“It is not what you see that is important but what takes place between people.”—Rirkrit Tiravanija.
Last December, MoMA’s School Visits Program partnered with Quest to Learn School to design a weeklong Museum engagement for 16 of Q2L’s eighth-grade students. I collaborated with math teacher Kate Selkirk to plan an exciting week at MoMA as the students’ end-of-term project. Quest to Learn students are familiar with analyzing structures and systems, as their school’s pedagogy is built upon game theory and systems design. In my own social practice work, I explore ideas of generosity, empathy, and exchange. Connecting these ideas, the students spent a week at MoMA analyzing and creating art projects focused on performance and audience interaction, rather than traditional works that hang on walls.
At the beginning of the week, students lined up for green curry as part of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s piece, Untitled (Free/Still), in the Contemporary Galleries and asked, “How is this food art? Why does it look like a soup kitchen? Is this shelter supposed to be temporary and unfinished?” As they viewed more works, some expressed outright frustration at Duchamp’s alteration of everyday objects and Lawrence Weiner’s exposed wall lathing, which seemed like a practical joke to them. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Placebo), however, seemed to placate one student’s query as she made a connection between her role in the meaning of the artist’s work, and how related it to the way a feedback loop informs successful game design. Their creative responses to the works varied widely from intrigue (as they explored the idea of “collaborative authorship” through exquisite corpse drawing exercises) to delight (as they interpreted Benjamin Patterson’s Paper Piece in the recent Fluxus exhibition Thing/Thought).
Last month, I met Kate at a Thai restaurant in Jackson Heights to talk about the experience. Over dinner, she mentioned a noticeable change in her relationship with the students who had participated in the project. She said, “it seemed as if an invisible social glue has brought about a shared understanding between them as they pass the halls.” As a teacher, she saw how art can initiate excitement and involvement for students, while expanding their awareness of the world around them and each other. She confessed that this experience inspired her to apply for a teaching grant to visit Thailand this summer where she hopes to visit Tiravanija’s The Land Project.
Perhaps it’s not what specifically happens at the Museum that is remembered, but the memory of having experienced something meaningful and how we live in the days following.
This partnership was conducted and documented by Grace Hwang, School Visits Educator.