big cyberfold



big cyberfold
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
De beeldcultuur van kinderen, internationale kinderkunst na het modernisme
Cultuurnetwerk Nederland, Utrecht 2005
Play as Process: choice, translation, reconfiguration and the Process of Culture 3
Introduction 4
The Process of Play 5
Transformers: More than Meets the Eye 7
Denaturalizing Childhood 8
Conclusions and Questions: The Rich Child and the Process of Culture 9
References 10
Figures 12
An intimate distance: youth interoogations of Intercorporeal Cartography as a Visual
Narrative Text 15
Abstract 16
Intercorporeal encounters through touch 17
Un/folding boxes: the agency of mapping as un/folding 19
Cartographical "other thans" 21
Intercorporeal cartographies and art education 24
References 26
Engaging youth through popular culture 29
Abstract 30
Engaging Looking Glass Youth in Art through the Visual Narratives of the
Transforming Self in Popular Culture 30
The Transforming Self and Permuting Identity in Visual Narratives 31
Defining Looking Glass Youth's Practices of Popular Culture 34
Crossing the Threshold Between Cultures through the Liminal Strategies of Art 35
Other Avenues for Self Transformation 37
References 39
Figures 42
Digital Kids and Visual Culture: Art Education and Curriculum in an Age of Immersive Digital
Technology 47
Abstract 48
Digital Kids and Visual Culture: Art Education and Curriculum in an Age of Immersive
Digital Media 49
Digital Technology 48
Mediated Perspectives 49
Digital Metaphors 50
Digital Mediation and Art Education 52
Imagining a Digitally Mediated Art Education 54
Conclusion 55
References 57
Figures 59
Cultuurnetwerk Nederland, Utrecht 2005
Play as Process: choice, translation, reconfiguration
and the Process of Culture
Marissa McClure Vollrath (The Pennsylvania State University)
Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to the author at 207 Arts Cottage,
University Park, Pennsylvania, 16802-2905.
We can never think of a child in the abstract. When we think about a child, when we pull out a child
look at, that child is already tightly connected and linked to a certain reality of the world […] When
you enter the school in the morning, you carry with you pieces of your life […] You never come in an
isolated way; you always come with pieces of the world attached to you (Malaguzzi, 1994, p. 53).
It might be necessary to begin this article as I began its presentation—with an apology. I have
burdened it with an unseemly and unwieldy title. My only goal in doing so was to try to capture in
words—to frame (a daunting task)—the both complicated and complex processes I have seen unfold
in the work of the children I have worked with as an elementary school art teacher. So to
compensate, I will begin with a short story.
On September 11th 2002, Mrs. Smith, my favorite second grade classroom teacher, walked her class
to the art room. I was waiting, as usual, by the classroom door to greet the children upon their
arrival. We were both attired in the mandatory commemorative red, white, and blue, and she was
carrying a drawing on a piece of paper. Robert•, one of the students we shared, had made this
drawing at home. He gave Mrs. Smith instructions that it was for me to keep and had asked her to
give it to me. She seemed tentative about the drawing—was she uncomfortable with its content
given the weightiness of the day? She covertly handed me the paper as the children filed seamlessly
into the classroom. Robert’s drawing (Figure 1) was a both colorful and fierce battle scene, replete
with submarines and a variety of military aircraft. Robert, who was seen as an intelligent and
sensitive child, was a competent draftsman but also a child considered low achieving in the general
classroom. There was a common sense among the school’s faculty that he somehow did not meet his
potential; that he lived in (and preferred) a world of his own making. His drawings, populated with
themes of military domination and video games, were as difficult to ignore for their subject matter as
they were for their refinement of form. I turned over Robert’s drawing that day and noticed that he
had begun and then abandoned an outline of one of the World Trade Centers on the other side
(Figure 2). I placed Robert’s drawing carefully on my desk and began to go about my plan for the
day. It included both looking at and talking about different works of fine art that dealt with
constructions of American identity.
About halfway through class, Robert’s best friend Ching handed me a drawing he had made during
recess on blue copy paper. As is not unusual for young children, he and Robert often worked in
tandem, drawing their stories together (Thompson, 1995) and sometimes acting them out for one
another or an audience of intrigued tablemates. Robert’s work inspired Ching, and Ching’s own work
continued to progress in both form and content through their friendship. Unlike Robert, however,
Ching was intimately tied to the “real” world around him. He left no details unnoticed. Ching’s drawn
scene that day, reminiscent of a Surrealist chance encounter or a Dadaist collage, included the two
Trade Center towers as well, but they were significantly altered—juxtaposed with a Target Store just
like the one that was near our school (Figure 3). I recognized the requisite military helicopter and
superhero, but there was also a Service Center clerk (wearing his Target red shirt “uniform”). Had
Ching, like many children engaged in play, blended his pleasure in the “real” world with his
appreciation of Robert’s world of “make-believe?” What and how did his drawing communicate?
What pieces of the world had he brought with him into the art classroom?
These two drawings heightened my awareness of the ways in which children negotiate
identity/subjectivity both in and through the culture that both surrounds and supports their lives.
All children’s actual names and work that appear in this publication do so with familial consent.
What choices do they make? How do they translate the adult world in their work? Why and how are
things reconfigured? And how does this process of play inform not only their constructions of
themselves (and my and other adults’ constructions of them) but the process of constructing culture?
The Process of Play
At that same time (during my first year of teaching art), a colleague suggested that I read Boys and
Girls: Superheroes in the Doll Corner (Paley, 1986). In my room, the doll corner’s counterpart was
the “free draw” table. The free draw table was made from an unimpressive metal file drawer that I
had inherited from my predecessor and was filled with extra bits of paper, buckets of broken crayons,
and well-worn homemade rulers—those items with which I was too frugal to part. Tucked away in an
intimate corner of the classroom, it was also continuously stocked and restocked with stories and
images not always sanctioned in the more regulated spaces of the classroom. There were dinosaurs,
superheroes, evildoers, princesses, ballerinas, guns—even teachers. Throughout the course of the
school year, the free draw table became (sometimes despite my best new teacher efforts at order) a
place of the children’s own and easily the most popular, pleasurable, and sonorous space in the art
When I was reading and re-reading Superheroes, I became engrossed in the narrative accounts Paley
gave of young children’s play in her Kindergarten classroom. Many of the processes she saw at work
(including those seemingly common-sense “differences” between boys’ play and girls’ play) paralleled
processes I had seen at and around my free draw table. I was also drawn to her techniques of
documenting children’s play—the ways in which she carefully listened to the children and took
detailed notes about what and how they were playing.
However, as that was just in the first months of my first year of teaching art, life overtook me and I
filed thoughts, drawings, and notes away for some future use. That use came about quite
unexpectedly two years later, when I found myself in a new classroom space where I was just
beginning to know my students. After a leisurely and comfortable year with my first students, I had
once again become an adult stranger. I had also become a doctoral student in Art Education at Penn
State University, where I was enrolled in a course about visual culture pedagogy and trying to bridge
the theory I was learning with my own practice as a teacher. It was an uneasy stretch into
unmapped territory for me.
Some fourth and fifth grade girls were the first children who made me feel welcome at my new
school. Sophisticated, they complimented me on my clothes and often invited me to eat pizza with
them at lunch in the basement cafeteria. One day the art room (in reality, a shabbily refurbished
convent recreation hall) flooded with the runoff from a recent snowstorm that took with it the
majority of the contents of the art supply closet. An unbearable smell compelled me to move the
day’s art class into the fifth grade classroom—a shift just unexpected enough to cause excitement
among the students who were eager to acquaint me with their own spaces. When the classroom
teacher left for her planning time, the three girls who had taken me under their wings invited me into
their play. They reached into their desks and produced their collections of Polly Pocket® dolls—little,
pink dolls usually associated with much younger girls that could easily cling to the inside or outside of
a metal school desk by their tiny conjoined feet. The girls requested that I play along with a story
that was already in process and it was then that I realized I had found my topic for visual culture
research: toys. Subsequently, I asked children in each class about their favorite toys (Vollrath,
2006). The children were not content to tell me about their toys—they insisted upon drawing their
toys and in some cases then playing with their drawings. Through this process they made visible
both their constructions of themselves as children and their pleasures and motivations in play. These
revelations were both complicated and sometimes contradictory—the girls who played with Polly
Pockets claimed that their favorite toys were ATVs. They became nostalgic for the pleasure they
experienced through make-believe play as “babies.” Most of the children divulged that they were well
aware of both the scripts that toys provided for both play and childhood. They qualified their
experiences with these toys by adding amendments such as “I used to have conversations with my
Mickey Mouse® doll…when I was one.” They exercised their powers of choice and interpretation as
both confident and experienced players. Subsequently, the “toy project” became an unintentional
provocation for a years’ worth of emergent, negotiated curriculum.
During the toy project, I became interested in children’s play and in the levels and layers of fantasy
and reality in their negotiations. I was also interested in the choices that children made through play
and how these choices and transformations helped them to construct and perform their identities.
One of the most striking incidents of this inquiry occurred during my kindergarten class. I had just
presented the topic for discussion: favorite toys. Two boys at the green table, Aaron and Anthony,
began to get in a heated battle while drawing their favorite toys, Transformers®. Aaron began the
encounter with a both competent and accurate rending of a Transformer. As his did this efficiently in
marker and from memory, he had obviously drawn one before and most likely had seen one on many
occasions. Anthony leaned closely over Aaron’s paper and began to draw a Transformer of his own.
Back and forth, they wrote and acted out their script of the “most powerful” Transformer. Both
Transformers were “good” guys. However, they expressed their powers differently (but infinitely) by
either gaining circles of power or growing off of the page (Figures 4 & 5). Power was both the
function of size and of possession. The boys gestured wildly (and surprisingly silently) as they were
drawing and sustained their play for most of the class. Although they also intermittently narrated
their play to their tablemates (as Robert and Ching had done so long before), it was primarily
anchored to their pages.
Around the same time, I became reacquainted with the Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood
education. Fascinated by the accounts of project work done in collaboration between children and
teachers, I turned to The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach—Advanced
Reflections (Edwards, Gandini, and Forman, 1998) for further information. I found the construction of
the child as rich, powerful, and armed with both theories and infinite curiosity, both appealing and
challenging to the position in which children are often placed (in an objective) way within
contemporary school curricula. Captivated by Loris Malaguzzi’s (1993) assertion that the curriculum
begins inside of the children and his construction of the atelier, or art studio, as a site for “messing
about” (Hawkins, 1974) that generates both complex tools and new avenues of thought, I suddenly
felt much more comfortable giving up the control of my classroom that I had once guarded so fiercely
and allowed the most powerful Transformers inside and invited them to stay. Although I had no idea
at the time, these powerful Transformers were to follow me through the school year, a compulsion
that occupied any unsanctioned space and all the margins of both drawings and classroom
Aaron was especially devoted to his most powerful Transformer. It not only occupied the coveted
cover spot of his Kindergarten art portfolio, but it was painted in both tempera and watercolor, and
rendered in clay. Anthony was less dedicated unless coerced by Aaron to continue the play, an
enticement to which he submitted with great fervor.
What fueled Aaron’s commitment to sustaining this play? How did he both construct and reveal
himself through his humanoid-robotic alter ego? Was he playing a scripted role or did he exercise
both a right of choice and a power of change? What was so pleasurable about possessing and
growing this infinite power? About representing it on paper, in paint, in clay? What are the benefits
of providing children with Woolfe-ian “spaces” of their own?
Transformers: More than Meets the Eye
Initially, I felt uneasy about my classroom cohabitation with the most powerful Transformers. They
were certainly not toys embraced by the school’s culture: they were better left at home or hidden in
the bottoms of bookbags. But, inspired by the story of educators at the Diana School in Reggio Emilia
investigating He-Man® and My Little Pony® as modern fairy tale figures (Dahlberg, Moss, and Pence,
1999), I began my own encounter with the Transformers. What about these imposing robots was
both so powerful and so pleasurable? Were they the heroes of a posthuman fairy tale?
I first watched the Transformers movie, a feature film that was the product of legitimate film culture
and one of the first animated theatre films to use celebrity voice-overs. It was set, coincidentally, in
the year 2005. Orson Welles voices the most evil robot, Unicron, while he battles the likes of Leonard
Nimoy, Eric Idle from Monty Python, Judd Nelson, and others. In the movie (as in the television
show, video game, and manga), the Autobots (good guys) battle the Decepticons (bad guys) for
control of Earth. As the Transformer theme song reveals (“more than meets the eye”) both sets of
Transformers transform from any number of precedent boys’ toys (trucks, cars, military aircraft,
dinonsaurs who become Dinobots®, insects, and construction equipment) into powerful robot
warriors in a humanoid form. In the film, the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, transforms from a red,
white, and blue tractor trailer truck to a Superman-like humanoid bulging with geometric muscles. In
his chest he holds the Origin, or the original circle of power (an image that corresponds with Aaron’s
original drawing), which he passes down to the next generation of red, white, and blue heroes while
he is on his deathbed.
The Transformers were originally released as a Program Length Commercial (PLC) by American toy
manufacturer Hasbro (the first toy company to advertise a toy, Mr. Potato Head® on television in
1951) in 1984—the same year that the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
deregulated the content of children’s programming (Cross, 1997). PLCs bypassed increasingly savvy
parental control of children’s viewing and marketed the toys directly to children through commercial
programming disguised as entertainment. In doing so, PLCs created demand for the toys required to
“play the script” of the program. These animated shows were cheap to make and the labor was
exported out to non-Western nations. Although many of the toys advertised by PLCs were violent
and aggressively gendered, the strategy of direct (and surreptitious) marketing was exceedingly
successful and spawned the consumption of many of the most popular children’s toys of that decade
(including Care Bears®, Strawberry Shortcake®, and He-Man: Masters of the Universe®). These
were the toys of my own childhood, which was perhaps the reason I was initially surprised, after
years of Pokemon® inundation, to see the Transformers in my classroom.
Although Hasbro discontinued the Transformers in 1990 (the same year in which the United States
Congress enacted the Children’s Television Act that required a certain portion of children’s network
television to include educational content), they were recently resurrected through Hasbro’s
collaboration with Takama, a Japanese toy manufacturer. Part of the success of this recent PLC
resurgence rests upon both nostalgia for the toys of the 1980s in the United States and the cult
following among children and manga readers in Japan. The resulting popularity of Transformers toys
has generated a twenty year history of movies, Marvel Comic Books, Dreamwave Productions comics,
television series in both the United States and Japan, manga, a PlayStation® game, and numerous
internet fan sites. In celebration of the Transfomers 20th year, Hasbro released a 20th anniversary
edition Optimus Prime “the most well-articulated Transformer yet,” (
that is battery powered and retails for $69.99.
The PLCs and the toys that they advertised paint a rather pernicious view of not only the big business
of toys but of the children who consume this media. Transformers, for example, fit into Cross’s
(1997) category of the toys of the 1980s that “instruct.” We might argue that the Transformers are
instructive of what Davies (1990), in her post-structural account of the gendered play of preschool
children, would call “hegemonic” masculinity, and that they are insidious because unlike GI Joe® or
Cowboys and Indians (or the toys of Modernism) they are tied to a world of fantasy and unreality,
and do not so clearly prepare boys for their future roles (the ways baby dolls teach girls to mother—of
course, in a contemporary society these roles are less stable). Indeed, the Transformers are ripe
fodder for the deconstruction of hegemonic masculinity and specifically an American hegemonic
masculinity performed by young boys through the processes of both drawing and play. They also
provide a productive site through which it is possible to denaturalize (Lesko, 1996) childhood and
make visible the constructions of children that shape both teaching practice and attitudes toward play
and art in childhood.
Denaturalizing Childhood
Davies (1990) critiques the “common sense” assumption that boys and girls naturally differ in and
through their play by revealing play as both performative and constructed through discourse, while
others see children in Sutton-Smith’s (1997) perpetual “one-down” position where children, as an
underclass, have no agency in their play because they can only play the script. This sentiment recalls
both Barthes’ (1957) essay “Toys,” where asks the question of whether toys can do anything but
preconfigure the world of adult convention for children who have no choice but to accept this
objectified and constructed subject position, and Benjamin’s (1937) warning that propaganda (a
category that can include the PLC) in the age of mechanical reproduction is a strategy of fascism.
Their theories are somewhat at odds with constructions of the child (like those that underpin the
theoretical foundation of the Reggio approach) that position children as rich and thoughtful—as
complex and capable of making meaning in, through, and around the scripts offered to them. If we
are to position children in this way—as active constructors, investigators, and interpreters—does it
reframe the ways in which children make meaning through their play in and with popular visual
culture? What does it mean to “denaturalize” (Lesko, 1996) something so natural as childhood and
reveal it as necessarily both complex and contingent?
The Transformers script is especially compelling because it seems to offer children a means through
which they can transgress the boundaries between fantasy and reality and between human and robot.
This transgression offers both the pleasure and nonlinearity necessary to sustain meaningful play
(Johnson, Christie, and Wardle, 2005). In my documentation of Aaron and Anthony and their most
powerful Transformers, I thought about both the scripted and non-scripted ways that I had seen
children play both with both toys and through their drawings. How was the culture that children
constructed for themselves both related to and distinctive from (sometimes in opposition to) adult
I recalled the girls’ “illicit” (Johnson et al, 2005) Polly Pocket stories, the fifth graders’
reenactment and revising of scenes and songs from Barney the Purple Dinosaur®, and my own
childhood mutilation (in the name of more fashionable hairstyles) of my Barbie® dolls. Was this play
that I recalled as “powerful” really just following a script? Was part of my own identity as both a
teacher and a child borne from a massive, unknowable conglomerate that positioned me as a mere
consumer? How did this shape the ways in which I now constructed myself as a teacher—the
“personal theories” (Malaguzzi, 1993) that framed my interactions with children?
I returned to the most powerful Transformers, and to my documentations of Aaron and Anthony at
work and play. Although the Transformers were everywhere (and especially seductive for Aaron),
they seemed rather the substrate for the process of play, not its end point. At one point, Anthony’s
Transformer became a snake and never reclaimed its original robotic form. Was it perhaps not
necessarily the Transformers that motivated Aaron and Anthony, but the pleasure of play and the
promise of power? What constructions of themselves were they both performing and revealing?
Were the Transformers just “social butter” (Johnson et al, 2005)? Did this illicit play give both Aaron
and Anthony feelings of autonomy in a heavily scripted school culture? Was it their “Ket” (Thompson,
2004) aesthetic? Or is the Transformer’s mutability valuable in itself in its ability to transgress, to
continually move back and forth from reality to fantasy, from human to machine; do Transformers, as
philosopher Slavoj Žižek posits in his brief discussion of the toys (2004), “explode the limits of selfcontained subjectivity,” (p. 183) creating a positive affect, or a mutability that itself becomes the
plaything, appealing insofar as it provides a means for children to “move beyond” the scripted play of
typical toys?
Conclusions and Questions: The Rich Child and the Process of Culture
Like any productive teaching experience, these encounters left me with more questions than answers,
forcing me to accept that the school “can never be always predictable” and that “life [in the school]
has to be somewhat agitated and upset, a bit restless, somewhat unknown” (Malaguzzi, 1994, p. 5354). From these mini-investigations of drawing, play, fantasy and reality emerged not as binary but
as categories children use (translate, transform, reconfigure) in their play in both meaningful and
pleasurable ways. Informed by educators in Reggio’s construction of the child as rich, with agency
and theories, I looked to Paley’s (1986, 2004) and Davies (1990) explorations of boys’ play and the
ways in which, through play, boys (and girls) participate actively in the process of performing
Through the process of living with the most powerful Transformers during the arc of a Kindergarten
school year, I saw Aaron and Anthony make choices (in their drawing and in their play)—choices that
were motivating, pleasurable, and meaningful—choices that were powerful and allowed them the
space of their own necessary to functioning as agents in the classroom. I saw that both play and
drawing, as processes, can be investigated and explored through documentation to make visible the
complex, contextual, and contingent ways in which children function as agents to make choices
through their play, participate in the process of culture, translate, reconfigure, and construct identity.
Barthes, R. (1972). Mythologies. (Annette Lavers, Trans.). New York: Hill and
Wang.(Original work published in 1957)
Benjamin, W. (1968). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In Illuminations
(p. 217-252). New York: Harcourt. (Original work published in 1937)
Cross, G. (1997). Kids’ stuff: toys and the changing world of American childhood. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Dahlberg, G. Moss, P., & Pence, A. (1999). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care:
Postmodern perspectives. Philadelphia, PA: Palmer Press.
Davies, B. (1990). Frogs, snails, and feminist tales: preschool children and gender. Unwin Hyman.
Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (1993). (Eds.). The hundred languages of children: the Reggio
Emilia approach to early childhood education. New Jersey: Apex.
Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (1998). (Eds.). The hundred languages of children: the Reggio
Emilia approach—advanced reflections. (2nd ed.). Connecticut: Apex.
Hawkins, D. (1974). The informed vision: essays on learning and human nature. New York:
Agathon Press.
Lesko, N. (1996). Denaturalizing Adolescence: The Politics of Contemporary Representations.
Youth and Society, 28(2), p. 139-161.
Malaguzzi, L. (1993). History, ideas and basic philosophy: an interview with Lella Gandini.
In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, & G. Forman (Eds.), The hundred languages of children: the Reggio Emilia
approach—advanced reflections (pp. 49-98). (2nd ed.). Connecticut: Apex.
Malaguzzi, L., (1994) Your image of the child: where teaching begins. Child Care Information
Exchange, 96, 52-61.
Paley, V. (1986). Boys and girls: superheroes in the doll corner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Paley, V. (2004). A child’s work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Reid-Walsh, J. & Mitchell, C. (2002). Researching children’s popular culture: the cultural spaces of
childhood. London: Routledge.
Sutton-Smith, B. (1997). The ambiguity of play. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Thompson, C. (1995). What should I draw today? sketchbooks in early childhood. Art Education,
48, 6-11.
Thompson, C. (2004, March). The Ket aesthetic: visual culture in childhood. Paper presented at the
Objects in/and Visual Culture Conference, State College, PA.
Vollrath, M. (2006). Drawing on the toy: contemporary perspectives on childhood by children.
In P. Duncum (Ed.), Visual culture in the art class: case studies (p. 24-31). Reston, VA: NAEA.
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Žižek, Slavoj. (2004). Organs without bodies: on Deleuze and Consequences. London: Routledge.
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
An intimate distance: youth interrogations of
Intercorporeal Cartography as a Visual Narrative Text
Stephanie S. Springgay (The Pennsylvania State University)
Contemporary mapping theories argue that mapping is a creative activity that focuses on the process
of mapping rather than on the object of maps. As opposed to traditional views of maps as stable and
complete, contemporary cartographies recognize mapping’s partial and provisional nature. Thus,
mapping is not just an archive of projected points and lines onto a surface, often referred to as a
trace; it is a dynamic and complex actualization of un/foldings. Furthermore, rather than a view of
space as an empty vessel that objects are placed within, feminist reconceptualizations link space with
corporeality and subjectivity. Therefore, what we need to examine is how spaces and bodies are
simultaneously created in the process of mapping. In this paper, I examine short segments of
student-created videos, investigating how these works of art question subjectivity, representation,
and meaning making in relation to bodied space. In doing so I draw on contemporary mapping
theories that conceptualize the process of mapping as disruptive and differential, and which enable
alternative ways of inhabiting space. Subsequently theories of the fold will also shape an
understanding of intercorporeal cartographic meaning making with, in, and through touch. In doing
so I argue that what we know is intersected with experience and our corporeal subjectivity. This I
contend is paramount in thinking of curriculum inquiry as a process of bodied encounters constructed
with, in, and through space. Consequently my arguments are linked to theories of art education that
are located in explorations of identity and subjectivity. Rather than posing questions “about” the
body, or how “the body” is represented in visual culture, my analyses disclose the very ways that
students negotiate and mediate the contested terrains of body knowledge and subsequently
interrogate what it means to know, inhabit, experience, and encounter embodied space. I argue how
such thinking might be productive for art education, recognizing that questions of knowing and being
are crucial to visual culture.
An earlier version of this paper can be found at:
Springgay, S. (2005). an intimate distance: youth interrogations of intercorporeal
cartography as visual narrative text. Journal of the Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies.
To access the images and videos please refer to the above listed website.
I love the idea of maps. As a nomad of sorts, a dreamer, traveler, and mover (I have lived in a dozen
cities in four continents with a considerable amount of time spent dwelling in/between), I find maps
an important means of orienting myself to new spaces. Maps facilitate new knowledge of the world.
They enable discovery, exploration, and un/ending possibilities.i
However, the maps I find most compelling are narratives, sometimes found in guidebooks, others
posted on websites, and then there are those that are novels, short stories of places and travel
adventure. I love to read these narrative cartographies, imag(e)ining places and encounters,
searching, disclosing, and inventing the world in which I live. These types of maps are experienced
and offer possibilities of what is yet to come, rather than simply reproducing what is known. These
maps are less about orienting myself on the grid, and more to do with losing myself in discovery and
the un/known.
Contemporary mapping theories argue that mapping is a creative activity that focuses on the process
of mapping rather than on the object of maps (Cosgrove, 1999). As opposed to traditional views of
maps as stable and complete, contemporary cartographies recognize mapping’s partial and
provisional nature. Thus, mapping is not just an archive of projected points and lines onto a surface,
often referred to as a trace; it is a dynamic and complex actualization of un/foldings. While traditional
maps chart and graph the lay of the land, codifying, naturalizing, and institutionalizing conventions,
contemporary mapping that finds its place in visual art and culture, views maps for what they can do,
the potential and possibilities of the un/named. This mode of thinking finds the agency of mapping in
its ability to uncover or to un/fold (Corner, 1999). The mappings that I find so compelling are ones
that inaugurate new worlds, opening bodies to other bodies and encounters. Furthermore, mapping
as process argues that the “experience of space cannot be separated from the events that happen
within it; space is situated, contingent, and differentiated. It is remade continuously every time it is
encountered by different people, every time it is represented through another medium, every time its
surroundings change, every time new affiliations are forged” (Corner, 1999, p. 227). Rather than a
view of space as an empty vessel that objects are placed within, feminist reconceptualizations link
space with corporeality and subjectivity. Therefore, what we need to examine is how spaces and
bodies are simultaneously created in the process of mapping.
Instead of mapping as iconographic deductions or representations I want to think of mapping as
engagements that are material intercorporeal becomings. By challenging the idea of a map as an
orientation that relies on points, I explore the possibilities of narrative cartographies as textual
interconnections between body and space. In doing so I question: How do students understand and
construct body knowledge as intercorporeal cartographies that materialize space as visual textual
In this paper I examine short segments of student created videos investigating how these works of
art question subjectivity, representation, and meaning making in relation to bodied space. In doing so
I draw on contemporary mapping theories that conceptualize the process of mapping as disruptive
and differential, and which enable alternative ways of inhabiting space. Subsequently theories of the
fold will also shape an understanding of intercorporeal cartographic meaning making with, in, and
through touch. In doing so I argue that what we know is intersected with experience and our
corporeal subjectivity. This I contend is paramount in thinking of art education as a process of bodied
encounters constructed with, in, and through space.
Intercorporeal encounters through touch
Visual perception has dominated theories of knowledge for centuries demanding an understanding of
reason as objective, distant, and separate from the body (Foti, 2003; Vasseleu, 1998). Vision
associated with light and the mind, became the powerful sense through which the individual
autonomous subject gained mastery and control. The other senses, and in particular touch, often
associated with the domestic, female body were relegated to subordinate roles, further entrenching
hegemonic power relations and dualistic thought (Classen, 1993, 1998). However, when perception is
re-constructed from the perspective of touch, the mechanisms of visual perception are disrupted, and
ways of knowing become intimate, sensuous, and relational. Therefore, feminist re-conceptualizations
of touch pose a different way of making sense of the world, bringing the body inside the visible such
that the boundaries between interior and exterior become porous and folded (Irigaray, 1993;
Springgay, 2003, 2004).
Likewise, intercorporeality is an approach that attends to the forms and folds of living bodies. It is a
thinking that reflects on inter-embodiment, on being(s)-in-relation, where one touches and is touched
by others. It poses the question of how knowledge is experienced through encounters and as
being(s)-in-the world. Knowledge becomes open and embodiment becomes a process of exchange.
Intercorporeality engenders a way of thinking that is not separated from the body but emerges
through an intertwining of mind and body, inside and outside, self and other and through our
interactions with the world (Merleau-Ponty, 1968).
This intertwining can be understood through the act of un/folding where perception is doubled,
embodied, and tangled. A fold is both exterior and interior. In a fold inside and outside remain
distinct, but not separate, rather they are doubled. Un/folding is not the reverse of a fold, but may
result in additional folds. Thus, the fold appears interconnected, embracing touch and
intercorporeality. The condition of the fold is the premise that it is not a void or an absence in the
sense of nothing. Rather the fold is being as turned back on itself—touching.
Deleuze (1993) translates the fold as sensuous vibrations, a world made up of divergent series, an
infinity of pleats and creases. Un/folding divides endlessly, folds within folds touching one another.
“Matter thus offers an infinitely porous, spongy, or cavernous texture without emptiness, caverns
endlessly contained in other caverns” (p. 5). Challenging Descartes, Deleuze is mindful of the fold as
matter that cannot be divided into separable parts. A fold is not divisible into independent points, but
rather any un/folding results in additional folds, it is the movement or operation of one fold to
another. “The division of the continuous must not be taken as sand dividing into grains, but as that of
a sheet of paper or of a tunic in fold, in such a way that an infinite number of folds can be
produced…without the body ever dissolving into point or minima. A fold is always folded within a fold”
(p. 6). Perception is not a question then of part to whole but a singular totality “where the totality can
be as imperceptible as the parts” (p. 87). Perception is not embodied in perceiving the sum of all
parts rather it is distinguished by and within the fold.
Un/folding is the body between subject and object, a doubleness that “teaches us that each calls for
the other” (Merleau-Ponty, 1968, p. 138). This between is a between that includes both terms, but
also points to the uniqueness of each, and the limitless possibilities of their beyond. Between is the
body in the threshold of the world, awake, enactive, and sensuous. Un/folding enables bodies to come
together, to touch in a proximal relation, to form knowledge as intercorporeality.
Similarly, contemporary feminist scholarship that draws on post-structuralist theories of subjectivity,
identity, and meaning, exposes earlier discourses of space as normative, continuous, and objective.
Following the work of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987), feminist theorists argue that space is
fragmented, rhizomatic, fluid, ambiguous, vulnerable and open to constant change. Space is linked
with how one encounters, constructs, and performs identity, thereby mapping the relationship of
space to subjectivity, corporeality, and ways of knowing (Ahmed & Stacey, 2001). In other words the
body is not simply in space (an object placed in a particular location), but rather the body is spatial
itself. Thus, scholarship that investigates “the body” needs also to explore the interconnected
relationships between experience, space, and subjectivity. Feminist scholar Elizabeth Grosz (1994,
1995) contends that an understanding of the ways in which subjects occupy, materialize, and disrupt
space is predicated on an exploration of how bodies and spaces define and shape one another. Space
becomes both the production of culture, and the making and circulation of intersubjective
experiences. This is further addressed in the work of Luce Irigaray (1993) who argues that space and
time must be conceptualized differently, posing that space be understood from the perspective of
touch; a more fluid, viscous, and proximinal understanding.ii The question becomes: How do
secondary school students construct and negotiate the body with, in and through space as visual
narrative text?
This paper draws on an a/r/tographicaliii study into how secondary school students understand,
explore, and negotiate the lived meanings of their bodies through touch. The study took place in an
alternative secondary school in a large urban city in Canada. As a visiting artist, researcher, and
teacher, I developed and implemented a six-month curriculum project investigating student
understandings of body knowledge through the curricular themes body surfaces, body encounters,
and body sites. Students created performance, installation, and new media art as a means of
aesthetically inquiring into the lived experiences of their bodies, while also exploring the relationship
of the body to visual art and culture. In this paper I un/cover student understandings of
intercorporeal cartography as a means of disrupting, challenging, and re-constructing the body in and
as space.
Consequently my arguments are linked to theories of art education that are located in explorations of
identity and subjectivity (e.g. Freedman, 2003; Garoian, 1999; Tavin, 2003). Rather than posing
questions “about” the body, or representations of “the body,” my analyses disclose the very ways
that students negotiate and mediate the contested terrains of body knowledge and subsequently
interrogate what it means to know, inhabit, experience, and encounter embodied space— visually. I
argue how such thinking might be productive for curriculum and pedagogical practices, recognizing
that questions of knowing and being are crucial to visual culture and art education.
Un/folding boxes: the agency of mapping as un/folding
It’s a clear blue crisp day. Inside the classroom I move between students, helping one thread a
sewing machine, another add a music soundtrack to an i-movie, and stop to talk to two others as
they search the web as part of their artistic inquiry. Sounds of laughter add to the already noisy
room, and I glance up and out the window. Cameron has boxes on his feet and is comically
attempting to walk up the sidewalk toward the front doors of the school. In front of him, Tyler and
Andrew direct his movements, a video camera cradled in their hands. I smile as I watch Cameron
stumble, the enormous boxes disrupting his movements as he propels his now over large “feet” up
the stairs.
Later, Bronwyn the art teacher beckons me into the hallway. There, the students have arranged the
boxes and are filming different students getting into and out of the boxes. Weeks later in a class
discussion Bronwyn suggests that schools put people in boxes, a comment that embodies the
pedagogical directive “to think outside the box.” But the students disagree with this statement, not
objecting to the notion that education occasionally encloses students, surrounding them with stable
objectives and fixed results. Their disagreement has more to do with what they imagine the reconfigurations and assemblages of the boxes can do. Thus, instead of reading the meaning of the
boxes as static, empty identifiable markers, the students were interested in the activity and process
of the box as embodied space.
Andrew responds to the class discussion: “But these boxes are too small, the students’ bodies—much
larger. The boxes are also open. The boxes are about mobility and change. We can get in and out
whenever we want, wear more than one at once, discard them at random.” Over the coming year as
I returned to view the video Monkey Puzzle, I paid close attention to the activity of the boxes and
their transition throughout the school. These boxes did not contain bodies, they were not vessels into
which information was placed, but rather the boxes moved in/between, in the threshold of bodies and
More recently I discovered an artist who un/folds boxes virtually. John F. Simon Jr.’s virtual art
installation is a computer designed artwork that un/folds a cube (box) at the “click of the mouse.”iv
When you enter the site you find a blank cube. The viewers’ activated response from their mouse
causes the cube to un/fold in infinite patterns. Each folding produces lines or traces of past
un/foldings that previous participants created. On the Guggenhiem website the unauthored curatorial
statement reads: “For example each leaf of this ‘book’ that has been turned four times in the past is
marked with four vertical lines; a horizontal line, meanwhile, stands for ten such unfoldings; and left
and right diagonals denote hundreds or thousands of previous clicks. The pattern of lines thus
changes over the course of the project.”v
In contrast to presenting a single image, un/folding object presents every possible permutation
including those that are “other than,” ones that are yet to be conceived and articulated—infinite
possibilities and materializations of space. Any change to the pattern of folding results in an entirely
different set of possible images. What does it mean to encounter images, bodies, and/or spaces that
continually change towards infinity?
Simon (February, 2004) describes his work as “an endless book that rewrites itself and whose use
dictates its content." Similarly, Simon’s work is performative; its mutations allow for the latency of
the body to un/fold and map in space and time. The infinite creation maps the something else,
moving beyond representation towards the infinite possibilities of experience. Rather than simply
mathematical, un/folding object is tactile, participants touching and connecting within a cyberfold.
Likewise the students’ boxes continue to map space as intercorporeality. Boxes appear again in a
subsequent film entitled Monkey Puzzle II, and are taken up in a number of classroom narratives
throughout the school year. Instead of transforming the boxes through a “click” of a mouse, the
boxes are moved, worn, cut into, disassembled and circulated suggesting the potential for new
possibilities and fresh discoveries. In fact in one video episode “the box” dies, a memorial service is
performed, and a number of students and teachers are interviewed in the school asking them to say a
few words about “the box.”
Opening either bodies or boxes, we rupture the links that we assume automatically exist between
things, words, spaces and bodies. Tyler informs me on a recent visit that the boxes are entangled,
they are threads between all of the various videos, but they are not boxes that contain or hold things
in the ways that we traditionally think of boxes. Boxes are more than empty space that needs to be
filled. Rather, the box embraces intercorporeality mapping narrative text as process and
Pedagogically in place of “thinking outside the box” a more apt metaphor might be to un/fold boxes
and spaces, to materialize knowledge, to touch it in such a way that endless, infinite, and
un/fathomed processes can be explored. “Outside the box” imposes order and containment to the
inside, separating it from what lies external to it. In contrast un/folding does not separate inside and
outside, rather it opens each onto the other, rendering the “map” as a fluid, anamorphous space.
Un/folding invites the corporeal body into the threshold, a dehiscence of difference that is inside the
outside, rupturing the visible, the map, and discovering new sensory becomings.
Shifting our focus to another segment in the Monkey Puzzle film, we spend time analyzing a section
where Tyler is writing in his journal. The students have discovered the possibilities of the reverse
function in i-movie so that the act of writing moves backwards. They find this exciting and as we sit
and explore this section together they begin to ask questions and think through this gesture. Andrew
tells me they are “un/writing.” Initially their responses position this act of un/writing as a move
backwards. Andrew states: “Clearly,” he says, “it’s like the un/writing takes away the writing and
leaves just this pristine page,” and Tyler interjects “it’s cleansing.” However, as we move through our
discussion I ask them if they see this movement as a negative effect. Andrew is quick to respond:
“It’s not an act of destruction like if you took a part a Lego® house. It is not being deconstructed, it
is more like different knowledge.” He continues, “It’s not really positive or negative—it’s in-between.”
At this point in our conversation Tyler interrupts “It’s not just about our bodies, but how things affect
our bodies and how our bodies affect things.”
Following Tyler’s statement Andrew continues with the idea of un/writing, relating it to the concept of
“un/doing”: “Another thing I like about this un/writing is that when you reverse it, and you are
witnessing this action take place at some point along that point in reverse you realize that it is
something that has been reversed then by the time the un/writing is finished you’ve figured out its in
reverse so in fact he is actually about to start writing so it is almost that what you just saw didn’t
actually happen. Because you are actually at the start now. At the end you realize it’s the beginning
and what you have witnessed has never actually occurred.”
As they continue to discuss the un/writing, Tyler says: “there was one other thing that I noticed here.
I’m going to play part of this clip. At one point I erase something and that’s putting something back
in.” Andrew responds: “Now that would be a different angle.” I’m not so quick and I have to ask:
“What do you mean putting something back in?” Tyler explains: “Because when you are using an
eraser [remember they are using the reverse tool] it’s doing the exact opposite the tools are
reversed. Its like a double reverse of writing.”
The idea of peeling away successive layers of meaning, of looking beyond or beneath the surface
takes the notion of trace as a starting point. The palimpsest is a perfect metaphor for this process of
layering. A palimpsest, according to one source, is a medieval manuscript where text is erased in
order to make room for subsequent writings (Gerber, 2003). Viewed in this way, the act of erasure is
a “making room” for new information. In this act of erasure removal is never complete.
Traces are left, in some cases literally, but also metaphorically, embodying the memory and history of
the trace. Other configurations of contemporary palimpsests include torn posters on billboards, signs
with missing letters, stamps and envelopes with traces of travel and even a chalkboard. These
suggest yet another, but similar meaning to the word palimpsest, where the object becomes a vessel
or container recording the history and memory of its experiences. A number of artists have explored
the idea of the palimpsest, where in the instant of erasure something else is created. In this sense
the erased becomes more than just a negative or a non-attribute. In Monkey Puzzle the un/writing
scene and the doubling of erasure did not simply remove text and return the piece of paper to its
previous stage, in the process of erasure the remnants of pencil becomes a deliberate making of new
The metaphor of the palimpsest possibly lends to Derrida’s (1997) notion of the trace, of différance,
where before the word and the thing is an anterior presence—an absent something else. Unlike
Derrida who conceives of representation and meaning as différance —a deferral, a detour, or the
failure to reach a destination--Deleuze (1994) understands difference as action. Meaning and knowing
as doing; as effectivity. Deleuze’s project is thus more apt to signal trace as a process. Thus, I’d be
disposed to re-think the metaphor of the palimpsest from vessel or archive of past meaning, which
would imply a container of closed boundaries, to a more rhizomatic configuration, where the act of
crossing out turns from a remainder or an absence, towards a re-configuration of mark making as not
only new knowledge, but knowledge that points to possibilities that are yet to come, further tracings.
In the student’s video the act of erasure is not a making room for something else, but alternatively a
process of foraging new connections and understandings. Erasure shifts from the removal of
something to the act of creation, a being in the midst of—space as intercorporeality.
Cartographical “other thans”
A shopping cart takes a trip to the beach. The scene is dusk, blue light casting moonscape-like
shadows along the shore. The tide is out making the sand soft and rippled. A young man steers the
cart, pushing it awkwardly in the sand. It gets wedged in the sand, inciting the title of Louie’s film:
Stuck. The pushing movements appear directionless, the young man is neither going towards the sea
nor further in land, he is simply struggling with the wheels of the cart that sink further and further
into the soft darkness. The struggle un/folds in split time as shots move between the cart at the
beach and an underground parking lot, where a young woman, face solemn, pushes the cart between
rows of parked cars. Again spliced camera angles create a sense of movement that is adrift,
While there is a direct confrontation with urban space and outward surroundings the film creates an
inward awareness and almost a detached sense from the urban scene. We see the characters but
imagine and feel their invisibleness, as if the people are part of the backdrop of beach and garage and
we are watching a solitary shopping cart on a voyage. Voices and sounds have been removed,
replaced with a soundtrack of a popular song. Only in the opening segment where the cart speeds
away from the camera and the final segments in the parking garage do the sounds of the outside
world, the urban core, filter in, creating a sense of tension between the physical space of the city, and
the materialized corporeal space of the film. Although “the city” is limited to scenes of a beach, with
sprawling urban growth visible in the distance, and a parking garage, the shopping cart is an emblem
of urban life, consumerism, and a marker of habitual time—shopping. Yet, the cart is empty,
accentuating the coldness of its metal structure, allowing it to become a cage or border between the
viewer and the person attempting to move the cart. In her journal notes she’s written: “It’s staining
us this excess of stainless steel.”
Unlike the Monkey Puzzle films where actors and cameramen change places, Stuck is filmed and
directed by Louie, bringing the surface of the film even closer to the viewer, as if we are inside
interfacing with the ‘skin of the film’ (Marks, 1999). The differentiated and shifting perspectives
between beach and garage becomes a means of moving between stories and exploring multiple
selves that haunt space. Questions about representation are applicable as the film shifts between
spaces and locations. There is an awareness of interconnected views that explore the relationship
between bodies and spaces, the expansiveness of the beach and the concrete mass of a parking
garage. The shopping cart as its moves between experiences precludes any simple linear narrative as
memories jostle amid a shifting present. It opens up a prospect of a passage through which we
discover spaces that exist within space, and the body’s relationship and weaving with, in, and through
There is an idea of a walk or journey at work in the video. Walking suggests paths that others
have walked before, a collective walking; a walking that is not solitary but joined with all of the past
and future walkers and places. These multiple walkers break down the idea of an individual
autonomous self, an interconnection, an invasion of sorts between bodies and spaces.
Cartographical scholar James Corner (1999) proposes three thematic ways in which new practices of
mapping emerge, and each of them produce certain understandings of space as embodied, relational,
and intertwined: drift, layering, and rhizome. I want to focus on the interconnections between these
themes and the videos.
Walking as drifting creates a condition of lived experience that produces un/expected
encounters between bodies. Corner (1999) contends that drifting allows for a process of “mapping
alternative itineraries and subverting dominant readings and authoritarian regimes” (p. 231). More a
form of embodied mapping where the body becomes part of the space and social surroundings,
drifting is ephemeral, vague, and explores the un/familiar terrain of meaning making. Drifting turns
knowledge from distant and objective towards an understanding of proximity; an intimate distance.
Kirsten Forkert’s walking project entitled Public Time examines the places one moves through
everyday, but where one never stops, because you have no reason to spend time Her project
gathered a group of people together and walked through a section of an urban city in Canada,
examining the spaces between destinations—the gaps and moments that one does not readily pay
attention to. Her intervention also required participants to actively engage in the process of walking
as opposed to being distant observers. Instead of claiming space, the movement or drifting engages
questions such as what it means to define a public, a group or a collective experience as an
interconnectedness between bodies and space in-the-everyday. In an urban environment that
privileges efficiency and the directedness of destinations, Forkert’s walking interrupts bodied
encounters of walking and space.
Walking becomes a corporeal cartography where distance is measured through un/certain means. The
walk inter-connects body and space enabling a particular set of events to create meaning through
alternative gestures. Traditional mapping is contingent on making something visible, tangible, and
concrete. Forkert’s work is temporal, relational, and sometimes invisible. Invisible in this sense does
not mean that which cannot be seen, but rather it is visible through other perceptions than sight
alone. Inverting vision with touch, such that we move inside the visible understanding gives way to all
of the senses and mapping becomes a process of knowing and being through the body.
The student videos map and reveal space, not as representation but as intertextual
narratives that call attention to the body’s relation to text. In place of narrative threads that are
meant to bring points together through common connections, the obscurity of narratives is
reminiscent of the rhizome and Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) multiplicities or lines of flight. As
opposed to text as a discrete unit or an object with a linear traceable history, lines of flight are
becomings that connect in unpredictable ways. In place of points or an iconographic representation of
mapping, becomings are created through a series of conceptual rather than physical lines. One
extracts concepts by mapping the lines, providing a cartography that can be pursued in any number
of ways. “The map is open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible,
susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting”
(Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 12). Mappings are intertextual interstitial spaces that indicate “other
than” and point towards different stories. Mappings complexify things instead of reducing them to
universal points or markers.
The videos investigate the construction of subjectivity as narrative. They are testaments to
the students’ urge to construct scenarios and narratives around everyday encounters that fringe on
the bizarre and yet are strikingly real. Watching the films as characters move in and out of boxes, or
push shopping carts, there is an underlying presence beneath the narrative that we are not simply
watching, but participating in a world that dramatizes life, to make it real by making it filmic.
The Monkey Puzzle videos demonstrate a concern not only with exploring spaces that are
dynamic and undetermined, but also with memory. However, it is not the excavation of memory, a
palimpsest as vessel, but a narrative intertextual cartography of the body that is patterned on new
assemblages and meanings.
In Monkey Puzzle II the students adopt different characters throughout the film. There is no
feedback loop though, as Andrew, for example, appears in a variety of roles, and sometimes the
same role surfaces with a different student playing that role, so that it too shifts and slides. Without
these points in the film to ground the narrative (he plays this character, this character does this, and
assumes these characteristics) self-identifications become ever more complex. Devoid of the need or
desire for identification, the subject is free to travel, to map, with the intensity of each new moment,
but without building these moments into stable structures. Subjectivity becomes part of a flux of
forces with no stable pattern. He can exchange himself within himself, just as he may exchange
himself with others. Without points of origin in the films there is no repeating formation of the same.
Similarly, memory is no longer structured on the trace as, the successive layers that link back to an
original surface. Un/writing writes the body with, in, and through space, engaging its ambiguities,
activating and interrogating in/betweens, and un/layering the trace as a process of erasure.
Un/writing refigures the body as a site from which and for which youth can create multiple spaces of
agency, subjectivity, and representation.
There are references to a past, but even these references are elliptical rather than successive. For
example in the opening scene of Monkey Puzzle II, Andrew as director describes how and why
Monkey Puzzle [the first film] was created. Scenes later James is the director, and his narrative
references previous films/scenes, but takes on its own interpretations and mutations. It’s memory
within memory, not as a fixed trace but as intercorporeal mapping. Traces filter into the present
tense, reminders of previous steps that may not have existed, intertwining memory with the present,
not through linear tellings, but as evocative new constructions and stories.
The theme of disappearance runs through Monkey Puzzle II and Stuck, but not in the same way that
one traditionally views the disappearance of history, memory and artifacts fading from the presence,
leaving only ghostly traces. Instead, disappearance happens suddenly as scenes abruptly shift, only
to perhaps appear again in another form. There is a disruption to space, like in a dream where the
fixity of space and the linearity of time give way. In the gap between the scenes, as they are seen by
the viewer, described by the sometimes narrator, and experienced by the actors of which you are
apart, questions arise about the (in)stability of what is transformed before you.
What I’d like to consider is how these cinematic encounters are palimpsests understood as
acts of erasure that forage new meanings and materialize intercorporeal textual and spatial relations.
Again, Corner (1999) offers layering as a thematic development in contemporary mapping discourse.
Layering he argues is a thickening process, where each layer is considered independent of the other.
Layers are not “mappings of an existing site or context, but of the complexity of the intended
programme for the site” (p. 235). The layering of layers produces a stratified spatial arrangement,
stratified being another rhizomatic-based term. The resulting structure is not simply a “track-trace” of
original layers, like ghosts, but “a complex fabric, without centre, hierarchy or single organizing
principle” (Corner, 1999, p. 235). This process of layering functions to establish the indeterminancy of
meaning making remaining open to new and multiply configurations and inter-textualities.
Layering thus becomes un/folding where the addition and movement between layers creates further
combinations and assemblages. In this way the palimpsest moves from vessel of historical
topography, towards a intertwining that suggests something else altogether. Instead of the
palimpsest containing traces that are absent, the palimpsest becomes a spatial surface, a threshold
that in excess and the fullest of presence points towards an “other than”; meaning that is un/familiar.
Intercorporeal cartographies and art education
As a counter move to current initiatives in education that are based on standardized, disembodied,
and dehumanized models, an approach to art education through touch offers possibilities of knowing
and understanding that are intercorporeal and relational. Identity thus becomes a space of bodied
encounters, where meaning is made between subjects as a process of exchange. Similarly, space
must be understood in new ways, re-positioning the body’s role in the production of knowledge in and
as space. Meanings become something else altogether; bodies touch creating knowledge in their
If we consider art education from the perspective of intercorporeal cartography we are able to raise
questions that unsettle and map new possibilities. This entails thinking of meaning as an encounter,
something that confronts us unexpectedly. Moreover, intercoporeal cartography “involves a wrenching
of concepts away from their usual configurations, outside the systems in which they have a home,
and outside the structures of recognition that constrain thought to the already known” (Grosz, 2001,
p. 61). Implicating touch in art education re-configures the body in the process of knowledge
production as an intercorporeal act—knowledge in-the-between. This between refuses to be
contained. It is a movement and a displacement of meaning—a mapping as process.
Encounters through touch enhance moments in knowing and understanding that are un/familiar.
Touch becomes a commitment to knowing that is engaged, emphasizing bodied encounters that are
interrogative and un/settling. Rather than assuming knowledge as a point that is fixed and certain,
intercorporeality intervenes, un/hinging the expected allowing something else to become. To pose
questions about the “other than” is to examine the limit, the in-between as an activity.
Intercorporeal cartography endows meaning with the lightness of becoming, enhancing, and
expanding. It takes us places. It maps anew. It takes us out of ourselves, out of our customary
routines and assumptions. Intercorporeal cartography as visual narrative text refuses to be grasped,
to become pinned down and held. Rather these bodied encounters flicker and slip, affecting a release,
and bringing us into the world itself. All at once new maps occur, a touching that glides across,
colliding with other maps, pulling apart the space between.
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Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(2), 63-78 Available at: 16 pgs.
Irwin, R. L., de Cosson A. F. (Eds.). (2004). A/r/tography: Rendering self through artsbased living inquiry. Vancouver, BC: Pacific Educational Press.Marks, L.. (1999). The skin of the film:
Intercultural cinema, embodiment, and the senses. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible. Translated by Alphonso
Lingis. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
Springgay, S. (in press). Thinking through bodies: Bodied encounters and the process of
meaning making in an email generated art project. Studies in Art Education.
Springgay, S. (2004). Inside the visible: Youth understandings of body knowledge through touch.
Doctoral Dissertation. Vancouver, BC: The University of British Columbia.
Springgay, S. (2003). Cloth as intercorporeality: Touch, fantasy, and performance and the
construction of body knowledge. International Journal of Education and the Arts, 4 (5).
Springgay, S, Irwin, R. L. & Wilson, S.. (in press). A/r/tography as living inquiry through art and text.
Qualitative Inquiry.Tavin, K. (2003). Wrestling with angels, searching for ghosts: Toward a critical
pedagogy of visual culture. Studies in Art Education, 44 (3), 197-213.
Vasseleu, C. (1998). Textures of light: Vision and touch in Irigaray, Levinas and
Merleau-Ponty. New York: Routledge.
Wilson, S. (2000). Fragments: A narrative approach to arts-based research. Master of
Arts Thesis, University of British Columbia.
Wilson, S., Stephenson, W., Springgay, S., Irwin, R.L., de Cosson, A.. F. & Adu Poku, S. (2002).
Performative liberation: A multilectic inter/intrastanding of pedagogy. In T. Poetter, C. Haerr, M.
Hayes, C. Higgins & K. Wilson Baptist (Eds.). In(Ex)clusion (Re)Visioning the Democratic Ideal
(Papers from the 2nd Curriculum and Pedagogy Group's Annual Conference, University of Victoria,
BC, October 2001. (13 webpages). Troy, NY: Educator's International Press. See:
In many configurations the use of the slash is understood to mean ‘or’. For example the dualism of
mind/body can be written as a slash. However, I employ the slash as a process of doubling as
opposed to a dualistic meaning. For instance mind/body would mean mind and body or sometimes
neither and the activity between the two terms.
Irigaray (1993) re-conceptualizes Merleu-Ponty’s notion of Flesh, where the lived body is intertwined
in the world through experience. In her arguments she proposes that mucous is a more apt metaphor
for thinking of this intercorporeal space. Mucous, “which always marks the passage from inside to
outside, which accompanies, and “lubricates” the mutual touching of the body’s parts and regions”,
returns experience to the primacy of touch” (as cited in Grosz, 1999, p. 160). Mucous is neither
subject nor object but the inter-determinancy between them, unmediated by external sensibilities
(Grosz, 1999). Mucous is a more visceral, pulsating and active body knowing. The mucous can also
be understood on the level of maternal-fetal bond where blood courses through and is shared by both
bodies. For Irigaray, feminine morphology is never complete: “The birth that is never accomplished,
the body never created one and for all, the form never definitively completed” (1985, p. 217). Thus,
touch is not only the first sense but remains the primary mode of knowing. Mucous escapes control. It
cannot be grasped in its fluidity, or contained. As a lubricant it slips and seeps investing touch with
more of a caress than a grasp. It is precisely the fluid embodiment of touch that threatens
boundaries, sustains excess, dislocating system and order.
A/r/tography is an interdisciplinary methodology that examines the multiple sites of visual and
textual interfaces. As a methodology it proposes a complex interweaving of image and word and
draws upon a diverse range of theories and practices. For theoretical and conceptual arguments
regarding the field in addition to examples of a/r/tographical research see: de Cosson, 2001, 2002,
2003; de Cosson in press, 2003b; Irwin, 2003; Irwin & de Cosson, 2004; Springgay, in press,
2003, 2004; Springgay et. al, in press; Wilson, 2000; Wilson, et. al. 2002.
iv, retrieved February 2004.
as cited at
vi, retrieved February 2004.
Engaging youth through popular culture
Engaging Looking Glass Youth in Art through the Visual Narratives of the
Transforming Self in Popular Culture
Moniques Richard (University of Quebec in Montreal)
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This article examines how we can engage “looking glass” youth in art through the visual narratives of
the transforming self in popular culture. Part of the theoretical framework of two descriptive studies
will be presented by focusing on the concepts of a permuting identity, prophetic reality, and
technologies of self through the metaphor of the mirror and the screen of critical theories. Visual
narratives from popular culture, artists’ work, and children’s play that use graphic or electronic genres
such as comic strips, paper dolls, and coloring books will be described throughout. A special focus will
be given to art projects on the topic of permutable identity, and on the relations between body and
machine. In a posthuman era of mass communications and biotechnological extensions, art educators
should encourage students to understand how popular culture creates identity by engaging them in
playful yet critical practices of the transforming self.
Engaging Looking Glass Youth in Art through the Visual Narratives of the
Transforming Self in Popular Culture
“You can see a little peep of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door […] wide open”
(Carroll, 1978, p. 195), says Alice in the still popular Victorian story Through the Looking Glass. In his
book Carroll exploits the metaphor of the mirror as a passage to other realities: “Let’s pretend the
glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through” (p. 195) (See Figure 1). The mirror
metaphor is recurrent in postmodern theories to illustrate the play of surfaces where reflections and
reality can be confused (Clark, 1998 ; Kearney, 1988); in a posthuman era, the computer, the
cellular phone, and the television screen also act as reflective surfaces that one can penetrate and get
lost in (Rushkoff, 1999; Turkle, 1995). In this paper, the metaphor of the mirror is used as a way to
cross over boundaries, to explore permuting identities through the make-believe screen of visual
narratives, to compare cultural realities through their similarities and differences, and to describe the
strategies used in engaging youth in art through popular culture.
Mass media plays an important and pervasive role in youth’s culture, reflecting goods or brands on all
surrounding surfaces. But willingness to play allows youth to step out of the consumer world of
appearances, to invert roles with others, and to cross over to other realities that can be imagined
through art. What I call “looking glass youth” refers to youth’s playful culture of make-believe and its
potential to explore alternate realities beyond the screen of mediated images. In a looking glass
culture an engaging role for art teachers would be to help students capture these fluctuant realities in
visual narratives and to foster a ludic, critical and creative outlook behind the scenes of these self
transforming cultural practices.
In an ongoing descriptive study on Popular Culture and Permutable identity started in 1998 with
collaboratorsi, I have chosen to explore certain ludic genres of popular culture: dress apparel,
figurines, comic strips, coloring books, and paper dolls. This choice was made according to the
narrative, play and permutable aspects of these genres that enable one to structure and vary a
character's identity, as well as the aesthetic, and prophetic appeals that they exert on us and on
youngsters. The results of this study were first analyzed using mostly the concepts of permutable
identity and cultural democracy (Richard, 2001; in preparation). In a second descriptive study started
in 2000ii, some of the projects on the topic of Body and machine referred specifically to the
transforming self; the results were analyzed using the concepts of posthumanism, corporeality,
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permutable identity, metaphoric fictions, and critical pedagogy (Richard, 2005a). In the second part
of these studies, while still focusing on the notion of a permuting identity, the analysis will refer
specifically to the concepts of play, prophetic reality, and technologies of self within the frame of
critical theories.
In this paper, the underlying concept of a permuting identity will first be discussed with references to
Alice and other self-transforming characters within the context of critical studies and posthumanism.
Then the practice of popular culture will be defined and situated by focusing on its play or ludic
dimension, and on its production processes. Art will be described as a “threshold between different
cultures” (Richard, 2005b, p. 63) that functions somewhat as Carroll’s looking glass; art teaching
strategies that foster a playful receptivity to popular culture, its critical analysis, and an aesthetic of
the popular will be presented. Artifacts related to the topics of popular culture and permutable
identity will be described throughout: they include examples from popular culture, artists’ work, and
pedagogical projects. Finally, a glimpse will be given at other avenues for self-transformation through
the limen of biotechnological permutations.
The Transforming Self and Permuting Identity in Visual Narratives
In Alice’s adventures in Wonderland (1978), Lewis Carroll explores the alternate realities of the
transforming self: “Was I the same when I got up this morning?” (p. 36), wonders Alice after
ingesting some magical food that makes her shut up or open “like a telescope,” and reflect on who
she really is (see Figure 2). The youth thus questions the permanency of her identity: “But if I’m not
the same […] who in the world am I?” (p. 36). Alice stories go beyond the unified and limited modern
vision of our body and self-contained world, to reach the multilayered area of the posthuman, with its
biotechnological extensions that expand human capacities. Indeed, Alice still haunts our imagination
in the more recent popular lore of Hollywood movies and Internet games as she is now multiplied,
fragmented, and dispersed across the networks of digital signals. In the cult film The Matrixiii (1999),
the Brothers Wachowski use Carroll’s metaphor and its effect on the transforming self to describe the
hero’s descent to the underworld of the matrix after ingesting a red pill; the true nature of reality is
then revealed to the young hacker as an all pervading computer program screening the slavery of
humans to technological domination. Web sites also abound with references to Carroll’s looking glass
for topics as varied as digital imaging, computer games, personality disorders, cosmologic theories,
educative projects or political comments.
Alice’s passage through the looking glass can be used to exemplify the modern disruption of identity.
Kearney (1988) refers to the metaphor of a labyrinth of mirrors to describe the complexity and
multiple points of view in a postmodern identity, moving away from the metaphor of the lamp that he
uses to illustrate the rational search for truth and knowledge in modern times since the Renaissance.
According to Huyssen (1986), the modern identity inherited from the enlightenment was associated
with the expression of an authentic subjectivity that relied on characteristics such as gender, age,
race, or social status. These fixed reference points tended to standardize identity around an
essentialist and universal model. However, from the start of the 19th century, the unity of the
modern identity was already being disrupted by the advent of reproduction technologies and, later, in
the progressive refinement of communications throughout the 20th century (Benjamin, 1973). In the
postmodern era, starting towards the second third of the 20th century, the imagery conveyed by mass
culture disrupts the creation of a stable identity and asserts art’s role as a commodity (p. 149).
Massively reproduced in Carroll’s tales and Tenniel’s illustrations since 1865, the irrational worlds of
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Alice have spread across space and time to modify the modern imaginary and open it up to virtual
realities and globalization’s commodities.
The foundations of personal and collective identities in traditional structures such as “social class, the
extended and nuclear family, local communities, the neighborhood, religion, trade unions, the nation
state’’ (Strinati, 1995, p. 238) have been shaken in postmodern times under late capitalism and
globalization. They have given rise to contrasting phenomena: the reconstructed family, urban
isolation, global computer networking, the engulfing of identities by multinationals under brand
images, and the high value placed on individuality. Although these phenomena are at their peak at
the beginning of the 21th century, historical examples of these changes in sensibility can already be
found in popular culture: in Rodolphe Töpffer’s comic strip Mr. Tric Trac (1831), characters switch
identities through a costume changeover, playing on contrasting social classes; in McLoughlin
Brother’s Votes for Women (1920) paper doll set, girls can play with new role models for women
including that of political activist.
For some time critical theorists have taken the postmodern decline of traditions into consideration and
challenged the notion of identity. For Foucault (1988), different technologies construct subjectivity, by
articulating the discourses of each system: production technologies, technologies of sign systems,
technologies of power, and technologies of self (p. 18). As for “technologies of self,” they include
practices that allow one to know, act on, and transform self as a “political subject,” according to
Foucault, while responding to needs through processes such as epistolary writings, diaries, self help
classes, etc. Identity is also constructed by the exclusion of certain others, such as criminals and the
mentally challenged (p. 146), whose differences serve as an element of comparison to affirm one’s
identity. For Deleuze and Guattari (1980), subjectivity inhabits a body without a fixed identity, where
various “connections” emerge according to the encounters made; through its circulation “desire” finds
a collective expression. Butler (1990) further suggests that gender is a socially constructed relation
among subjects, which is “performed” and changes according to context and time. Furthermore, for
Haraway (1991), the posthuman identity arises at the “crossroads” of the human and non-human, of
the machine and the organic, of the self and the other (p. 267).
Defining permutable identity as the social construction of the individual’s potentiality allows one to
tackle identity as a constant transformation, permuting oneself “according to the roles we play or
anticipate, without denying the essential presence of the body in exploring these real and fake
identities” (Richard, 2001, p. 214). Permutable identity is also akin to Taylor’s (2004) use of multiple
identities and to Turkle’s (1995) analysis of the role of computers in revealing these varied identities.
Through this concept one can express the various aspects of the self and of others.
But let’s get back to Alice, the Victorian youth, who is still quite popular today by a phenomenon of
“nostalgia” that Klein (2000) calls “culture consumed again.” Alice’s presence in various by-products,
such as paper dolls, figurines, and coloring books, in print form or on the Web, attests to this. Other
characters of popular literature have been permuting their identities since the 50’s, from their
mundane roles to the status of superheroes: Superman, Spiderman, Wonderwoman, and The
Incredible Hulk. These famous American comic book figures reflect nostalgia and incite consumerism.
But they also convey values that transcend the daily reality of the young.
Other examples of permuting identities abound in manga, the popular Asian comic books, or in
Kisekae Web games. Manga are mass produced in Japan and distributed world wide: Gundam,
Pokemon, and Ranma permute or multiply their identities to adapt themselves to varied
circumstances narrated in these popular visual stories. In Ranma 1/2, by Takahashi (1994), the main
character changes gender when soaked in cold or warm water, and must adjust his/her behavior to
the transformations in all kinds of gender related situations. In the Japanese Kisekae game, the
player can change the look of a character with a click of the mouse, switching gender or combining it
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with other species or machine parts, at the “crossroads” of the posthuman. Another example of role
games on the Web is Dungeons and Dragons, MUDs (multiple-user domains), where “young people
can adopt different identities and transform themselves according to their fantasies or the rules of the
game” (Richard, 2005a).
One can follow adventures of such permuting characters in print or on film; interact with them on the
Nintendo or on the Web; collect their spin-off products; one can also produce personal versions of
these characters. They all share with Alice the power to transform themselves, to transcend the
mundane, and to open up to other realities.
Permutable identity can be practiced through “prophetic reality”, a concept adapted to children’s
visual narratives by Brent and Marjorie Wilson (1982) as a way to explore alternate realities through
drawing. Since 1989, Wilson (2005) has been gathering comic strips in Japanese schools that
exemplify the youth’s use of prophetic reality to explore values and attitudes of self and others.
Characters from the manga such as Doraemon permeate these witty visual narratives (See Figure 3).
In such narratives prophetic reality allows youth to adapt and transform themselves according to
values associated with individual and social identity, gender, different cultural influences, and
particular socio-economic statuses. It enables students to explore the many facets of their
personality, to act out roles, to toy with social prohibitions, without risking consequences such as
Prophetic reality can be combined with permuting identity in schools. In an international paper doll
exchange project presented in Quebec, Scotland, and Denmark, children from age 6 to 12 acted out
different personalities in their drawings and anticipated the outcomes of varying behavior on paper.iv
They explored gender and, even, species transformations through clothing, accessories, and
technological or organic extensions of the body in their self-portrait dolls, and presented their multiple
selves to peers from other cultures. In one self-portrait on his leisure activities, an eleven year old
boy drew himself with the outfits of a robot, a superhero and a girl, allowing him to switch gender and
species without being exposed to disparaging comments from peers (See Figure 4). Others explored
everyday clothes with popular logos printed on them, reflecting the media’s imprint on youth identity,
or mundane activities such as Karate classes, a popular technology of self with youth. In the comic
strip The New Season (1998), ten- and eleven-year-old boys in Longueuil imagine work opportunities
by permuting their character into a camp counselor or a squeegee punk (See Figure 5), in an informal
practice of collaborative drawing. In the project Superheroes (1999), some multiethnic 6th graders
from Montreal chose to disguise and photograph themselves as manga heroes to share cultural values
with peers (See Figure 6), in a formal project coordinated by the art teacher Laurence Sylvestre.
As “technologies of self,” the preceding examples give way to the circulation of various “desires” that
can be “performed” through visual narratives. They allow children to play with the inclusive, the
collective, and the subversive aspects of identity, making unusual “connections” at the “crossroads” of
traditional categories. While developing a fluctuant image of self, the individual opens up to
otherness, questioning the other’s specificity and accepting differences more easily since different
identity realities can be tried out in varied worlds beyond the “looking glass” of consumer culture.
These self-transformations allow youth to adapt more easily to the social and cultural environment’s
demands and to, possibly, transform their identity according to their youthful aspirations or to those
of a specific social or cultural group.
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Defining Looking Glass Youth’s Practices of Popular Culture
Although multiple definitions of popular culture coexist (Denning, 1991; Duncum, 1987; Fiske, 1989;
Giroux, 1994; Reed, 2002), this paper focuses on an anthropological view of popular culture because
it takes into account youth practices as they relate to the artifacts studied. Strinati (1995) defines
popular culture as a set of artifacts produced for or by specific users, that comes with related social
practices; he considers both the hegemonic and the populist views in his analysis of popular culture.
He maintains that a creative and subversive appropriation of the artifacts by the consumer can lead
to a critical stance. In fact, although popular culture serves as a hegemonic vehicle for ideologies
conveyed by the leading groups that relay information and imagery through capitalist societies, it also
provides an opportunity for leisure and recreation that is pleasurable and stimulates the senses. It
also contributes towards identifying the consumer with a social group and to the expression of
particular values.
In the course of this study, I have previously referred to the concept of a cultural democracy to
describe the practices of popular culture since this concept allows for “subversive and playful
perspectives to cohabit without aiming at the assimilation of marginal cultures to a dominant culture”
(Richard, in preparation). What was described as a “contextualized cultural participation” allows one
to examine the practices of youth as consumers of mass media who also produce their own artifacts,
that reflect their common interests and values, all the while creating a playful community of shared
In this paper, I have chosen to focus on the playful dimension of popular culture’s imagery, mostly
because play is an essential component of children’s life and of our leisure society. For Huizinga
(1962), play is seen as a voluntary act that, for the sake of pleasure, subverts objects or gestures
from their usual function. This subversive quality is akin to art’s play, and to popular culture’s
appropriation and détournement of usual objects by the users (de Certeau, 1990). de Certeau thus
characterizes the practices of popular culture as the art of use and combination of everyday objects,
what he calls bricolage. The popular genres chosen as the focus for this study entice such play and
subversion in the form of role games or stories.
But for a playful appropriation to be effective, one must know the rules to be deviated. Students
should therefore be initiated to the processes regarding the making of popular artifacts. These
processes include: a) the production; b) the distribution; and c) the reception of artifacts. The cultural
practices related to these processes are first characterized by the planning of different processes by
teams of workers, according to a targeted public. During production, one notes the appropriation of
styles, the borrowing and copying of images, as well as the narration of more or less complex stories,
according to the consumer’s interests. Different vehicles serve as a support for these genres: film,
print, manufactured product, and digital media. Each genre has a specific code, with properties for
each of its components: image or object, text, sign, page layout, presentation device. During
distribution, the massively reproduced product is made widely accessible through the immediacy of
broadcasting, and works its way everywhere into our environment: we can find it in theme parks,
shopping centers, magazines, websites, posters in public spaces, behind fast-food counters, or on
television. At the time of reception, the variety of products stimulates consumption; it promotes the
exchange of collectibles between consumers.
This practice also allows for the playful appropriation and transformation of the products by the users,
and can thus entice a new cycle of production, this time, by the consumer. For although popular
imagery is mainly mass produced and distributed by postindustrial techniques, such as books,
magazines, flyers, commercial films, video games, toys and other spin-off products, it can also be
usermade. Youth of all ages and cultures produce artwork inspired by the popular genres they
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consume. These practices of visual narratives take place informally, at home, in schools or on the
Web. Fanzines, self made magazines (Congdon & Blandy, 2003) or dojinshis (Wilson, 2005), self
made manga, are produced and distributed by youth with simple technological means. Kisekae dolls
can be submitted to web sites by Internet users, enabling cultural participation and identity play
through this form of popular art. Many other Web games or chat rooms encourage youth all over the
world to create Avatars, their own personal play character made up of interconnected parts (Suler,
1999), as a virtual presentation of self.
Youth can democratically appropriate popular imagery through the manipulation, exchange, and
production of cultural goods, or by diverting objects from their intended use. But they should also
critically examine the censored cultural practices imposed by various ideologies at work in mass
culture (Strinati,1995). The consumer-directed processes of popular culture should thus be completed
by an interpretation that reaches beyond the practices of the producers, the distributors, and the
consumers of popular culture to attain a critical outlook on these practices with the help of artists,
teachers or critics.
The multiple viewpoints expressed by different authors on visual culture (Duncum, 2001; Jencks,
1995), consumer culture (Slater, 1997), and youth culture all share certain similarities in that they
engulf mass, popular, high, and other cultures. But the cultural practices of youth extend outside the
visual and beyond consumption. The make-believe world of youth implies multisensorial practices or
“performances,” in Butler’s (1990) sense, that engage the whole body and do not necessarily require
economic transactions such as purchasing goods. They “perform” cultural practices according to their
desires that include détournement and bricolage. Engaging youth in a contextualized democratic
cultural participation would thus mean enticing them to examine their cultural practices in sociological
context with the specific attitudes, beliefs, and values associated with them.
Crossing the Threshold Between Cultures through the Liminal Strategies of Art
Since the end of the 19th century, artists have been interested in popular culture, reacting to the
emergence of culture’s commercialization. criticizing or celebrating mass production and distribution.
By separating the artwork from the tradition of handmade production and by providing the public with
broad access beyond that of the museum and the workshop, mechanical reproduction affected the
work of art’s aura (Benjamin, 1973, p. 223). Artists have adapted themselves to this loss of
uniqueness, singularity and self-sufficiency by proposing more open forms: from happenings to
postproduction art. In the past decades one witnesses a fusion of categories separating high art from
popular or mass culture (Bourriaud, 2002; Naremore & Brantlinger, 1991). Here are some examples:
Sonia Delaunay and her paper doll theater costumes for Gas Heart (1923); Roy Lichtenstein and his
comic book paintings (1962); Michel Martineau’s Double game paper doll painting (1983) (see Figure
7); Mariko Mori’s replica dolls and performances as a teen (1995); David Levinthal and his domestic
photographic scenes of Barbie (1997-98); Yoshito Nara’s giant figurines (1999); and Colin Quashie’s
treatment of racial identities in coloring book form (2005).v
Art teachers have also been interested in popular culture although historical documentation of this
phenomenon is less common than in the sphere of art. Lemerise (2005) found that industrial art,
applied arts, and decorative art lessons abounded in mass culture references at the beginning of the
20th century, training competent draftsmen for the labor market in full expansion at the time. These
references diminished in the '40s, with modernism’s influences, to the benefit of the child’s
expressiveness or of artistic formalism. From the '70s on, certain teachers took an interest in the
inclusion of popular culture in art education (Chapman, 1978; Lanier, 1973;;Wilson & Wilson, 1977);
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
in Quebec, a specific curriculum explored media education, but mostly in its technical aspects
(Lemerise & Richard, 1999). Since the end of the '80s, popular culture has reappeared in the
educators’ discourses: either in the context of media education, or from the '90s onwards, in that of a
broader visual culture (Duncum, 2001; Tavin, 2005). Throughout these decades, popular culture has
been the target of warnings regarding its integration in schools. A case in point is that of coloring
books, accused by some of transmitting reactionary values and cliché imagery (Chapman, 1978;
Landry & Wallot, 1980; Lowenfeld, 1957). But an extensive interpretation of popular genres generally
demonstrates the complexity of their narratives which convey values that cannot easily be reduced to
a single ideology (Barker, 1989, p. 299). For example, during a sick leave, Elaine Poirier, a high
school teacher, chose to subvert the art-centered pedagogy in her art class by asking students to fill
in coloring book pages prepared for the substitute teacher. This project is a reminder of the
particularities of school culture (Efland, 1976) that can easily be confused with art to the detriment of
youth culture or high culture.
As an art educator, it is a matter of providing students with an aesthetic encounter that should be
both engaging and critical in examining the context at work in popular culture. Art at school can
operate as a sort of looking glass, a threshold between cultures: it takes us from one category to the
other and finds its quality in the transitions and references that lead us to discover the relations
between different cultures’ artifacts and practices, of what lies behind the mirror. The topic of
permuting identity can act as a common threshold between art, popular culture, and youth, and the
graphic genres such as the ones selected for this study, as vehicles to facilitate the passage from one
culture to the next. Such imaginary play with visual narratives allows youth to explore multiple selves
and tell stories. Projects such as the paper doll self-portraits can act as technologies of self to engage
transformation processes.
In the same manner, the event Popular Culture and Permutable Identity prompted teachers to
examine the impact of popular culture on youth’s identity, and to understand popular culture’s way of
functioning by reflecting on the topic with a group of collaborators. Another objective was to find
creative ways to integrate this culture in art teaching practices as a source of motivation for youth, a
way for them to question their identity, and to foster cultural democracy in classroom practices.
Participants in the exhibit first received visual documentation on the topic of permutable identity and
popular culture to trigger ideas for their projects. The package included examples such as Tenniel’s
(1865, 1872) and Disney’s (1976) illustrations of Alice; Superman (1991); Ranma 1/2 (1994); and
Dungeons & Dragons (1994) role playing games. It also included artwork related to the topic and
popular genres such as the ones described in this paper. An exhibition was held in April 1999 at the
Exhibition Center of the Masters Program in Visual and Media Arts at the University of Quebec in
Montreal. It presented to the Montreal public the results of some artistic and pedagogical projects
inspired by popular culture. It included artwork playing on the aesthetic of consumerism, interactive
activities such as a fax exchange with schools, a Web site, and a colloquium addressing the impact of
popular culture on youth’s identity and on art teaching. Artists’ and students’ works were presented
together with their cultural referents. A large audience attended the exhibit, attracted by its colorful
department store-like window display, and its interactive qualities. They thus discovered a democratic
access to culture and playful ways to explore multiple identities.
In the course of this study, I have examined the pedagogical practices in these projects and, as a
result, proposed strategies to engage youth in art through popular culture. They include: (a)
acknowledging this culture through its reception in schools; (b) allowing the appropriation of its
artifacts and practices through play; (c) exploring its codes and genres; (d) including historical and
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
cultural perspectives; (e) reflecting critically on its practices and products; (f) exploring prophetic
visual narratives and permutation games in artistic production; and (g) encouraging collaborative
practices throughout (Richard, in preparation). For this part of the study, I combine these strategies
with the processes of reception, production, and distribution of popular culture and with three
strategies identified for a posthuman pedagogy in schools (Richard, 2005a):
1) At the time of reception, giving access to popular fictions by critically discussing genres and
presenting related artifacts would enable students to go through an aesthetic experience, then to
examine its signification and the social, economic, and ideological stakes inherent to consumption.
2) At the time of production, varying youth’s means of expression by combining informal and formal
practices linked to popular culture would foster a practice both poetical and critical that would
generate a new personal or collective production.
3) At the time of distribution, articulating experiments in visual narratives with corporeal experiences
in multidisciplinary, collaborative, and critical displays would allow the students to present their work
in a critical yet playful way.
Such an approach would be inclusive of pluralist cultural views. It would open itself up to the
circulation of desire by allowing youth to play with multiple identities through prophetic reality. It
would critically examine the ramifications of signification in cultural practices and help the students
locate themselves in relation to the, often, contradicting values conveyed by popular culture and
different life contexts.
Other Avenues for Self Transformation
Alice’s presence now extends to the virtual art world of media artists. In VirtuAlice (1997), Sobell &
Hartzell wonder with Alice “at the keyhole to Webland: What good are our heads without our
shoulders?" In an interactive installation separated by glass, these artists explore a passage between
the physical space of the street and the cyberspace of the Web; spectators can peer through the
membrane at each other's representations, performing a collaborative dance between the liminal
spaces, controlling some aspects of each other's environment.
In the event Body and machine, I have been tackling the relationship of body and technology with
other collaborators. The influences of popular culture and permutable identity were very present in
these pedagogical projects although these were not the topics being studied by the collaborating
artists, teachers, and students. Nevertheless they inspired some self-permutation projects linked to
biotechnologies. In Logozoa (2001), 5th graders and college students convey messages to parents in
the form of spermatozoa to counter the commercialization surrounding birth; after critically
examining branding and commercial logos, the youth filled in the coloring book outlines of
spermatozoa with personal In Fictional Identities (2002), computer generated identity cards,
DNA structures, and bar codes were made by high school students to criticize the exploitation of
identity control, surveillance, and consumerismvii We still need to work with students to explore the
numerous possibilities of new technology in their art and in popular culture, and the impact of such
technology on the youth’s sense of a transforming identity.
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of popular culture on youth identity and its
integration in art teaching practices through the metaphor of the mirror allowing for selftransformation. We have seen how such cultural practices can be used as a way to question identity
and to engage youth in art and in reflective practices. Like Alice’s looking glass, the liminal teaching
strategies presented in this paper can help foster circulation between different cultural realities; they
can lead the students to a collective empowerment through the sharing of imaginary worlds. Already
present in the field of critical theories, popular culture, and art, the notion of a permuting identity
promises to metamorphose the beliefs and practices of art education. If one wants to follow cultural
and social modifications that occur at the accelerated speed of technological changes, it is by starting
in school that one must integrate this permuting dimension to teaching strategies and to the
construction of the youth’s identity. In a “looking glass” world, these are some of the challenges
facing us at the beginning of this millennium.
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
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Figure 1
John Tenniel, Black and white illustration for Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, reproduced in 1978.
Figure 2
John Tenniel, Black and white illustration for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, reproduced in 1978.
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
Figure 3
4th grade student, Satiric manga inspired by Doraemon, Japan,1989. Photo courtesy of Brent Wilson.
Figure 4
5th grade student, Paper Doll Self-portrait, Longueuil, 1998.
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
Figure 5
4, 5, and 6th grade students, a page from The New Season, Longueuil, 1997.
Figure 6
Superheroes, 1998. Photo courtesy of Laurence Sylvestre.
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
Figure 7
Michel Martineau, Double Game, 1983. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
This research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
(SSHRC), from 1999 to 2003, as part of a larger research program on the project based approach to
art. The coordinating team for the event Popular Culture and Permutable identity, included Mona
Trudel, a university teacher, and Stephane Dussault, a primary school art teacher, under the
responsibility of the author.
This research is partly funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
(SSHRC), from 2003 to 2007, as part of a larger international research program on Body and
technological fictions. The event Body and machine included three exhibitions in Montreal in 2002, a
colloquium, artists performances, and an art video program presented to a wider public of artists, art
historians, teachers, philosophers, etc. The collaborative team included Centre Turbine, a media arts
distribution center for youth, with other cultural organizations: the “Programme de soutien à l’école
montréalaise” (a pedagogical support program in Montreal schools), the Montreal museum of
contemporary art, the Montreal Science Center, the UQAM Art Gallery, ENSART, a group of art
education professors from the University of Quebec network, as well as thirty or so schools from the
Montreal School Board and from other regions of the Province of Quebec
For a discussion of how the film The Matrix can be used as a postmodern primer for high school
students, see Stewart (2003)
The Self-portrait paper dolls project (1998-1999) was coordinated by the author. An Internet
catalogue of the project can be found on the Website:
Illustrations of most of the artifacts included in this pedagogical package can be found by googling
them on the Web.
The project Logozoa was coordinated by the author with the collaboration of Véronique Proulx and
Emmanuelle Allard as research assistants. It was presented to a 5th grade class at l’École StAmbroise in Montreal, under the supervision of Stephane Dussault, and to the art history class of
Johane Lépine at the Collège François-Xavier-Garneau in Quebec city. It was facilitated by the
researcher as part of her funded research
The project Fictional Identities was coordinated by Stephane Dussault in the class of Pauline
Gingras in Jacques-Rousseau High School in Longueuil. It was facilitated by the researcher as part of
her funded research.
Cultuur + Educatie Nr. 15
Digital Kids and Visual Culture: Art Education and
Curriculum in an Age of Immersive Digital Technology
Pamela G. Taylor (Virginia Commonwealth University)
Stephen B. Carpenter (Texas A&M University
As digital technology rapidly invades more aspects of human life and culture than ever before, our
ideas of art, art making, and art education are continually questioned. Theories of visual culture in art
education (Duncum, 2002: Freedman, 2003) challenged art educators to include images and objects
from everyday life such as television, the World Wide Web, video games, cartoons, theme parks, and
malls as foci for exploring the social and political implications of our visual world. The visual art world
itself has become a digital extravaganza of interactive exhibitive space, collaborative art making,
pastiche of old and new, performance, and new media that fuses light, sound, and kinetics. Although
new to many practicing artists and art teachers, the rapid, fast-paced way of digitally seeing is
routine for contemporary “digital kids” (Jukes, 2005) who are not amazed by current or latest
advances in technology. It simply is. And yet, they as well as we, are a part of what Daniel Pink
(2005) calls a change in hands of the kingdom from those who could crank code, craft contracts and
crunch numbers to those known as creators, empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers
(p. 1).
Written as a reflection of challenges posed by the authors’ mentors, Dr. Brent Wilson and Dr. Marjorie
Wilson at the Pennsylvania State University, this paper begins a dialogue concerning the place and
importance of recognizing digital mediation in art education through the exploration of the following
questions: What is digital media? How are our views of the world mediated by digital imagery? Why is
this important for art education? What are the theoretical and practical implications for the inclusion
of digital media in art education? What would a digitally mediated art education classroom look like?
Digital Kids and Visual Culture: Art Education and Curriculum in an Age of
Immersive Digital Technology
In North America most people under the age of 25 live in an environment of digital technology.1 That
is, many of these people know a digitally mediated existence as standard. With remote control or
computer mouse in hand, these “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) spend hours in front of their
television and computer screens while presented with images at the speed of light. This rapid, fastpaced way of seeing is routine for contemporary “digital kids” who are not amazed by current or
latest advances in technology. As Douglas Rushkoff (1999) suggests, “Indeed, screenagers appear to
be interacting with their world in ways that are as dramatically altered from their grandparents’
experiences as the first winged creatures were from their earthbound forebears. What’s more, this
intensity of evolutionary change shows no signs of slowing down” (p. 5). Whether we call them
“digital natives,” “screenagers,” or “digital kids” they live in an age in which they are immersed in
computer and digital technology. It is part of their everyday existence as constant navigators in a
digitally mediated landscape.
Digital kids think and process information fundamentally differently as a result of their complete
immersion and access to such digital wonders as computers, the Internet, cell phones, MP3 layers,
CDs, video games, and digital cameras. Operating under what may be called a “MTV mindset,” digital
kids process information through images, sounds, and video in addition to text and language. In other
words, lectures, readings, and simple research assignments are not sufficient for digital kids’ ways of
According to BBC News, “worldwide only 14% of the population is online, compared with 62% in the US.” Retrieved November 16, 2005,
knowing. They demand “twitch speed” or instantaneous access to information, time, places, and
possibilities. Unlike those of previous generations who may be considered “DSL” (digital as a second
language), digital kids do not need instruction or tutorials for computer software, equipment, or
games. Fearlessly they click, push buttons, scroll, Google™, blog, vlog, upload, download, and
engage in other digitally mediated activities that many adults rarely imagine. “They crave access to
tools that let them network with their peers or anyone or anything else they choose to interact with.
And for them, it’s second nature to multitask. They expect, want, and need tools that provide
hyperlinks and instantaneous random access that allow them to connect everyone and everything to
everyone and everything else simultaneously for instant gratification” (Jukes, 2005, pp. 9-10).
Ultimately, students are fundamentally different than they were ten years ago; they act, think, and
learn differently. In the process, they demand different forms of educational engagement informed by
their constantly changing digital landscape.
Digital Media
Digital media refers to any type of information in digital format and includes computer-generated
text, graphics, animations, photographs, sound and video. Digital media encompasses digital audio,
digital video, television, film, the World Wide Web and other technologies that can be used to create
and distribute digital "content." Digital refers to:
a method of storing, processing and transmitting information through the use of distinct electronic or
optical pulses that represent the binary digits 0 and 1. Digital transmission/switching technologies
employ a sequence of discrete, distinct pulses to represent information, as opposed to the
continuously variable analog signal. Because digital signals are made up only of binary streams, less
information is needed to transmit a message. Furthermore, only digitized information can be
transported through a noisy channel without degradation. Even if corruption occurs, as long as the
one zero pattern is recognizable, the original information content can be perfectly replicated at the
receiving end. (Notepage, 2005, para. 3).
According to Peter Lunenfeld (2000), digital media is “the capacity of the electronic computer to
encode a vast variety of information digitally that has given it such a central place within
contemporary culture. As all manner of representational systems are recast as digital information,
then all can be stored, accessed, and controlled by the same equipment. This is the true basis of the
‘multimedia’ revolution” (p. xvi). Digital media surrounds us and makes our lives both easier and
more difficult as it alters and mediates the ways we view our world and our human existence.
Mediated Perspectives
How are our views of the world mediated by digital imagery? The interactive world of digital media
may have been foretold in William Gibson's (1995) prescient novel Neuromancer as "a consensual
hallucination experienced daily by billions of [human] beings” (p. 51). Unlike virtual reality that
operates under the assumption that we are “in” the computer, Mark Weiser’s (1996) theory of
“ubiquitous computing” or “calm technology” called our attention to the ways computers serve every
person around the world. “Over the next twenty years computers will inhabit the most trivial things:
clothes labels (to track washing), coffee cups (to alert cleaning staff to moldy cups), light switches (to
save energy if no one is in the room), and pencils (to digitize everything we draw). In such a world,
we must dwell with computers, not just interact with them”(p. 2).
Jay David Bolter and Diane Gromala (2003) explained that with the scattering of computing and
digital devices throughout our environment, we as users enter into a performative relationship with
digital design (p. 147). We read, yes, but we also play and interact and “like the printed book, film,
and television before it, the computer is not a neutral space for conveying information. It shapes the
information it conveys and is shaped in turn by the physical and cultural worlds in which it functions”
(p. 77). For example, like many children in the past, digital kids often try to emulate specific
characters and stars they see in magazines, on television, and in films. The difference now is that
with the capabilities afforded by computer imaging, movie, and animation software, digital kids see
themselves now as the character on their computer screens. Digital kids witness their ideas about
government, war, politics, team dynamics, family values, and religion played out on their television
and computer screens. They fill their art with images and symbols from their favorite television
commercials, cartoons, music, videos, and films. They play games while they simultaneously watch
television, chat with strangers on-line, and conduct research. These digital kids develop networked
selves that adapt to their digital environment.
To illustrate a case of digital existence and immersion, we offer the example of a young 8 year old
boy named Ian. A self-described “gamer,” [See Figure 1] Ian is a “digital kid.” During a recent visit
with Ian, we observed that over a two-day period he played electronic games on four different types
of technology: his family’s desktop computer, his Gameboy™, the Playstation™ in his family’s SUV,
and his father’s mobile phone. During the week, Ian is not allowed to use the computer except to do
homework, but on the weekends and holidays, he enters the world of digital culture as often as
possible. Regardless of the computer game or website on the computer screen in his family’s home
office, a small-window continuously displays Cartoon Network™ in the upper right hand corner. His 12
year old sister Alanna prefers to play outside in the woods, practice her violin, or go to dance class.
Although her parents ensure that she has time to use the computer at home and is familiar with
many of the same games and applications, Alanna only occasionally uses the computer and is not
caught up in that world to the same degree as her brother. While their interest in digital technology
varies, Ian and Alanna are not overwhelmed by digital technology but rather live in coexistence with
That said, everyday we see interdisciplinary and technological practices that involve artist(s), viewers,
teachers, and students in the making and seeing of meaningful connections. We are faced with
spectacular technologies, immersive visual culture, alternative exhibition possibilities, and the need
for global inclusion and sensitivity. In the process, our ideas about reality, art, text, politics, and
world events are mediated and affected by such intermediate agents as computers, television, public
officials, communication, and the news.
Digital Metaphors
Bolter and Gromala (2001) observed:
In our media-saturated culture, it is inevitable that we should understand Web sites, computer
games, or even productivity tools in comparison with other media. We make these comparisons so
quickly and automatically that they become almost unconscious. That is why we love metaphors and
computer icons (p. 92).
Digital metaphors assist us in understanding, connecting and making sense of the digital technology
they are called upon to represent. While assisting in explaining the meaning and significance of digital
experiences, digital metaphors rely upon historical references and concomitantly challenge and
change themselves in the process. For example, avatars are commonly used in digital communities
and represent a body double in cyberspace. There are many World Wide Web sites devoted to
downloadable or customized created re-presentational avatars. Such re-presentations may take many
recognizable and non-recognizable forms such as animals, cartoons, food, and television stars. The
point is to create or use a personally representative digital metaphor.
According to ancient Indian culture, the Sanskrit word avatara means “the descent of God” or
“incarnation.” (Nikhilino Online Systems, 1999). Avatars represented God’s incarnation on earth in an
effort to arouse the love of God everywhere by illustrating his manifestation in many forms. In
English, the word has come to mean "an embodiment, a bodily manifestation of the Divine" (Nikhilino
Online Systems, 1999, para. 1). In digital media, avatars are alter egos that challenge our definition
of embodiment. Charles Garoian and Yvonne Gaudelius (2004) warned against such blanket
disembodiment or “the reduction of the body, technology and subjectivity to information that can be
coded and transmitted” (p. 58). Instead, they called for discourse engagement about technology to
imagine new possibilities for the body and identity that include both the pleasures and critique of
technology” (p. 59). Using such performance art examples from osseus labyrint, Goat Island, and
Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Garoian and Gaudelius suggested that “discussing both pedagogy and
technology as sites/sights/cites, art educators can understand their metaphorical relationships rather
than confining their understanding solely to the literal and binary configurations of schooling and
technologies” (p. 49).
The critical understanding of our metaphorical and other relationships with digital technologies is at
the heart of theories of visual and media literacy. The International Visual Literacy Association (2005)
defines visual literacy as:
a group of vision competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having
and integrating other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to
normal human learning. When developed, they enable a visually literate person to discriminate and
interpret the visual actions, objects, and/or symbols, natural or man-made, that are [encountered] in
[the] environment. Through the creative use of these competencies, [we are] able to communicate
with others. Through the appreciative use of these competencies, [we are] able to comprehend and
enjoy the masterworks of visual communications" (Fransecky & Debes, 1972, p. 7).
The Center for Media Literacy (2003) defines media literacy as “the ability to communicate
competently in all media forms, print and electronic, as well as to access, understand, analyze and
evaluate the powerful images, words and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media
culture” (para. 3). We believe strongly that students must develop critical viewing practices of popular
and visual culture and learn how to deconstruct cultural identity representations in the mass media if
they are to become informed citizens of this democracy (Taylor & MacDonald, 1996).
Digital Mediation and Art Education
Why is digital mediation important for art education? (See Figure 2). Digital media is not one media
form, but a series of convergences—combinations of technologies and forms of the real and the
unreal. We do not operate, control or simply use digital media. We interact with and experience it.
Charles Jonscher (1999) employed healthy skepticism about the roles and purposes of digital
technology in contemporary life. Jonscher (1999) observed, “The debate is not about what technology
can do (on this there is general agreement) but about who we are in the digital age. The insights
needed are not technical—a summary of the fundamentals will do—but humanistic, a sense of how
people interact in society” (p. 7). As digital devices mediate more and more of our human existence,
follow us around in our homes, our cars, and our pockets, “many of us now seem to prefer both
working and leisure environments in which two or more media forms compete for our moment-tomoment attentions. . . The purpose of digital design is to add in compelling and informative ways to
the landscape of converging and diverging media devices” (Bolter and Gromala, 2001, p. 108-112).
This constantly changing digital culture “landscape of media devices” requires meaningful ways to
recognize, interrogate, understand, know, change, and accept its various social and political
implications. Such engagement with the mediated cultural landscape is important to Visual Culture Art
Education or VCAE (Duncum, 2002): “A visual culture approach requires a substantial shift in what is
to be known about images. Knowing about television productions and audience reception is different
from knowing about Monet. . . VCAE assumes that visual representations are sites of ideological
struggle that can be as deplorable as they can be praiseworthy” (pp. 7-8). Indeed, a digitally
mediated visual culture is complex.
Art educator Robert Sweeny (2004) pointed to three lines of sight or three tactical forms of aesthetic
trickery inherent in digital culture that might lead to art education practices that are 1) socially
relevant, 2) technologically critical, and 3) help us to think through current moments of unthinkable
complexity. The key phrase here—unthinkable complexity—may call for a formulation of goals, plans,
and ways of working that simplify, coordinate, and arrange. On the contrary, the unthinkable
complexity of digital media requires critical and theoretical inquiry that capitalizes on the problematic
and complicated essence inherent to the form. In other words, instead of the conventional
approaches to teaching and learning that reduce knowledge to basic facts, elements, and/or
principles, digitally mediated ways of knowing require multifaceted, perpetually evolving, and openended pedagogical strategies that embrace the vast propensities of today’s digital kids.
What are the theoretical and practical implications for the inclusion of digital media in art education?
While life in a digital world might be natural for digital kids, many of their teachers struggle to
navigate the same digital landscape. While more and more school districts enact reform measures to
increase the use of digital technology in instruction and the curriculum, few teachers actually use the
technology effectively or have a level of understanding and facility with the technology that is
sufficient enough to bring it to their instruction and make it meaningful. For example, in a recent
survey of 23 3rd through 5th grade teachers in Virginia to assess their comfort and familiarity with
computer technology, most were comfortable using e-mail and printing documents but few were
comfortable creating PDFs, transferring digital video and still images from digital cameras, or
uploading files to a server (Carpenter, 2004). These teachers represented three different school
systems in which six taught in an independent, private school and ten were arts teachers, either
visual, music, or dance. The data from this small survey suggest that despite the increased discussion
about the pervasiveness of computer technology in schools and in our lives, fewer than 50% of these
teachers were comfortable doing the kinds of tasks necessary to respond to the types of assignments
and activities we know to be meaningful, constructivist learning activities for students. Further,
Provenzo, Brett, and McCloskey (2005) question the degree of understanding teachers possess about
“how technology influences thinking, social relationships, or how knowledge is communicated” even
though they use technology in their daily tasks at work (p. 20). Having the technology is meaningless
without the training and support for teachers to use it comfortably and effectively.
A few years ago at a seminar that focused on the current and future uses and implications for
computer technology on one of our university campuses, representatives from across the institution
considered a variety of issues, including how and what steps needed to be taken in order to ensure
that the next generations of students would consider applying and attending the university. Among
the guest speakers was a high school teacher and two of her students. Each student said a few words
about the use of computers in their school and how their courses were designed with respect to
technology. After their overview, the students fielded questions from the audience comprised of
university administrators, professors, and information technology specialists.
The response to one question in particular resonated among the audience because it made evident
the degree to which they had been and probably continue to be out of touch with the interests,
needs, and realities of the young people in high schools they are attempting to attract to the
university. The question from the audience to the students was, “So when your teacher assigns you a
long essay or chapter to read, are you able to read it on the screen or do you print it out?” Both
students looked back at the audience in the direction in which the question had originated with an
odd, puzzled look. Finally, in a matter of fact tone, one student said, “We read it on the screen. I
have always read on the screen.” Well of course they did. Why would these students, or any of their
classmates, go through the trouble of printing out a reading assignment from one of their teachers?
What was the point? Digital kids understand that technology is simply part of what it means to live in
their world as it integrates seamlessly with what they do during daily tasks. They do not think twice
about digital technology as a means to deliver sound, images, words, entertainment, information, or
communication. As is the case for Ian, the 8 year old “gamer” we mentioned earlier, technology is
just the way things get done.
Mark Stephen Meadows (2003) equated an understanding or relationship with digital media as
“stories used to explain the underpinnings of reality” (p. x). He reminded us that these stories or
narratives exist to convey perspective. Digital media enable interactive narratives that may be
understood from multiple perspectives. Our intentional use of the word “may” rather than “are”
recognizes the idea that multiple forms of understanding, or understanding in general, cannot be
taught. We believe that educators can create environments and opportunities in which multiple
understandings may be provoked within the same space. We must be wary of the allure of the
spectacular and superficial qualities of digital media at the expense of personal, cultural, social, and
global content. Art education is one of several discursive sites in which digital kids can explore what it
means to be human.
Imagining a Digitally Mediated Art Education
What would a digitally mediated art education classroom look like? In the construction of this article
we first began with a hypertext writing application, Tinderbox™. (See Figure 3). In the computer
program Tinderbox™2, notes contain information, but may also hold other notes of data in the form of
written text, images, sound, and links to World Wide Web sites. Entire notes and/or key words,
phrases, and images are linked to form associative and connective paths throughout the Tinderbox™
web. The Tinderbox™ map view is a graphic representation of the web in the form of colored square
and rectangular notes, links represented by arrows, and backgrounds that can be adorned with text
and images. Readers and writers of Tinderbox™ webs can see, access, and comment directly on any
or all areas of a web. Tinderbox™ readers create their own paths throughout a web by choosing the
order in which they read and add comments, notes, and images. This adaptable Tinderbox™
hypertextual characteristic acts as a compelling device—challenging the reader to change the
structure of the original web and thereby make it more than it was before they encountered it.
Because of the changeable nature of these notes, hypertext provides a site for continual redirection in
the processes of thinking, interpreting, and critically responding. Such re-direction and reflection is
possible through computer hypertext because of the ease with which the computer allows readers and
writers to maneuver through past, present, and future thinking. Unlike note cards, books, or papers,
computer hypertext enables the creation of visible links between thoughts, ideas, images, and parts
of images. Readers can follow paths throughout a hypertext web and track the thinking process of
themselves, or other readers and writers. Readers and authors can add and access challenges,
questions, and comparisons directly in a note by a mere click of the mouse. Doing so opens multiple
notes at one time rather than requiring the reader to shuffle through numerous pages of a book or
scraps of paper.
Our Tinderbox™ construction began with the creation of notes from readings, observations, personal
notes, images, and video that we felt were related to our contemplation of digital mediation. Through
the process of digital technology, we began to see connections and formulated questions and
reflections related to digital technology, media and culture. As a result of the technomediation of
Tinderbox™ and the fact that our thinking was continually affected by the media in which we were
engaging, we raised a number of questions and linked those to areas in the Tinderbox™ where we
placed specific theoretical notes and phrases. (See Figure 4).
Further Tinderbox™ layers revealed to us such specific issues as interaction, metaphor, oscillation,
visual motifs, thematic analysis, and visual storytelling. (See Figure 5). We linked our study and
contemplation with other personal areas of research including music video analysis (Taylor) and
highly digitized existence of cartoon character Kim Possible (Carpenter).
Throughout our research and exploration process, we reminded ourselves of the poignant and
fundamental questions our mentors Drs. Marjorie Wilson and Brent Wilson ask. “How do you see this
playing out in the art class? How would you engage students in this kind of thinking?” (See Figure 6).
In other words, was there a way to provoke our students to be as engaged in this critical and
connective way of thinking and knowing as we were, while reading, talking, adding information and
links to our Tinderbox™ file?
For more information on Tinderbox, see
We continued our study by taking music and cartoon video clips into an undergraduate art education
classroom where the students placed some of our original questions into questioning strategies
related to interpretation, works of art, reflection, semiotics, social and cultural issues, artist intent,
formal qualities and analyses, aesthetics, and criticism. (See Figure 7). Students watched the videos,
wrote answers to these questions on handouts, and took part in a discussion about what they had
seen and written. Although the students had much to say about the videos, the questions provoked
them to think more deeply about implications and issues than they had before we posed the
questions. They also formulated their own ideas for further research as a result of the discussion. In
working to create other activities related to digital media that could be facilitated in k-12 art
classrooms, we developed the following guidelines:
1. Students need guidance to develop critical viewing practices of digital media. This is not only in the
form of questions we pose, but also in the choices we as teachers make in what we present for study
and contemplation in the classroom.
2. The incorporation of digital media in the study of art should be ongoing and relevant to the
established curriculum rather than an add-on or one of several units of instruction within the larger
subject or school curriculum. Further, while at the same time digital technology should be used to
expand and disrupt the course of study in the art class.
3. The questions and choices teachers and curriculum designers ask and make need to relate more to
digital images, experiences, forms of communication, and uses that students use everyday rather
than the narrow and often awkward instructional procedures and presentation methods teachers
struggle to master periodically at school.
4. Recognize that digital designers take into account the technological, historical, cultural and
economic dimensions of digital media and therefore understand: a) the relationship to earlier media
forms; b) the multiplicity of digital media forms; c) the importance of the cultural and economic
contexts in which it will function; d) how digital technologies seek to embody the virtual; e) digital
media can both pose cultural questions and suggest solutions. (Bolter & Gromala, 2003, 148-158).
So, what is art education in an age of immersive digital culture? (See Figure 8). We are not sure
specifically, but in general, we recognize the need for teachers, administrators, parents, and
curriculum designers to deal with the issues brought forth by the current “digital condition” in which
we find ourselves. In the process, we must expand our notions of what we do, think about, and
encourage in our field. We should carefully consider and include images and video from television,
film, and the World Wide Web in our curricula, but must not do this without looking deeply at how
these images reflect the world and who and what we think about, value, and want ourselves and our
students to become. This, we believe, is where we reconsider what art is, how it functions in our
society, and our goals as artists and educators.
Below is a slightly altered goal for art education issued a decade ago by Brent Wilson (1995) in which
our additions appear in brackets:
A principal goal for arts education is for students to acquire [relevant] knowledge of themselves and
their worlds—past, present, and future—that comes from [critically] studied (and personally created)
works of art. The goal might be achieved when students (a) understand [and challenge] relationships
among the works of art they skillfully and mindfully create and (b) artworks of others—artworks from
their own time and other times and places—whose meanings they interpret insightfully [and
critically]. The goal of art education might also be achieved when students connect the artworks they
create and interpret to works and ideas from other disciplines [and realms of experience]. And the
goal of art education might be achieved when students integrate this [relevant] art pervaded
knowledge, insight and understanding into their own lives, both within and beyond school [to liberate,
effect change, and challenge]. (p. 19).
We believe that by engaging in such practices in an age of immersive digital technology, art
educators can develop informed perspectives about and through the ways our students see the
digitally mediated world around them.
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Figure 1
Digital kid Ian is a self-described gamer
Figure 2
Dr. Brent Wilson constantly challenged the authors during their study at the Pennsylvania State
University with the simple yet poignant questions of “What does this have to do with art education?”
Figure 3
The authors began making sense of this research through a digital hypertext writing application,
Figure 4
An incomplete list of issues and theoretical connections related to digital mediation and art education
An incomplete list of questions related to Digital Mediati
Theoretical Issues
What is truth in digital media? Where is truth? When are
Inconsistency, Erasure, palimpsest, pentimenti, field of
untruths acceptable in digital technology?
vision---transparency and reflection
How is identity affected (shaped, formed, reflected) by
networked identity, networked-self, Loss of identity due to
digital technology?
loss of technology
Whose digital metaphor is whose?
Multivocality, multilinear
What is digital time? How does digital technology affect our
synchronous, asynchronous, intertextual (inter-time?)
sense of time and our representations of time?
Where is digital place? Where is digital space? How does
Movement through space, Instantaneous relocation,
the space between digital perspectives affect our view or
transience, transparency, reflectivity, multidirectional,
interrelated, connected, visual cultural space
Who owns what in digital technology? Where is ownership?
Repurposing, rearrange, reperform, retell, appropriation
How is ownership redefined?
When is digital technology finished? If the story goes on
Hypertext, Cycling, Oscillation, Narrative (Pause and
without us, how do we know? Does it matter? Should it?
Effect) Rhizomatic, Lunenfeld's "Aesthetic of the
Is there a line between immersive digital technology and our
Ubiquitous Computing , Hypermediacy, Cyborg, Wilder’s
existence as human beings?
“synthetic fear”
How is privilege played out in digital technology?
Digital divide, Artist responsibility
Figure 5
Further Tinderbox™ layers revealed to us such specific issues as interaction, metaphor, oscillation,
visual motifs, thematic analysis, and visual storytelling.
Figure 6
Dr. Marjorie Wilson and Dr. Brent Wilson worked diligently throughout their careers in art education
to challenge art teachers and students to create and engage in meaningful art learning experiences.
Figure 7
Questioning strategies related to interpretation, works of art, reflection, semiotics, social and cultural
issues, artist intent, formal qualities and analyses, aesthetics, and criticism.
What does this video say to you? What does it say about the artist?
Is there anything of which this video reminds you? Is there anything in this video
that reminds you of something you have studied in school?
Links to other
Do you see any works of art in this video? Do you see any commercial art references
works of art
in this video?
Does this video bring any questions to mind? What does this video say about you?
What does this video mean? What did you see in the video that made you come to
this conclusion? Is there anything of which this video reminds you?
Do you see any symbols in this video? What do they symbolize? Why do you think
that the artist used these symbols? Would they symbolize the same thing in another
Social and
What does this video assume about its audience? Is the artist for or against
Cultural Issues
anything? What? To what group or age people does this video appeal? What political
or social issues does the video bring to mind?
Does the video represent a male or female point of view? Would some people be
offended by this video? Does this video privilege one group of people over another?
What would the video have you believe about the world?
Formal qualities
What process do you think was used to create some of the images in this video?
and analyses
Describe how the color in the video is used to portray certain emotions, feelings, or
meanings? Write a visual description of a particular scene or image in the video.
Aesthetics &
How is this a “good” work of art? What are the most effective parts or aspects of this
work of art? How would you persuade others to appreciate this art work as much as
you do?
Figure 8
Dr. Marjorie Wilson challenged the authors often during their time of study at the Pennsylvania State
University to reflect upon the meaning of teaching and learning in an age of immersive digital culture.

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