An Attempt to Define and Re-define Arts and Education
The original title, "The Black Box Exercise", derived from a Chinese proverb that literally means "operating in the dark". It is a catchy phrase commonly used by the populace in criticizing public institutions in Hong Kong, which are found making decisions "in a black box", in an opaque system of bureaucracy or even conspiracy. When applied to describing an art project, it may become a self-critical reminder for the incestuous and provincial practice of the arts community. The black box is opaque and mysterious, but ironically rich in content. It needs redeployment.
Black Box is an enclosed space, a conceptual frame that defines exclusions and inclusions. It circumscribes and delimits ideas, content and actions. Seen positively, a black box constitutes a system of intentions and actions that are directed by the players and are bound to be de-constructed and re-constructed. Opening the black boxes or advocating the concept of transparency may mean new orders and systems.
Regarding providing new orders and systems to the existing education system and that extended to the social system, Black Box Exercise model has developed and advocated a series of conceptual and pedagogical approaches that reflected and redeployed for individual concern.
The model employs installation art creatively to enable young people who are artistically and creatively under-served in the existing education curricula and environment to acquire the tools and concepts of learning, creative expression and communication. At the same time, other generic skills such as decision-making, problem-solving and independent critical thinking will be acquired. Participants will be given the opportunity to experience being an artist, curator and critic. The model awakens young people's awareness of the self as well as the relationship between the physical, social and intellectual world.
Since its inception in 1995, as Black Box Exercise model has been strengthened conceptually and educationally over time, it proliferates to different cities in the world. By invitation, Black Box Exercise has been partnered with more than 100 schools and youth centers in Hong Kong and more than 60 in overseas cities that included Japan's Tokyo and Fukuoka, Denmark's Copenhagen, Arhus, Odense and Aalborg, Germany's Berlin, PRC's Macau, Taiwan's Taipei, Kaohsiung, Hualien, Xingzhu, Taitung and Miaoli, etc. The developmental goal of the Black Box Exercise is to proliferate the replicable learning model with local partners in different places in the world.
Ms Jesse Pak, the representative from Zuni Icosahedron led the participants through the Black Box Exercise. The workshop began with a presentation on Zuni and the Black Box Exercise as it has played out in China and in countries across the globe.
Ms Pak conducted two sessions with the group through the week. The first exercise included a session where the black box was discussed as a space of creativity. The second, conducted in a dark room employing blindfolds explored physical and conjured spaces as a black box.
Each participant completed his/her box and the workshop concluded with a dialogue on the boxes and what they represented to the audience and the maker. Each individual interpreted the boxes differently as dictated by prior practice, sensibility and aesthetic.
A practicing artist, Atul Bhalla's work is an attempt to understand water. How he perceives it, feels it, eats it, drinks it, washes in it, bathes in it, swims, wades, sinks or will drown in it. His black box became an interactive artwork which held a water filled glass cube within which was immersed a plaster of paris cast of a water bottle. The object may seem as water displayed within water. The team from Sri Ram, i.e. senior arts faculty at the school, worked together on their box to create a space made of mirrors and refracted light, while Nikunja Basumatary (Mayo College for Girls) worked with mirrors to create an impression of space. Materials varied, some participants using nails (Manoj Kar Choudhury - St Mary's School, Ram Bali Chauhan - Gyan Deep School) while others used collage, fabric, thread, paint, plaster etc.
The Black Box Exercise is an exciting model for arts education, with students/ teachers / artists / parents / community working within the Black Box to create spaces both conceptual and physical, each unique and individual yet bound together by the nature of the frame. It offers exciting and dynamic possibilities to students and educators alike, so much so that the Sri Ram School is considering including it in their arts curriculum.
Stimulated by the Project and its obvious merits, the participants have decided to carry out the Black Box Exercise individually in their respective schools with a group of students/adults and then perhaps bring all the boxes together at KHOJ later in the year for an exhibition.
Each participant has been given a CD with a presentation on the Black Box Exercise that they will make to their students groups so as to give them the best possible introduction to the project. Most schools have exams scheduled through March and April, so they hope to conduct the workshops through the summer, which may culminate in an exhibition between August and October 2006 at the KHOJ Studios.
Sharmi/Rati Singh, Sri Ram Schoolsharmiguha@hotmail.com
Mr. Nikunja Basumatary, Mayo College Girls Schoolnikunjaba@yahoo.co.in
Nilanjana Nandy St Mary's Schoolnilx_22@yahoo.com
Manoj Kar Choudhury - St Mary's School
Atul Bhalla Meera Model School
Gauri Gill The American School
Gigi Scaria Leap Year Centre
Aastha Chauhan Gyan Deep Public School
Ram Bali Chauhan - Gyan Deep Public School
Sanjay Sharma - Gyan Deep Public School
Preeti Sood - The British School
Somesh Singh Modern School