So, I invited San Francisco-based artists Erik Richard Parra and Jessica Laurent to be guest artists during this unit. Erik is a painter and installation artist. His work centers around creating spaces (drawn, painted, or sculptural) where people can engage in productive, democratic experiences with the art. Relationships of line, volume, weight, time, space and other variables affect the success and progress of these spaces. Jessica is a science-based graduate student. Together, their experience helped bring our Rube Goldberg to life.
To get the students excited about what they were going to be building, I asked Erik to introduce his art making and studio practice. He showed lots of images of his work and a video where he built a piece from start to finish. The students asked lots and lots of questions, establishing a great relationship with Erik from the start.
Our next class together was filled with a great deal of excitement as we showed the students a variety of real life Rube Goldberg machines: The Page Turner, OK Go’s This Too Shall Pass, and collaborative artists, Fischli and Weiss. Then we broke the students into three groups. Each group was tasked with sorting through found and recycled materials to build a simple machine that would work over and over and over again, completing the same task. Perhaps it was a car rolling down a ramp and crashing into a stack of cardboard tubes, or maybe it was a ball dropping into a yogurt container tied to a string that then knocks something off of a table. Whatever it was, the students had to be able to prove that it would do the same action over and over again. They had lots of ideas, and loved this process of play and experimentation!
When it came time to build the full Rube Goldberg, the visiting artists set up a space in one of the empty classrooms. They aligned the desks in an “L” shape close to the walls, so that the main space was open. We brought in ladders, umbrellas, and fans as additional set pieces. These items added height and movement, which helped visually tie the full work together. Through lots and lots of experimentation, the visiting artists connected each of the student’s simple machines to create the finished work. And then each of us (both of the visiting artists and me, the teacher/facilitator) added our own elements to the work (balloons falling from the ceiling/colorful bits of paper tied to the fan that would playfully blow when it was turned on).
What the students learned about simple machines and interactive, collaborative art was immeasurable. The students realized that working together to create a large artwork was far more successful then a project where they had to work alone. They also valued this type of working atmosphere: collaborating with their peers and utilizing what they learned in other classes to fulfill an artwork’s potential.
During their three week visit to Singapore, Erik, Jessica, and I took a quick weekend jaunt to the place in Borneo that I raved about here. We had the most beautiful time. But it was also the weekend I almost died.
Friday night, we stayed up talking outside of our cabins. A few of the locals who were there for the night, came up and chatted with us. We all had beers, and exchanged pleasantries.
Our cabin was a duplex. Jessica and Erik stayed on one side, I stayed on the other. We shared a porch with a nice table and chairs. Each side of the duplex had two twin beds with mosquito nets. We could hear the ocean water. It was wonderful! Cabins on the beach are it! Absolutely the best!
The next day, we had a home-cooked breakfast. Turns out Mr. Abel is not only a hospitable friend, he’s also one heck of a chef! Then we spent the entire day on the beach. We went swimming and snorkeling. We collected lots and lots of seashells. We chased crabs. We ate lunch. Then we did all of those things again. We were getting sunburned as the day continued, but we did not care. It was so relaxing.
Dinner was another amazing feast. After dinner, we ran around on the beach. Even more crabs came out after dark. And they were bigger. Some of them were completely translucent. Around 9:30pm, we decided to go set some crab traps off shore a bit, in the ocean.
My heart still stops briefly when I think about this happening. The worst possible way I can think of dying is by losing breath (suffocation), or not being able to breathe (being trapped in water).
“To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness. But life without meaning is the torture of restlessness and vague desire: it is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.”