Spatula&Barcode in the Classroom

We wanted our previous post to cover the public activities of the class we taught at Federation Square; this post is more of a reflection on Spatula&Barcode in teaching contexts, and includes some discussion of working at the square and of other teaching activities we’ve done while in Melbourne.

While both of us have been teaching performance making and “social practice” art for a long time, and we’ve even taught together, we’ve never really framed Spatula&Barcode’s practice within teaching contexts. So it was a challenge and an opportunity to connect with three different groups of students in Melbourne and figure out how learning about this work could also be a part of helping to make it.

First, we did a four-hour workshop with students in the Center for Cultural Partnerships graduate certificate program in Art and Community Engagement, as part of a course run by the artist Leisa Shelton Campbell.  For this event, the class met at CERES (Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies) Community Environment Park, a farm, nursery, grocer, school, store, restaurant, and community center engaged with daily activities, special events, education, and social enterprises. Also with us was Anne Thoday, a food artist and community maker who often leads the unit at CERES. After a great tour of the sprawling farm (thanks Subik!) we repaired to their well-appointed community kitchen for a series of activities. Our idea was to follow the course of a meal, from the chopping of the vegetables we bought at the CERES store to the preparation of a soup and a salad, to the composting of its waste.

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Subik starts our tour of Ceres with a photo of the original waste site where the farm now operates.

Each student had been asked to save their compostable kitchen scraps for a week and to bring them to the farm. At the start of the workshop, we guided each of them through an archeological exploration of their compost, relating their foodways from the past week. Then each one washed hands and took a turn prepping veg for the meal of soup and salad. We found this to be a fantastic exercise and we will likely do it again.

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The class reacts as we explain the compost exercise.

We also prepared sourdough breadsticks (everyone could shape their own) with the starter we brought from Germany, and finished the meal with chia pudding and fruit salad. We led a structured conversation using our “conversation menu” field research process, talking about food, food culture, and how food can be a powerful component of social practice works.

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Compost archeology under way.

Our second teaching experience in Melbourne was the work in Fed Square with the 14 terrific MA students from VCA, which we described in another post. We’ll just add a few observations about the experience from a more teaching perspective. In addition to the three projects, we did some smaller activities, from bespoke bag lunches to intimate theorized conversations that we’ve used in other classes but the two week intensive structure limited this kind of group building work we’d ordinarily do over the course of a semester. This seemed a very high risk kind of pedagogy, making a decision that student work would be conducted in the public sphere while trying to preserve the kind of growth opportunities that we believe students deserve. We were also very challenged by teaching in public space, without a room where we could converse, clean up, or leave our possessions and props.

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We improvised a lot of classrooms at Fed Square–one of the most fun was the time we got to use the boardroom–it was also the only time we had really conversation-friendly acoustics!

The biggest lesson we learned (apart from how lucky we were to have been given such a brilliant and accomplished cadre of students) was that, although we are more familiar with semester length or degree length teaching, we do have something we can offer a group in a short intensive period.

Now, we’re working with honors students (a one-year program that follows graduation) from the Theatre Department at VCA to prototype the foodways walks we’ll host at the PSi conference and also to generate some of the more theatrical effects of our opening dinner party. This group will get their own post as their projects emerge.

It sounds like there are a few more class visits in store for us but we’re largely transitioning now away from teaching and into project construction.

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