Standing in front of the work each of them liked the best, explaining the reasons they felt that way
<Art work : KOBAYASHI Masato, To the Planet #2 (2009), Unnamed #18 (2000)>
During the summer holidays each year, our foundation facilitates a ‘teachers program to connect schools and cultural institutions.’ This consists of projects aimed at teachers from elementary, junior high and high schools, as well as special needs schools in Tokyo, in which they can experience educational programs provided by our facilities.
This year we ran eight programs. Here, we introduce one program held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT): a ‘School Program’ for children and teachers to experience the fun of contemporary art.
On July 31st 2019, 23 teachers from Tokyo’s elementary, junior high and high schools, and those for special needs education, gathered at the MOT. ‘Museum School’ is a appreciation program for children, but was hosted for their teachers this time.
The appreciation program was run by the educater of the MOT, Yasunori Goh.
Educater Mr. Goh explains the three fundamentals of art viewing
After a brief orientation introducing the MOT’s ‘School Program’, Goh wrote the words ‘observation’, ‘imagination’ and ‘communication’ on the board. He then suggested something that no one was expecting: “let’s exchange a belonging with the person next to us, and observe it carefully.”
The teachers, meeting each other for the first time, exchanged items with one another, and looked at them carefully with no background information. First, they commented on the items, making remarks like “this pen is thin and short, and I think the person who uses such a pen has a delicate personality.” Then, the owner of each item added their own comment, for example, “I like the fabric of this hat”, and the conversation about their belongings instantly made the atmosphere of the room more friendly.
People meeting for the first time can have an active conversation through their items
Goh commented, “perhaps after observing the item and imagining the owner, did their story change your original perception completely? This process contains the three basics of viewing art – observation, imagination and communication. We have introduced them in a way that children can understand.” Next, the participants would use these three basic skills when they started viewing art in the appreciation program.
Goh led the teachers into the collection exhibition room. As they explored, they looked at the work of six artists, applying different viewing methods. In front of an installation work by Mark MANDERS, Goh talked to the participants.
“This is a work that you can enter, and the whole space is part of the art. For example, this vinyl wall allows you to play with your imagination. It may seem like you can see through it, but you actually can’t. So, what do you imagine is behind it?”
It appears that the purpose of the vinyl wall is to first allow one to imagine what lies behind it, heightening the desire to see it.
<Art work : Mark MANDERS, Dry Figure on Chair (2011-15)>
The teachers suggested it might be “a machine in a construction site,” but when they finally got to see what was behind it, they saw a half-body sculpture of a young girl: Dry Figure on Chair (Mark MANDERES, 2011-15). “Let’s observe,” Goh continued, “What kind of material is it made of?” The body appeared to be clay, but was the bottom half perhaps wood?
“The answer is bronze. Both the girl and the wood. In fact, all of it,” explained Goh. The teachers were amazed that the unique textures of clay and wood could be realized in metal to that degree of accuracy. After their observation and imagination, the explanation communicated by the curator was a big surprise, sparking their interest.
Participants first observed the artwork carefully
The group stopped in front of Looking at the Vacant Scenery by BUNYA Yukari, a detailed drawing in sumi ink on a big screen. Goh said, “Let’s concentrate on observing the work first.”
Looking for the enlarged section in a delicate work of art
<Art work : BUNYA Yukari, Looking at the Vacant Scenery>
Next, a photocopy of an enlarged section of the work was given, and Goh asked the participants to look for the pattern in the work. The teachers all began looking for the matching part, their eyes shining with the joy of children.
They were all frantically searching for the finely detailed section, hunting in different areas for patterns of white space, until eventually the space was filled with cheers of “here it is!” from different places.
Trying to find the enlarged section, talking with one another
Using the enlarged photocopies as a trigger for play made the participants view the artwork with great care for every detail.
Introducing various viewing methods to invite the participants to intellectual play, the other works included in the appreciation program were Arnaldo POMODORO’s Gyroscope of the Sun, OKUMURA Yuki’s ‘Anatomy Fiction (Fukagawa ver.), KOBAYASHI Masato’s Painting, A Model of this Planet, To the Planet #2 and Unnamed #18, and MIYAJIMA Tatsuo’s Keep Changing, Connect with Everything, Continue Forever.
This work was initially placed outside the MOT building. After viewing it from the 3rd floor, participants went closer to observe in detail
<Art work : Arnaldo POMODORO, Gyroscope of the Sun (1988)>
After the program we collected the participants’ impressions.
Satomi Kobayashi, an art teacher at Tokyo Joshi Gakuen Junior and Senior High School, said, “I participated to visualize myself taking my students to this program, but before I knew it I was having so much fun, like a child. I would love to take the children to this kind of event that we can all thoroughly enjoy.”
Tosei Gakuen Elementary School art teacher Shoko Tahara commented, “In daily classes it is difficult to create opportunities for students to observe, but if we actually visit museums we can do that naturally, nurturing the ability to look. The power of art is amazing. By changing locations it felt like we could find different ways to communicate.
Left: Satomi Kobayashi, Tokyo Joshi Gakuen Junior and senior high school art teacher
Right: Shoko Tahara, Tosei Gakuen Elementary schiil art teacher
The educater, Goh, explained that the foundation’s teachers program connecting schools and cultural institutions is an opportunity for people to find out what the MOT provides for schools. “I always feel there is no barrier to contemporary art in children, and that teachers who are with kids every day can think from the perspective of children quite quickly.”。
The fun of contemporary art is to show the unknown, and to completely change the conventional perspective. The appreciation program, seemingly full of play, was actually full of ideas about teaching how to view.
Left: Yasunori Goh, MOT Chief educator
Right: The MOT reopened in March 2019, after its renewal.
The requirement for participation in this appreciation program is that you are a teacher in an elementary, junior high, high or special needs school in Tokyo. This special program, held every summer, offers unique activities at different institutions. (The 2019 program has concluded)
Photos: Shuji Goto