Lesson: Rivane Neuenschwander: Phenomenon as Medium

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grades)
  • Subject Area: Art, Natural Science
  • Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.
  • Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.
  • Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.
  • Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.
  • Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.Installation view of "Rivane Neuenschwander: A Day Like Any Other," 2010.
  • Detail of  "Depois da tempestade/After the Storm," 2010.Detail of "Depois da tempestade/After the Storm," 2010.

Introduction:

written by Joseph Keehn II

The unpredictability of nature has plagued the minds of many scholars and researchers throughout history. It comes to no surprise that artists would use the natural sciences and its involvement with phenomena as a departure point for their own creations. In this lesson, students will research a phenomenon of their choosing to create a work that brings new insights to how we might begin to look anew at one of nature’s splendors.

Time:

one forty-five minute session with additional time for art-making

Objectives:

  • Students will explore natural phenomena.
  • Students will examine how artists use nature and natural hazards in and as inspiration for their work.
  • Students will manifest their discussions in an artwork that explores phenomena.

Vocabulary:

Phenomenon is an observable fact or event, but is often used in reference to something rare, unusual or abnormal.
 

Suggested Procedures:

  1. Have students look at As mil e uma noites possíveis / One Thousand and One Possible Nights (2008) and describe what they see. What colors are being used? How are the collages arranged? Have students count the individual collages in each grouping and discuss their findings. Share with students that each collage is a constellation of confetti, hole-punched from pages of The Thousand and One Nights (a.k.a. Arabian Nights), scattered across a black background. Referencing Scheherazade’s legendary story, the collages function as a calendar. The precise number of sheets is determined by the number of months during which the work will remain on view in any given exhibition setting. Have students determine the dates of the exhibition. Provide them with a yearlong calendar and have them circle the opening and closing dates. (Correct dates are June 23, 2010 and September 19, 2010).
  2. Introduce students to astronomy and Galileo, the “father of modern observational astronomy.”  Refer to additional resources for more information on Galileo. Tell students that astronomy is a discipline in science that focuses on celestial objects and phenomenon outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Instruct students to discuss the reasons why a person might want to study this area. How has the discipline changed since Galileo’s time? How has its offerings remained the same?
  3. One of the major areas of astronomy deals with phenomena. Define phenomena and have students create a list of observable occurrences (i.e. shooting stars, star formations). Broaden the scope of phenomena to include occurrences in the Earth’s atmosphere (i.e. tornadoes, formation of petroleum reservoirs, tsunamis, etc.). Look at Depois da tempestade / After the Storm (2010) and tell students that the work consists of maps of New York counties that were exposed to rains in Brazil. After drying, the maps were painted over with acrylic paint, creating a new geography.
    • What materials were used to create this work?
    • What is the content? Have students discuss the role of chance and the notions of phenomena in this work.
    • What are their points of intersections? In what ways do they inform one another?
    • Relate these findings to the class’s early discussion on Galileo. What role does time play in both Rivane Neuenschwander’s work and the natural sciences, such as astronomy and geography?
  4. Based on the list of phenomena, have students individually gather research on a selected phenomenon, including examples and people involved in documenting the event. Their research should include primary sources, such as first-hand observational records or testaments, as well as secondary sources of theories and literature that reference said phenomenon.
  5. Using their gathered research materials, students will stage “before” and “after” works of art of said phenomenon. This can take many forms (installation, painting, performance, sculpture, etc.), but they should be encouraged to use their research as one of the mediums, as Neuenschwander did in the aforementioned work. Have students begin by creating two “after” works of art. Once they create the “after” works of art, have them select one of them and then remove areas in order to come to a possible “before.”
  6. Have students critique others’ works using the following questions as catalyst:
  • What choices has the student made in depicting the said phenomenon?
  • Were the choices convincing or bring the viewer to look at the said phenomenon in a different light? Explain.


Additional Resources:

For more information on Galileo refer to Stillman Drake, Galileo at Work: His Scientific Biography. Dover Publications, 2003.