Chairs to Practice With
Ahmed’s work on object-body orientations is compelling because she provides entry-points for approaching the physicality of scholarly, educational work and bodily knowledge. The physicality of education has been one of my focuses in the ongoing project “Hidden Curriculum.” The art project “Hidden Curriculum” revolves around the question of how high school students understand, engage with, and ultimately would investigate a so-called hidden curriculum in their specific everyday school environment.*1 *(1) In the context of this project, the term “hidden curriculum” has been understood as everything that is learned in a school context, apart from the official curriculum. During the collaborative research High School students generate small performative situations that comment on and intervene in the routines of everyday school life. One of the trajectories repeatedly chosen by students to pursue, is what I call the physicality of education. By means of performative investigations the students try to describe their spatial settings and body practices. In one of the Hidden Curriculum sessions, a group of students discussed the relations between chair, table, and body in school. “When sitting at a table our legs just fit underneath it. Nobody really pays attention to the space under the desk. That’s really irrelevant. What is important in school are the books, the papers on the table, our hands and head. That’s the way school makes us sit at the table.” What this quote points at is that in everyday experience in school, both the space under the desk and the students’ bodies including their legs go completely unacknowledged. The books or pieces of paper on top of the desk, the hands and head are the main focus of attention. The way the students sit with, and on their chairs at their tables makes invisible a part of the body that seems irrelevant for school processes. What the students portray fits all too well in the preoccupation of schooling with mental processes and can be described as a classical body-mind split. The spatial settings in school emphasize the upper part of the body (especially head, hands), whereas the rest of the body stays unnoticed and hidden under the table. However, especially these parts of the body and the furniture become interesting for the students as examples for an investigation of a hidden curriculum at school. The students investigated the relations between chair, table, and body, and the manifold practices in which the students are engaged with these objects during everyday life in school.
In the occupation with small studies on school furniture and trying to redefine its normal usage or functionality, one group of students also looked into how group conversations took place in their lessons and analyzed how they would normally relate to one another spatially and bodily in group discussions in classroom situations. Merging both studies, the group developed the exercise “Collectively Rocking Chairs“.
In this specific response, the students were trying to intervene in classroom routines of learning through other possible ways of engaging in group conversations. The participants hold each other, balancing off the chairs, bodies, and group dynamics of this particular situation while engaging in a group conversation.