Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Welcome to the outdoor classroom installation

This is my first blog post for “Threads Sown & Grown, Woven & Given,” the title of the outdoor classroom installation series that is central to my PhD research into the relationships between gardens and education.

Outdoor classroom installation (bottom right) at The Orchard Garden, UBC. July 18, 2012

First of all, for readers of this blog who live in the Vancouver area, I invite you to visit The Orchard Garden on the UBC campus to experience this site-specific installation as you might any artistic installation: by moving through it in situ with an open, attentive mind and mindful body. Come by any time or contact me in advance if you would like me to join you in the garden. [If you’re interested in learning more about earth art as a form of site-specific installation art, this is the time to visit Vancouver’s Van Dusen garden].

Secondly, since this blog is an important space for documenting an ephemeral arts-based research project, I invite you participate in the process by sharing your own comments, thoughts, links, questions, and so on. I will moderate comments to ensure that there is no identifying information and that all postings are respectful. Contributions to the blog will form part of my “data” for my doctoral research, and may be included in my dissertation, publications, and presentations.

Finally, what is this project about? In future blog posts I will write more about the historical, material, and theoretical “threads” of this research and installations. In very general terms, however, through an arts-based research process, I inquire – with loving criticality – into the relationships between gardening and education, and specifically the concept of “garden (or nature) as teacher.” Together with teacher education students at UBC’s Faculty of Education, I explore how a garden is an enclosure, much like a classroom perhaps. It frames what is known and knowable. But what else is possible?

Desks growing in neat rows. July 9, 2012
The first phase of this installation series, “Threads Sown & Grown,” creates this frame: it is where I planted a classroom with 24 student desks and one teacher’s desk, all out of flax. The walls are framed with cedar posts, wheat & barley, and tall bean plants. Windows – still in progress – will depict a montage of historical school gardening images, including more problematic contexts such as Nazi Germany and residential schooling.

The second phase, “Threads Woven & Given,” explores what else is possible. Beginning,in September, I will harvest the flax and, alongside teacher education students, create a linen textile installation that will be returned to the garden in the spring as a regenerative gift. Central to figuring out how to turn flax into linen will be collaborating with the incredible Urban Weaver project.

I will try to conclude each post with a question or two. Here’s a big one: Does teaching with gardens make other ways of knowing and being possible? How? Why might this be difficult?

Or, if you’re interested in something more concrete: How does flax become linen? Do you have any experience with retting, breaking or scrutching you’d like to share? Or resources/tools?

On that note: My next blog post will delve into my love affair with flax…

Thanks for reading,
Julia Ostertag
PhD Candidate, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, UBC

(Please email if you would like more information about the project)

1 comment:

  1. yay! glad you have begun this process, Julia! as one who is intimate with this garden space, your installation has certainly altered the dynamics of a largely agricultural growing space by introducing a monoculture of one of our favourite plants. at the same time, your 'desks' arranged in linear rows also echo the 'efficient', 'productive' rows that agriculture usually embraces. i'm interested in the choice of plants and how we learn through these- my experiences of sharing foods with children and having discourses around how we learn in embodied ways, through our tongues, nostrils, hearts and fingertips... wondering if we do the same in indoor classrooms in implicit ways, and how moving through your flax desks feels similarly or different to walking to the front of an indoor classroom... -Djamila