The Museum and the Art School as Locations of Haptic Knowledge
The presentation will explore themes relevant to my PhD research and the practice of using objects as a unique way of 'anchoring' learning. Keeping close to the conference's theme the presentation will attempt an exploration of artefacts as channels of specific 'sensuous knowledge' and channels of signifying practices within the spaces of the classroom, the studio, the museum - practices that relate to the haptic understanding of the world as a pedagogy that is both well-established and constantly under threat.
Definitions of 'touch' and 'handling' will be offered as these are situated within contemporary educational research, followed by an historical analysis of how resistance to touch and handling has developed within the spaces of two distinct but inter-connected institutional models, the art school and the museum. Issues relating to the notion of touch as privilege and the historical shift from the haptic to the occularcentric (based on the sense of seeing) didactic model will be investigated within the fields of the museum and the art school. The analysis will be framed using theories derived from the philosophy of phenomenological ontology with reference to the writings of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, suggesting the relationship between consciousness and perception as a methodological tool that unifies and transcends the object-subject dichotomy. These theories have been enlisted as 'keys' which enable individuals to unlock the sensuous knowledge embodied in the material world.
The presentation will draw on specific examples from the British context spanning two centuries, from the early 19thto the early 21st. These will be considered alongside the role of government as a reformer of taste and as the defining agent of institutional attitudes to art and design. In pursuit of these themes I will use primary and secondary sources as well as my own experience as researcher and museum educator. Examples will include the Schools of Design, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Geffrye Museum, the I.L.E.A./Camberwell Collection and finally the University of the Arts, London. These institutions are all to be found in London and bear evidence to the capital as the pre-dominant cultural field, both on the physical and on the symbolic level. However, the discussion will include travelling collections, which transported the message from the centre to the periphery.
An extensive report of my contribution as co-curator to the 2012 'Prospectus' exhibition (www.prospectusexhibition.org) will locate my practice as researcher and curator within these debates, defining the boundaries and searching for the conditions that would allow one to overcome them. Since the 'Prospectus' exhibition focused on art educational experiments and took place in a gallery attached to an art college (the Triangle Space at Chelsea College of Arts, part of the University of the Arts) it presents me with the ideal case-study of institutions using their own resources to critically examine their practices. I will demonstrate how the 'Prospectus' exhibition pursued the objectives of curating as research and educational practice and explore how it provided a space for experimental/experiential/sensuous learning, especially through its public programme, which included life drawing classes and an object-handling session.
The paper aims to provide stimuli to the group of peers who can expand on issues surrounding the role of the institution as a space that is both enabling and restricting, and the strategies through which we (artists, researchers, educators) can implement sensuous knowledge as a freeing and empowering learning tool in art and design education.