New Pedagogies: Students Becoming Active Agents in Our New Media-Driven Culture

by Megan Garn

As I walk downstairs to the basement of the Epic Center at May’s Art Hop in downtown Kalamazoo, I begin to feel overwhelmed. The crowd of people. The chatter. The music and audio from the art pieces. The constant and various moving images. There was a sense of excitement; yet in many ways it was sensory overload. This exhibit was not a “pure” space; in fact it was very similar to that of our daily lives advertisements with music and exciting images everywhere, all attempting to grab our attention.

The Advanced 2-D & Design for Digital Media Student Show at the Epic Center evoked the often bogged-down feeling of being a human in this day and age. I didn’t know what to look at first; I was very overwhelmed. All of the pieces dealt with digital media; it reminded me of how as viewers and artists there is continuing disconnect between the artwork and the body. The focus of the show was to explore the definition of design. This question, posed by collaborating teachers from the Education for the Arts (EFA) program, allowed for the students to learn about where design comes from, who decides what design is, and how that affects us as a society. [1] While the focus was initially on the students’ interpretation of what design is, the connection or reconnection with the body and agency becomes the new focus. Instead of just taking in information, like with most media (i.e. television, radio), students need to learn to be active participants in new media technologies. New media technologies are replacing offline political and social institutions, and since many students do not have the same level of access and ability, we need to teach our students so they do not become invisible.

This introduction of the use of digital media in art is the beginning of bringing new media into students’ education. Henry Jenkins, the founder and director of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program notes:

“media are read primarily as threats rather than as resources. More focus is placed on the dangers of manipulation rather than the possibilities of participation, on restricting access – turning off the television, saying no to Nintendo – rather than in expanding skills at deploying media for one’s own ends, rewriting the core stories our culture has given us.” [2]

The Advanced 2-D & Design for Digital Media Student Show allows for students to learn how to become active agents in the new media culture. Not only do the students learn how to use new media, but they are also redefining what design is. The students are not being passive recipients of design is and what it might look like. They are redefining it. The new means of technology are becoming extensions of the body. For quite some time technology has been an extension of the human form, such as tools or clothing that affect the senses. [3] The use of digital media as an extension of the artist’s body allows the viewer to experience the potential of design in a new way that refers to time and the body.

 

Emily Flechentein and Sarah Jones, Transformations, Still from animation, 2012. Image taken by Megan Garn

This can be seen specifically in the pieces Transformations and Design is Diverse, which both begin to question the concept of design through the use of new media and in reference to the body. Transformations, created by Emily Flechentein and Sarah Jones, utilizes stop-action animation in order to portray the transformation of a young woman’s face, slowly changing, without the hint of application or removal. Her lips are painted red with lipstick. Then it is magically removed. Her eyelids are painted green with eye shadow. Then once again, it is magically removed. Her hair is up. Then it magically comes down past her shoulders. Accompanied by playful music that is sweet and romantic, the young woman’s expression is dismal, as if she is about to die from boredom. The contrast between the romantic imagery and her expression questions how beauty and design originate. The piece ends with words appearing slowly and miraculously on her face: “Design is Transforming.” Flechentein and Jones playing with what design could be and how it is constantly changing. They are making their own decisions about not only how to use new media, but also how they see design as ever changing, always transforming.

 

Taylor Davis and Cait Shade, Design is Diverse, Still from animation and collage, 2012. Image taken by Megan Garn

Design is Diverse by Taylor Davis and Cait Shade, also questions where design comes from and where it originates. Using animation, the mouth is constantly changing. It mouths the words “design is original” that match the monotone voice that says the same. Then a new mouth appears, mouthing the words “design is original.” This work questions the “genius” artist and where ideas of design come from. The different patches of differing faces suggest that design doesn’t come solely from one person, but comes from a variety of people and a variety of perspectives.

These students are using new technologies and new media as extensions of their bodies. They are not simply consuming media; they are thinking critically and responding to the daily images they see –becoming active agents in our technology-driven society.

 

Notes:

[1] “EFA is a program arm of Kalamazoo RESA. EFA’s roots are based on a unanimous desire of the nine public school districts in Kalamazoo County to make arts education learning and teaching priority. EFA’s mandate is to enhance arts education opportunities and programs for every Kalamazoo County school through developing, maintaining and strengthening partnerships between school districts, buildings and teachers and the rich array of professional arts institutions in Southwest Michigan.” See: “Education for the Arts,” April 23, 2012, http://www.kresa.org/efa.

[2] Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006), 259.

[3] Ed Levine, Uncovering the Body: Essays on Art and the Body (Lincoln: iUniverse, 2005), xi.

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