Part 1: Inquiry Question
How can I access the work of artists to explore the concept of household recycling with my students?
Part 2: Arts-Based Exploration
Saskatchewan based artist: Catherine Todd-McCoy
In the fall of 2018, University of Saskatchewan student and artist Catherine Todd-McCoy harvested her plastic shopping bags and bubble wrap to resemble an animal’s nest. Todd-McCoy accumulated dozens of plastic shopping bags from her several moves that she says “safely cradled my possessions”. https://sustainability.usask.ca/programs/artcycled.php#ARTCycledFall2018 Todd-McCoy used crochet and weaving techniques to create a nest which was hung from a stair case ceiling in the university. From this nest flow harvested plastic shopping bags and bubble wrap that hang down and flow onto the floor in this installation. Todd-McCoy uses a variety of plastic bags and bubble wrap which adds variety, colour, and beauty to her art work. Todd-McCoy’s art work connects to my inquiry question because my students will know exactly what the plastic shopping bags are because chances are they too will have an overabundance in their own homes. Her exaggerated use of the plastic shopping bags is a strong statement regarding the importance of recycling. Students will be able to question and identify with Todd-McCoy’s installation through observing her use of plastic shopping bags. This is an excellent starting point to teach my students the importance and value of recycling because, as Todd-McCoy demonstrates, these plastic shopping bags are not recyclable, they are a complete waste that go into landfills. https://www.regina.ca/home-property/recycling-garbage/recycling/#outline-blue-cart-recycling-program
I really appreciated that Todd-McCoy incorporated plastic shopping bags into her art installation because this was a bold statement regarding unnecessary waste. Plastic shopping bags indicate on them that they are indeed recyclable but the City of Regina’s recycling facility has such difficultly sorting these that they do not even accept them. Todd-McCoy’s use of these plastic shopping bags boldly declares that this is a problem. I too wanted to bring attention to this issue therefore my art, in response to Todd-McCoy, displays how much waste is going into our landfill from only a few dwellings. I was very inspired by how beautiful and attractive Todd-McCoy made her installation, therefore, I was inspired to make mine aesthetically appealing too (I added coloured “hair bows” to the really long plastic bag braid).
One way I can integrate this artist into my classroom is inviting her in to discuss what, how, and why she supports the University of Saskatchewan’s mandate “on how best to contribute to a sustainable future” https://sustainability.usask.ca/about-us/sustainability-at-the-uofs.php#PresidentsSustainabilityCouncil. Her art installation was in response to the university’s challenge to use reclaimed and upcycled materials found within/ on the school campus. This can easily roll over from the U of S campus to the micro level of my classroom.
Brief Summary of a lesson: For my science lesson Todd-McCoy would discuss her art installation and what she was trying to express regarding recycling. A classroom discussion would teach the importance and use of recycling. Taking a field trip to a recycling station would be ideal. Then we would describe the scientific principles underlying a past or present industrial technology designed to separate mixtures (e.g., recycling station) (Outcome MS7.2, Indicator h.).
Side note: my plastic shopping bag art had three strands of bags ‘braided’, each equaling 45 feet for a total of 135 feet of plastic bags.
Canada based artist: Lyle Reimer
Lyle Reimer was born in a small town in Saskatchewan but now lives and works in Vancouver, Canada. He studied make up artistry and has lived abroad. He finds great joy in creating beautiful sculptural-based pieces made from entirely recycled and found materials and have now become known as “the world’s most expressive self-portraits” https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/artist-lyle-reimer-sustainable-self-portraits?auto=true. Reimer believes in “acting on creative impulses” because this really “allows you to work from a space that evokes the truest form of art”. To begin, he does not know what he’s making, it is not all mapped out. He uses the pieces around him, guiding his “creative process and journey”. Reimer’s work displays his catch line: think outside the box. Reimer’s work connects to my inquiry question because he is advocating: pay attention to the recycled items around you, that they matter, these items are important and have value. Pick the pieces up around you, pay attention. You do not need to know what you are going to do with them immediately.
The aspects of Lyle Reimer’s artwork that inspired me are how eye catching and attention grabbing his self-portraits are. They are big, unique, and curious. After viewing at his work (I’d love to see his work on the window mannequins in the store 5th Avenue in New York!), I am left questioning what is real and I am inspired to create and develop my own craft. I love that he incorporates his skill of make up artistry with recyclable material. Reimer’s ability to express himself this way is awesome. After viewing his art work I looked through my recycle bin and I was reminded of the world of privilege I have. These “garbaged” items remind me I have enough; enough food to eat, enough clothes to wear, enough water, etc. My face cast represents my position of having enough (even more than enough; I have an over abundance). I’ve hung this face cast in my home as a constant reminder to me in my thankless and vain moments that I do have more than enough, more than I even need. To see my “masked” face reminds me to be my best self, authentic, and vulnerable: I do not want to walk in society with masked privilege’s. I am aware more now.
To integrate Reimer into my classroom we will explore his new book, Lyle Xox. This leads to a discussion regarding identity and how this artist has been able to express himself and his identity. Watch Reimer’s interview with Vancouver News https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gXQXB3qQcc and another interview with Inform Interiors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2osbVAH7BNY (over an hour long, may choose sections).
Subject: English Language Arts
Brief Summary of a lesson: The teacher introduces students to the new up and coming designer Lyle Reimer by encouraging students to view, read, and comprehend Reimer’s book and art work. As a class, watch the two interviews of Reimer. Students that have Instagram may enjoy viewing Reimer’s Instagram (@lylexox). Give the students the opportunity to respond to these variety of texts that address identity (Outcome CR8.1). The students will respond orally through class discussion identifying and describing techniques used to create mood in Reimer’s visual, oral, written, and multimedia (including digital) texts (indicator d.).
Turtle Island (North America) based artist: Derek Gores
Although Derek Gores was born in New York his residence is now in Florida, after graduating from The Rhode Island School of Design. Most of his work is portraits on canvas in which he uses recycled magazines, maps, and more to create his lush portraits. He rearranges scraps that capture photo-realistic images. He likes to “play in the gap between what you see and what you think you see”. https://derekgores.com/about/ Gores’ work connects to my inquiry question because his choice to use recycled magazines and maps is a visual representation stating that we need to recycle paper because “only 1/4 of Canada’s waste paper and paperboard is recycled”. https://blueplanetrecycling.ca/materials-we-recycle/paper-cardboard-fibre-recycling/#:~:text=Paper%20and%20paper%20products%20account%20for%20more%20than,of%20paper%20are%20used%20annually%20for%20personal%20computers.
The aspect of Derek Gores artwork that inspired me is that I am left curious, asking questions about his work because he does not give the full picture. He is successful because he likes “play in the gap between what you see and what you think you see”. https://derekgores.com/about/ Gores wants the real canvas to be my mind. This is fascinating because each viewer will have a different experience of his art, based on what we’ve created our individual canvas’ to look like. I like the idea of not giving all the details, the viewer can choose to fill those details in themselves.
One way I can integrate this artist into my classroom is to first watch the YouTube video about who he is and what he does: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCrJQrzZOEE (2 minutes). Then scroll through his art collages online in order to become familiar with his art work. Remind students that Canada and North America are not very good at recycling paper, which is apparent in Gores art. Use recycling facts to learn mathematic skills.
Brief Summary of a lesson: Students will be able to demonstrate understanding of first-hand data using tally marks, charts, lists, bar graphs, or line plots (abstract pictographs) (Outcome SP3.1) by remembering Gores art comes from recycled magazines and then apply recycling facts found on https://blueplanetrecycling.ca/materials-we-recycle/paper-cardboard-fibre-recycling/#:~:text=Paper%20and%20paper%20products%20account%20for%20more%20than,of%20paper%20are%20used%20annually%20for%20personal%20computers. Hand students a pictograph using Gores collage style of art (teacher created beforehand) regarding 5 countries success in recycling paper. Use the pictograph to create a line plot (indicator c). Students collect and represent found data using bar graphs or line plots (indicator f) from the Blue Planet Recycling website and then answer questions related to the data presented in their line plots (indicator e). A final discussion will describe situations relevant to the students themselves, their family, or community in which a particular type of data recording or organizing strategy might be used, including tally marks, charts, lists, and knots on a sash (indicator a).
International based artist: Michelle Reader
UK artist Michelle Reader has a BA in Fine Art. Her work is mainly sculptures although she has created props and models for theatre, product launches, events, or photo shoots. Reader’s sculptures are created from household garbage and/ or industrial waste along with found objects because she enjoys the unpredictability and inventiveness required to do her work. She likes her work to be “interactive and inviting, tactile and colourful”. https://www.michelle-reader.co.uk/artist-profile.html. Reader’s work relates to my inquiry question because I am trying to get my students to think about their impact they have on their environment; how much do they garbage vs. how much do they appropriately recycle. Students can come to recognize that their micro contribution is valued by viewing Reader’s poignant sculptures that are a fantastic visual “of individual consumption and highlight the need to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste”.
The aspects of artwork that inspired me are how real Reader’s art work is. Her flower garden made of recyclable material looks like real flowers! I want to smell her art work! I also really enjoy her large sculptures because they tell a story, one that I get to interpret! I love that because it can be any story and it can change. This made me want to create a piece of art that tells a story but it is individual, unique, and changing depending of who’s viewing. I created this beautiful flower from my own household recyclables and I am pleased with the results. My story is that we can take better care of our earth, and ourselves, by discarding less and recycling more; this is the same story I draw from observing Reader’s clown sculpture installation in the Festival Place Shopping Centre https://www.michelle-reader.co.uk/gallery/figure-sculptures/clowns.html. Her clown is made from materials discarded by the mall’s customers and retailers over 4 weeks. This sculpture speaks to me even though he’s made of mostly garbage, worthless resources. This tells another story because sometimes, being human, we have down moments where we may feel worthless. We are still valuable, beautiful, and have our own unique place on this planet. Therefore, let’s do our very best to take good care of both: ourselves and our planet.
One way I can integrate this artist into my classroom is introducing and exploring Michelle Reader’s artwork on her website https://www.michelle-reader.co.uk/index.html. Prepare for a class discussion regarding body image. Watch her YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFTs1-T6sL8 (8 minutes) to help get students thinking about things they can create from found objects in their own homes. In follow up lessons the students can make their own artwork in response to Reader.
Brief Summary of a lesson: Use the outcome USC 6.5: Analyze the influences (e.g., cultural, social) on perceptions of and personal standards related to body image, and the resulting impact on the identities and the wellbeing of self, family, and community. Introduce and explore Michelle Reader’s artwork on her website (heavy focus on her figure sculptures) and then the teacher will ask questions around stereotypes based on appearances and the importance of not judging self nor others based on appearances (indicator b). This conversation can flow easily after viewing and discussing Reader’s clown sculpture installation. By viewing the figure sculptures on Reader’s website the class can conclude that there is a wide and acceptable healthy range in body types (indicator c). Discuss the connections between how we look, how we feel, and how we behave (indicator d) and then express insights about the influences on perceptions of body image (indicator g, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM4Xe6Dlp0Y may also be a useful resource).
PART 3: Project Summary
Why did you choose to explore your inquiry question?
I chose to explore my inquiry question: How can I access the work of artists to explore the concept of household recycling with my students because I am passionate about taking care of the earth through recycling and waste management. I want to help others catch this vision so they can also help. Statistically, very few contribute to the earth’s care this way in Canada. For example, three quarters of Canadian waste is sent for disposal. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/16-002-x/2007001/article/10174-eng.htm. Even one household’s contribution can help our physical world be more beautiful and functional than yesterday. I wanted to explore this topic through art because art carries powerful messages that are appropriate for all audiences. Including recycling in the curriculum empowers children the ability to enact change (home, community, or school).
What were your key learnings throughout the course of your inquiry? Describe 2-3
themes that emerged throughout your course of inquiry.
One major theme throughout the course of my inquiry is my passion! Reflecting back, I am very clear and spirited discussing recycling. I made this topic fun and interactive, one could not help but become an engaged and active participant. Passion (no matter the topic) is an important element in the classroom because the students will feed off of it. If I, as a teacher, go into a lesson only “part it”, the students will be able to sense this and the teacher will lose their “buy in”, even if the student did show some curiosity.
A second theme I noticed is how I was able to think outside the box by incorporating arts education in several different curriculums, creating cross curricular lessons in different grades and subject areas. I used art for lessons other than art class. Art was used to learn about science, English Language Arts, mathematics, and health in grades 3, 6, 7, and 8. I love this because I took learning out of the box, made it fun, engaging, interactive, and the students will even end up with a piece of art!
A third theme I discovered in the course of my inquiry is how exciting it is to investigate and learn about artists and their art work. I became completely engrossed in each artist, learning about their techniques and why they do what they do. Some have become famous and others not as much. This does not change the power in their messaging. This is an important point for me because I realize I can participate in the work even though I am just me; fame is not a necessary outcome. I still have a voice and this is empowering. I want my students to understand they too have a voice and if they channel it right, it can carry power!
What did you learn about your identity as teacher throughout the course of this project?
By working through this project, I discovered that my identity as a teacher is focused on incorporating all the art strands in all I do with the students. I am passionate and committed to helping students learn in fun, engaging, and creative ways. I want the students to enjoy the learning process, especially the students that do not enjoy and find school challenging. I was constantly thinking about the students that do not want to be at school, no matter the reason. It is important for me to find their “currency”- what will engage them, make them curious? As part of my identity, thinking outside the box is important to me. I also identified within myself that flexibility is important to me; if something does not work I need to re-envision and re work things (some of my art attempts did not go as planned, I had to rethink things). Lastly, I want to enjoy teaching! If I am boring to myself, certainly my students will be bored with me too!
In what ways did this project influence how you might interact with learners and
This project reinforced my passion to interact with learners by being creative and exploring together. I love the inquiry driven teaching model where the teacher acts as a learner alongside her students rather than a knowledge keeper that imparts all knowledge. I would like my learners to be included in some of the classroom decision making and this project opened my eyes of possible ways to do this. For example: I incorporated an inquiry question into a math lesson. I appreciate the Saskatchewan curriculum because it is not scripted in exactly how a teacher needs to achieve the outcomes; the teacher is allowed to be creative, flexible, and adapt to their own classroom’s needs. As long as the teacher can hit the required outcomes, they are fairly free to do so however they feel works best for their learners.
How might you explore your inquiry question further in the future?
I am interested to discover ways to incorporate my inquiry question into the social studies curriculum. Additionally, I want to discover local artists who have explored art using recyclable materials. Students could work alongside one of these local artists to create a larger scale piece of art to be placed within their community as a way to educate others about this important issue. I want the students to be able to make connections between their own recycling habits and how it affects the community in which they live. I feel learning has been successful when a student can connect classroom learning to their real world, lived experience.