From our Education & Public Programs department, an evolving guidebook navigating the expanded terrain of art and creative life.
Over a four-month span of the darkest days of Minnesota winter, I worked with members of the Walker’s education department and the Walker’s librarian to develop a series of monthly workshops that drew inspiration from the work of Fluxus artists featured in the exhibition, Art Expanded, 1958–1978 and were a continuation of Fluxus-infused activities that […]
Over a four-month span of the darkest days of Minnesota winter, I worked with members of the Walker’s education department and the Walker’s librarian to develop a series of monthly workshops that drew inspiration from the work of Fluxus artists featured in the exhibition, Art Expanded, 1958–1978 and were a continuation of Fluxus-infused activities that took place in Open Field over the summer of 2014. The charge of the workshops was to offer a hands-on activity for visitors of all ages that made a connection with the Fluxus artworks on view in the galleries. My hope was to develop workshops that:
- offered a contemporary take on Fluxus, inhabited the spirit of the original Fluxus, while also accommodating and reflecting the present.
- connected the art lab with the resources of the institution—in particular, the collection, the galleries, and the library.
- turned the art lab into an energetic, comfortable space with a sense of context, communal activity, and history.
Fundamentally, we all wanted the workshops to be both fun and thoughtful. And, maybe most importantly, we really didn’t want to find ourselves trying to answer the question, “What is Fluxus?”
Thinking in Series
The suggestion to offer a series of workshops—rather than a single, one-off event—sealed the deal for me. Designing multiple sessions meant we could work with the Fluxus collection in greater depth and develop multiple activities that responded to some of the diversity of Fluxus production. The structure naturally supported an iterative design process (develop, test, reflect, revise) and after each Fluxus Club, we met to talk about the previous event and finalize plans for the next one. All the workshops responded to a single, broad theme (and we sometimes even repeated successful activities) but each was differentiated:
- November: Fluxus Poster Production Shop
- December: Flux Newspaper
- January: Art Into Life (New Art/New Year/New Life)
- February: Flux Valentines
Most importantly, however, a series meant we could adapt the workshops as we learned what worked well, and what fell flat. After the December workshop, for example, we realized we struggled to explain Fluxus when visitors asked for a definition: the workshops were about an invitation to actively participate, but when we switched to the role of “expert explainer” we shifted the dynamic of the space (and didn’t really clarify much about Fluxus.) We suggested visitors seek out Fluxus works in the gallery, but didn’t have a great way to get them there.
In response, we rethought our strategy for the January event. We expanded our use of scores, writing them not just for individual activities , but for the event as a whole. On the giant chalkboard in the Walker’s lobby, we posted a score that invited visitors to take off their winter coats and directed them to the lab, library, and galleries. We worked with the gallery guides (who were great at talking with visitors about Fluxus), and provided them with envelopes of scores to give visitors, who could try them out in the gallery, then explore further in the art lab. Through the scores, the workshop expanded beyond the art lab, to the galleries, to the library, and to the lobby.
One of our goals for the series was to make best use of the resources of the institution and to facilitate connections between the art lab, the library, and the galleries. The collaboration with Margit Wilson, the Walker’s librarian, was especially productive. The Walker library, beloved but relatively inaccessible (open to the public only by appointment), initially appealed because it made available a trove of Fluxus resources just a few steps from the art lab (the galleries are more distant from the lab space). During the first month’s program, Margit hosted an open house in the library, with an assortment of Fluxus publications and exhibition catalogues for browsing. As we reflected on that first event, however, it was clear that the library could be more than a space for browsing—it could be a making space as well. We developed activities and Flux-like scores to inspire visitors, that required only book-safe, dry media, and made use of library resources (books, photocopier, typewriters.) The making activities in the library and the lab complemented each other: visitors could make chance poetry in the library, then add their poem to the Flux Newspaper (December) or Flux Valentine (February) in the art lab. The keys to the art lab/library collaboration: staffing (like the art lab, the library had to be staffed and visitors supervised during the event); a few rules (clean hands required in the library); and good signage (we posted scores that sent visitors to the library from the art lab.).
I hoped we could thread the ideas and spirit of Fluxus through all aspects of the workshop: the activities, the setup of the space, how we collaborated with the library and how we connected with the rest of the Walker. We began by thinking about the workshop space: the art lab is a great space for art activities, but is quite sterile: white floors and walls, bright lights, big tables covered with paper. To bring a bit more spirit to the space, we turned down the lights and decorated: we covered tables with mismatched, thrifted tablecloths, projected images of Fluxus artworks from the collection; wrote scores on the chalkboard and posted them on the walls; and, most importantly, filled the space with stuff we (and the visitors) made. We invited visitors to contribute to the space: they could add their posters to the wall, contribute a collage or poem to the Flux Newspaper, or add their New Year’s art resolution to our recreation of Ben’s Window (by Ben Vautier) as seen in the exhibition Art Expanded. And we saved all the material from month to month, so the space had a sense of history: by February, the space was filled with posters, signs, collage, and collaborative poems made during the previous sessions. Each month, the space got visually richer and less lab-like. (All this was possible because of the efforts of the program’s intern, Sheila Novak, who deinstalled and collected all of the materials at the end of each evening, then reinstalled them the following month.)
Perhaps our best tool for infusing the events with the spirit of Fluxus was the use of scores. We used scores to introduce visitors to the evening’s activities, to get people from space to space, and to pick up a brush or pen and make something. Because they were both concrete and open-ended, scores gave participants enough direction to feel comfortable diving into activities without being worried about getting it “right.” By January, even the informational sign in the lobby was part of the thread: we created a Flux-like meta score for the event, so the act of coming down to see what was going on in the art lab was a sort of performance. We weren’t explaining Fluxus; we were making opportunities for visitors to do their own Fluxus.
What We Learned
As the artist leading the workshop, I appreciated the opportunity to work on this series: the chance to reflect and make revisions from month to month meant we had multiple chances to get things right and could explore the Fluxus collections in greater depth. It also gave us time to develop meaningful collaborations, especially between the art lab and the library. Because we “threaded” the Fluxus spirit through all aspects of the events (from wayfinding to the physical setup of the art lab), the series was time-intensive: scores had to be written, designed, printed and distributed; the space had to be recreated (with increasing amounts of stuff) then cleaned up each month; materials had to be saved and stored from month to month. But because this was a series, that staff time was well-spent: we were able to bring back successful activities and use what we learned to develop new, better strategies.
We could have done some things better: because we had trouble defining Fluxus in general and these workshops in particular, outreach and publicity were more difficult than it would have been if we’d been advertising just a single, concrete activity. Fluxus Club drew fairly small audiences (winter weather and competition with other museum events certainly contributed to the numbers.) On the other hand, smaller audiences made it practical for the library to host activities. Our best and most engaged audiences came the evening we partnered with the gallery guides who were posted in the galleries: they talked with visitors about Fluxus, handed out scores, and invited them to the activities in the art lab and library, where the staff there could engage them in the making activities. That one-on-one, personal interaction was key—and practical on a relatively quiet evening.
We may never have come up with a great response to “what is Fluxus,” but by inviting visitors to get involved—and by creating spaces that made it easy and inviting to dive in—we certainly inspired a kind of active and playful participation that celebrated the spirit of the Fluxus artists.
My eight-year-old friend Mani, who loves both math and art, was especially taken with the Sol LeWitt exhibition. One of LeWitt’s wall drawings and its instructions so inspired Mani that he went home and made his own drawing. He described LeWitt’s instructions – which might seem a little dry at first glance – as a […]
My eight-year-old friend Mani, who loves both math and art, was especially taken with the Sol LeWitt exhibition. One of LeWitt’s wall drawings and its instructions so inspired Mani that he went home and made his own drawing. He described LeWitt’s instructions – which might seem a little dry at first glance – as a “treasure hunt to make a drawing.” Here’s Mani’s account (mostly in his own words) of his art adventure:
Me: Do you remember what first interested you in that exhibition?
Mani: My mom said that the activities at the Walker on that day were about geometry, which interested me immediately. [T]he first thing I did was look at the “eight dots” drawing (“Wall Drawing #224”) The drawing is as big as a wall and contains eight points that are somehow related. There are also instructions for each point printed next to the points. There are also some lines that Sol LeWitt used to help create the drawing.
What did you think of the instructions?
My first reaction to the “Wall Drawing #224” was that I was not very excited at all. Eight dots didn’t seem that cool. But then my Dad asked me to read the instructions for the eight points out loud. I could follow the instructions for the first three points, but as I read, the more confusing the instructions got. I couldn’t even finish reading the eighth point out loud, because I was laughing so hard that I fell over. “The eighth point is drawn where two lines would cross if the first were drawn from a point halfway between the seventh point and a point midway between the first point and a point midway between the midpoint of the bottom side and the lower right corner to a point midway between the midpoint of the left side and a point midway between…” Those were the instructions for point number eight! It was funny that he kept saying “the midpoint of the midpoint of the midpoint.”
Did it seem like a good way to make a drawing?
Yes because it’s like you’re giving somebody a treasure hunt to make a drawing, and it makes this wall with just eight dots on it seem pretty cool.
I saw your drawing. How did you end up doing that?
I started sketching the first 5 points at the exhibit, but stopped because I didn’t have a ruler. Then, at home, my dad challenged me to draw the eight dots. At some point I needed to draw lines along with the dots on the paper because all the points except the first few involved finding the intersection of two lines. When the instructions got difficult, I took a different sheet of paper and broke up the instructions into different sections, which helped me understand the instructions.
Were the instructions easy to follow?
Everything was easy up to point 3, points 4 and 5 were a little hard because they involves finding the intersection of two lines, but points 6, 7, and 8 were extremely hard because not only they involved finding the intersection of two lines but the lines had millions of midpoints in their instructions.
What was the most surprising thing about working on it?
It surprised me that the first and eighth points are surprisingly close. I wonder if it’s because their instructions are similar. I wonder what would happen if you took the midpoints of the eight points. Would some of the midpoints be in the same place?
Did you exactly follow the instructions or did you make your own variation?
I followed the given instructions, but I have an idea for a variation of a set of instructions. I’m planning to do it in Scratch! Take 4 points. Connect them with lines and find their midpoints. Connect the midpoints and find the midpoints of them. Do this 20-30 times until you see some sort of pattern.
[Note: Scratch is a programming language designed for kids. See scratch.mit.edu for more info.]
We made an expedition to the Bigloo at the Walker this afternoon. 4-yr-old J. and I stopped by Saturday and met the folks from Machine Project who are using the igloo/Bigloo as a performance space – we had some tea, watched the steam rise, and listened to a poem and the pinging kettles. We were […]
We made an expedition to the Bigloo at the Walker this afternoon. 4-yr-old J. and I stopped by Saturday and met the folks from Machine Project who are using the igloo/Bigloo as a performance space – we had some tea, watched the steam rise, and listened to a poem and the pinging kettles. We were the first visitors, and they weren’t quite ready for us – J. barely spoke, and just watched everything with very big eyes. It made an impression though, and she agreed that we really needed to come back on Sunday with her brother and dad.
And so we were back on Sunday, the first ones in line. June recognized the artists and remembered their names – and noted that she had a dream about Joshua reading a poem. And the igloo/Bigloo was just as lovely the second time around. While waiting for our tea, I asked Chris Kallmyer about how the project was going. He mentioned that they always see lots of kids at public events like the one at Bigloo. I am usually most interested in how to get kids interested in contemporary art, but this made me wonder about getting adults involved. Is it easier to trek across the snow and crawl through the door of an igloo without knowing exactly what will happen inside if you’re with a four-year-old? Is it easier to relax, and chat, and enjoy the light, the cold, and the tea you’re sharing with a woman in a bear costume if your kid is mesmerized?
To celebrate the first day of his spring break, eight-year-old O. and I made a mid-day trek to the Walker. I’d seen the Abstract Resistance exhibition, and knew it wasn’t a show he was ready to see, but there were lots of other artworks — like Rirkrit Tiravanija’s installation featuring a GIANT and absolutely impossible […]
To celebrate the first day of his spring break, eight-year-old O. and I made a mid-day trek to the Walker. I’d seen the Abstract Resistance exhibition, and knew it wasn’t a show he was ready to see, but there were lots of other artworks — like Rirkrit Tiravanija’s installation featuring a GIANT and absolutely impossible jigsaw puzzle — that I knew he’d really enjoy.
Shepherding a kid through a museum of contemporary art can be tricky — every parent has different ideas about what is appropriate for their kids — but the staff was really helpful. At the admissions desk, the staffer mentioned that the Abstract Resistance show might not be good for kids, without making a big deal of it. And when we stopped to watch Lorna Simpson’s Recollection, a guard warned us about the language, but didn’t make me feel like we shouldn’t be there. I felt like I got warnings, but that they were delivered with a light touch that left the decision up to us.
And even though we didn’t visit Abstract Resistance, it did generate a good discussion. I explained to Oskar why we didn’t see the show (that there were lots of violent images in it that I didn’t think would be good for him to see), and, after a long pause, he asked, “Why would artists want to use pictures like that in their artwork?” Luckily, there was a useful phrase in the otherwise dense exhibition brochure: the “tyranny of comfort.” The kid-friendly version of that idea? Sometimes, artists don’t want us to be comfortable. Sometimes, they want us to see things that make us really uncomfortable, because that’s a way of getting us to think about things we otherwise might not want to deal with.
And then we worked on the puzzle, and hung out in the hammocks.
We were very excited to bring O. and his 3-yr-old sister J to the Walker to see the new installation of the permanent collection. (The crashed car is gone, but the dolphin is still in her nook). We went on the first Saturday of the month, and the kids loved all the gallery activities: they […]
We were very excited to bring O. and his 3-yr-old sister J to the Walker to see the new installation of the permanent collection. (The crashed car is gone, but the dolphin is still in her nook). We went on the first Saturday of the month, and the kids loved all the gallery activities: they made wire sculptures, they did a seek-and-find. Then we got saw Olafur Eliasson’s mirror sculpture, Convex/Concave, with its softly whirring motor. J was instantly enthralled: she just froze and watched it move, back and forth, back and forth. Then, suddenly, she walked straight up to the sculpture, and poked it.
She TOUCHED it!!! I remember yelling and grabbing her. I think the guard said, “Please don’t touch,” but I was a little traumatized thinking my sticky-fingered kid had just poked the perfect mirrored surface of a sculpture that probably cost as much as our house.
Now what? They didn’t kick us out, they didn’t shut down the gallery. I realized that I don’t really know what happens AFTER your kid touches the art. I don’t want it to happen again, but do wonder what the consequences are — that way, maybe I won’t feel so worried about bringing J back.
7-yr-old O. and I had an unexpected day off on Wednesday, and we checked out the Dan Graham show. It was SO MUCH FUN. He loved the models (especially the high-rise building with the tiny movie theather) and exploring the mirrored stuff together was the most fun I’ve had in a museum in a long […]
7-yr-old O. and I had an unexpected day off on Wednesday, and we checked out the Dan Graham show. It was SO MUCH FUN. He loved the models (especially the high-rise building with the tiny movie theather) and exploring the mirrored stuff together was the most fun I’ve had in a museum in a long time. (The guards were even a blast — showing us how to play with the time-delated cameras in one room). O. summed up the show perfectly as we walked back to the car: ” I know how to make sense of it, but it still doesn’t make sense.”
Recently, I’ve run into several parents of young kids who haven’t taken their kids to museums or galleries — or if they do, take them only to the kids’ play rooms at the institutions. My kids have been hauled out to museums since day one (almost – – Baby J. was 7 days old for […]
Recently, I’ve run into several parents of young kids who haven’t taken their kids to museums or galleries — or if they do, take them only to the kids’ play rooms at the institutions. My kids have been hauled out to museums since day one (almost – – Baby J. was 7 days old for her first museum visit), mostly because, selfishly, I wanted to go. Taking kids to a gallery can produce anxiety — they’re not quiet, they move fast, they grow extra hands when you’re not looking.
In case it feels like art musems are just for contemplative adults who talk in quiet tones, here’s a nice post by writer and critic Edward Goldman, who’s more than happy to see babies in museums — hooray!
The ‘Summer Kids’ Tour’ post on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art blog made me wonder what the perfect kids’ tour might involve at the Walker — and immediately started thinking about rotten lemons, mesmerizing wind chimes, and burgers and chips. Here’s my version of a summer afternoon at the Walker with the kids: […]
The ‘Summer Kids’ Tour’ post on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art blog made me wonder what the perfect kids’ tour might involve at the Walker — and immediately started thinking about rotten lemons, mesmerizing wind chimes, and burgers and chips. Here’s my version of a summer afternoon at the Walker with the kids:
Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (1988). Whether you bike or drive to the Walker, start your visit with a trip across this fabulous bridge by Minneapolis artist Siah Armajani. Look for the poem, count the cars.
Wind Chime (After Dream) by Pierre Huyghe. Tell the kids your going to go see some wind chimes (they’ll be unimpressed), then walk with them through the grove of chimes installed in the sculpture garden. It is unexpectedly mesmerizing, and kids can play tag and listen at the same time.
The Garden by Claes Oldenburg. A successful visit with my kids always involves food. Thursday nights, you can order hot dogs and hamburgers cooked outside on the grill. Place your order inside in the Bazinet Garden Lobby, and check out the rows of mysterious, rotting lemons in glass jars, then go outside, and see the garden where they’re buried while the burgers cook.
Sky Pesher by James Turrell After dinner, run up and down the hill a few dozen times, then make one more trip up the hill and discover one of our favorite semi-hidden spots at the Walker: Sky Pesher by James Turrell, which is built into the ground near the WAC building. It is a delight and a suprise, and a great place to end a busy day.
Last week, my seven-year-old and I went to a lecture by Dr. Ronald Mallett at the Walker. Dr. Mallett, a theoretical physicist, talked about general relativity, special relativity, and the physics of time travel. I really wanted to go – I loved The Quick and the Dead exhibition, and I liked the idea of hearing […]
Last week, my seven-year-old and I went to a lecture by Dr. Ronald Mallett at the Walker. Dr. Mallett, a theoretical physicist, talked about general relativity, special relativity, and the physics of time travel. I really wanted to go – I loved The Quick and the Dead exhibition, and I liked the idea of hearing in a scientist to talk about ideas related to the exhibition’s exploration of time. I was a little worried about how O. would do at the lecture – his first.
It turned out, he loved it. It helped that Dr. Mallett is an engaging speaker, with an inspiring personal story. O. was fascinated by the talk of exploding stars and black holes – from which nothing can escape! It was a lovely night with O. – it was a challenging topic, which we were both interested in, but neither of us knew much about. We were on the same intellectual footing.
I met another parent from the Walker’s parent advisory group – and she noted how much she is enjoying going to things with her daughter (who is about the same age as O.). Now that her daughter is a bit older, she’s finding that they share more interests and can have more in-depth conversations about art, the news, what they’re reading.
O. and I are off all summer – I’m wondering what we should do next. I like the idea of a weekly or bi-weekly mom-son date night, without the two-year-old in tow. Oskar hasn’t seen the Tomás Saraceno exhibition – maybe that’s next.
Apparently, someone in the UK thinks that boys will only be interested in art if it involves computers — that there’s something about drawing and painting that repels boys. (How the past 2000 years of art history has been dominated by male artists, then, is a bit of a mystery.) Anyway, David Hockney offers a […]
Apparently, someone in the UK thinks that boys will only be interested in art if it involves computers — that there’s something about drawing and painting that repels boys. (How the past 2000 years of art history has been dominated by male artists, then, is a bit of a mystery.) Anyway, David Hockney offers a spirited response, arguing that “boring teachers”, not drawing and painting, are the problem.
In this article in the Guardian, Hockney argues that there’s a basic, human need to draw, and that while digital tools can be useful, there’s no substitute for drawing and paintings. And he says the school system is “swindling” the children — I love that characterization!
I’d argue, too, that using real materials is important — my boy needs small motor skills (drawing is good for that) and while he doesn’t like drawing from his imagination, he loves to reproduce all the details of a real thing, like an airplane. He also loves to do stuff on the computer, and taking digital photos. But I think his interest in things is lots more about what the project is about than what the tools are (he’d be more interested in drawing a 757 than a person, no matter what tools he was using). Any thoughts?