yes? Do you remember your art teacher in elementary school? If so, what made that person memorable to you . . . Leave a comment below with your thoughts. 

22 October 2013

Vietnam, Part 5: Hue Then Back to Hanoi And Home Again, Home Again . . . Rah, Rah, Rah!

I gotta be honest. When I got to Hue, I was a little discombobulated, disoriented, and exhausted. I wasn't quite sure why I had left Hanoi to begin with. Hanoi was filled with such energy and excitement! The train ride took every ounce of adventurous spirit out of me. (It was a thrilling ride, but nonetheless.)

Then I got to my hotel. 

It was absolutely gorgeous. And quiet. It was the anti-train bunk: a secluded oasis amongst bustling motorbikes. Just what I needed. Only I would only be able to experience less than a day here, due to the train delay. That made me a bit disappointed. But, off I went to my room. I uploaded a blogpost and went for the hour-long massage that came with my room. That made me happy! Yay!

At night, I went to meet with two artists that my friend Hiep put me in touch with . . . We decided to have dinner and drinks at a local joint next to a backpacker hostel. I was most interested in talking to the Le Brothers about what the art scene looked like in Hue. I had heard of a festival that happens there every two years, so I was curious. I was also interested in their space. As an installation artist, I am always looking for new and unique spaces to fill up.

On the way there, I got hustled by a pedicaber. The only reason I agreed to catch a ride is because I was slightly curious what it felt like to ride in one, but also because I had no idea where I was going and thought he could get me there faster. No. He tried to charge me about $20 USD for driving me down a street, about 8 shophouses worth (less than a 1/8th of a mile). Nope. I don't care how ridiculously hipster those things are, I am not paying $20 bucks for that. Sorry folks. I ended up paying him about 100,000 VND (about $5 USD). The weirdest thing about the whole deal was that a guy on a scooter did the exchange. He wasn't even the one operating the pedicab . . . To that I say shady. I guess he was the barker or something.

On my way home from dinner, I passed an interesting shop where a man was weaving a basket out front. He was weaving so fast, it was pretty amazing to watch. Hands flying! I hadn't thought to record him, primarily because I didn't think he would like it. But the shop he was sitting in front of was a craft store with handmade goods created out of recyclables and made by people in Hue with with diverse abilities. It was a fascinating store. 

When I got home, I immediately crawled into bed. I don't know if it's because of the active and experiential week I had or what, but that bed (the one pictured below) was the most comfortable bed I have ever, ever, ever slept in ever! EVER! Unfortunately I needed to get up early the next day to try and figure out how I was going to get back to Hanoi . . . But, man! I would've stayed in that bed for 5 days if I could have!

The next morning, I ate breakfast where I was staying: a gorgeous little eatery. And to top things off, they served flan for breakfast. A+++ in my book! So fabulous!

After breakfast, I took a cab over to New Space Arts Foundation. This is the foundation run and managed by the Le Brothers

It's a giant space above a cafe and store selling all sorts of Vietnamese tourist wares: hats, fans, bags, travel books. The New Space Arts Foundation supports a variety of arts-based activities: resident artists shows and workshops, serving as the Le Brother's studio and office space, and hosting creative events.

I was lucky enough to have them show me a piece they worked on in June 2012. It was the most brilliant piece I have ever seen in my life. Seriously genius material. 

From their website, a description of the piece: "Two uniforms of the South Vietnamese Army and the North Vietnamese Army From before 1975 are cut and carved in conventional formulaic style and reassembled together, alternating and exchanging parts based on “Ying-Yang” rules. These uniforms are displayed with other Video Arts recording our images; two separate individuals are looking forward to concordance. We mean to present our point of view about the Vietnam War before 1975.

Two uniforms iconically indicate their opposition. They are cut and carved with symbols such as bullets, flowers, helicopters, and guns … these symbols are cut off from one uniform, and then sewed onto the other one and vice-versa. The blending of these pieces sewed onto the two uniforms eventually makes these uniforms become impressively and totally mixed together. 

Although their shapes are maintained, signs and colors will change because of their interweaving. Consequently, this inspires a harmony of visual expression. We see them as our wish for accordance, an expression of our thoughts of healing and connection."

I asked them to wear the work so I could photograph them in it. It was such an amazing piece. I really want them to come and present their projects at MICA in Baltimore. This work had such relevance to person, place, and heritage. Three things that I have such a hard time tapping into in my own work. And the labor involved with this work was outstanding. (That's completely me talking, though. I am such a sucker for labor-intensive projects.) I still can't stop thinking about this artwork. I was completely blown away.

After leaving the twin's space, I was picked up by a tour guide and his driver. (But my mind was still racing from the artwork the guys just showed me.) The tour guide ended up taking me to three historical places in Hue. He was a fantastic tour guide, giving me so much information. I felt like I was in Rome again--like my head would explode. Information and sensory overload. I can't even begin to relay here all of the information that he gave me that concerns the history of Hue. We talked about Kings and Queens. Eunuchs and concubines, moats and paranoia. It was extremely interesting. I kept thinking, my dad would love this

We walked through beautiful landscapes and gardens.

I took the above picture of one of the images of the King. He reminded me of a highly decorated musical theatre actor.

But my absolute favorite part of the tour was when we came upon the discarded festival items. Piles of colorful canvas strips covered in glitter used as hair for lion and dragon props. Hundreds of trashcans shaped as "kitchsy dragon pieces", as my guide offered. Two large headless dragons. I wanted to take all of these things home with me. Sure I could fit them into my apartment in Singapore, I thought.

And there were flags . . . Everyone knows how much I love flags!! Banners. Penants. Flags. I just stood there and watched them dance around in the wind.

We traveled to this giant pagoda where this massive marble tortoise lived. (He was ginormous!) Apparently if you touch his head, you will have good luck and live a long and youthful life. (I knew I loved tortoises.) I rubbed his head a few times. But there was a lady in there that kept kissing his head and held onto his head the entire time I was there. That's her hand in the image below.

Another fun thing we happened upon was the restoration taking place at the King's tomb. (I am such a behind-the-scenes freak!) Again, a reminder of Rome! I just stood there watching these people scrape away at these columns. I could've stood there for days watching them. 

Oh!! And the dress-up corner!! As a perk for tourists, you could pay to dress up as a King or Queen and sit in the royal throne or rickshaw. Ah yes, the ol' royal rickshaw. Needless to say, I did not pay to participate. But looking back at these pictures makes me wish I had . . . Unbelievable coloring. Next time, Lindsey, next time.

After the guided tour finished, I had the driver take me to the airport. I had called around all morning to see about switching my flight to fly out of Hue, but it wasn't possible. I even tried to see if I could get on another flight. Nope. So, I had to stay on the flight I was on out of Hanoi. But there was no way I could get stuck on another train, or I'd miss my flight and be stuck for several days in Hanoi. So I bought a $69 dollar flight from Hue to Hanoi. It was the only way. 

I stayed in the Hilton Garden Hotel when I got to Hanoi. It, too, had a super comfortable bed and a complimentary breakfast. And I was able to sleep in just a bit: finally! My taxi arrived at 1130am, which was perfect timing for me to get to the airport and board my plane. One last chance to drive through the motorbike-infested traffic. 

I know that this trip wasn't as easily pulled together as my past trips, as there were definite setbacks. But man-oh-man, I will totally be going to Vietnam again. I absolutely loved it! The energy of Hanoi completely reminded me of New York City. And the adventures I had--although unconventional--were new and exciting adventures that I wouldn't go back and change even if I could. Vietnam kept me on my toes! That's all anyone could ever hope for in an active and exploratory vacation! 

I love you, Vietnam! I can't wait to see you again. And--someday--I hope to live in you . . . 

And be sure to check out parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of my Vietnam excursion too! Hooray for good things!