Keg de Souza’s wildly colourful installation Common Knowledge and Learning Curves [seen by the author at Artspace, Sydney] occupies multiple registers. Look once, and it’s a playful sculptural appropriation of institutional materials particular to Australian school culture. Peruse again, and it’s a series of containers for discursive activities, some led by adults and children from the local Woolloomooloo community. On the next view, it’s a library of radical pedagogy. Regard it once more, and it’s an exemplar for what spaces for teaching and learning could feel like.
Texts are threaded throughout: cursive questions stream across walls of purple, orange and blue; volumes of radical educational theory are embedded into the base of an otherwise yet-to-be-filled bookshelf; ribbons are printed with concepts; blackboards continue speculative questions; and a mind-map wittily hung like an old fashioned classroom map is a densely packed web of connections between wide ranging ideas about teaching, learning and communities.
You could spend all your time in here reading, but there’s also a strong haptic dimension to much of the work. Some of the works actively parse how we move through, use and occupy space. For example, standard whiteboards mounted vertically in a row are feint-ruled like writing pads, an up-scaling that suggests the potential for private, individual thinking and notation to become a more collective endeavour. Door-sized spaces between each whiteboard form passageways. In readily allowing bodily movement back and forth, these seem to propose a similar permeability between the states of teaching and learning.
A colourful semi-circular curtain containing reconfigurable building-block furniture suggests an expansive cave mouth for gatherings. It’s both protective, since it’s got your back, and outwards looking. Two structures that look like soft sculptures turn out to have accessible interiors, offering quiet places for introspection and, like the bookshelves, potential for future production. Another contains a circular blackboard table covered with more questions about the nature of teaching and learning.
One of the more rewarding ways in which de Souza materialises her concerns with radical pedagogy is her mischievous reimagining of the most banal everyday school material. Who knew netball skirts make wonderfully tactile tent walls? Similarly, Venetian blinds are excellent screens for transformative projections of coloured geometric shapes emanating from repurposed overhead projectors (the enjoyably ironic ‘Classmaster’ model). The achievement ribbons liberally distributed to Australian school students are redeployed to form a vibrant gold and purple column; each ribbon printed with an idea rather than a prize-winning place, including: feminism, difference, counter hegemonic, critical perspectives.
Like the pedagogic texts available to browse through on the running bookshelf, this object, resembling a community poster pillar, offers visitors a stapled-up resource of radical (and formerly radical) concepts. Every ribbon is gold, flattening hierarchies by prioritising ideas over competitive victories and rankings – a clever visual subversion that engaged this viewer more than the printed terms themselves.
Taking educational theory as its subject matter and also seeking to educate, Common Knowledge and Learning Curves is rhizomatic like its concerns. Spilling out of its art gallery container and permeating into academic research and the local community, its reception by various audiences is likely to be equally broad and multi-faceted.