Art as education: interview with Laura Zocco from Hangar Bicocca.

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“Do to understand. Education and Society” opens a series of interviews with museums, foundations, associations and cooperatives, to learn methods, perspectives and pedagogical models of educational services in Italy, it will serve to outline for the first time a mapping research of contemporary education.
The earlier interviews were dedicated to WorkInProject, Alessio Bertini from Centro Strozzina and Ruggero Poi from Associazionedidee. The discussion follows with Laura Zocco from Hangar Bicocca.

What is your idea of an ​​educational service and on which model is inspired (theoretical references and experimented educational methods)?
Educational projects of HangarBicocca aim to endorse the artistic languages ​​of contemporary art making accessible and understandable the variety of reading levels and expressions. Starting from the suggestions of the younger audience in front of an artwork, they represent an example of how contemporary art can be a vehicle for pedagogy, or rather, the vehicle for the education by the teaching of art (De Carli, 2003). Educational programs of HangarBicocca refer mainly to the education through art, theorized by Herbert Read in 1943 and during the 50s recalled by Giulio Carlo Argan; according to Read “art can be the basis of education” and a perfect cohesion between art and education allows art to play the social role to which it aspires. In particular educational services of HangarBicocca aim at the development of experiential practices and methodologies of contemporary art and museum education, directly related to the world of teaching, education and schools. In addition to Read, important theoretical references, related to the principle of education through art, are John Dewey (1931), Irena Wojnar (1964) and Bruno Munari (1971); in regard to the more specific issues of museum education, a continuous discussion is active both nationally (Zuccoli, 2010, 2014) and internationally (Hein, 1995, 1998; Hooper-Greenhill, 2005, 2007).

What are your methods and tools, and how do you adapt them to every single exhibition?
All paths of HangarBicocca included two phases: during the first one, children and young people are accompanied inside the exhibition, while in the second one, they are involved in an workshop which can be individual or with the group. Exhibition tours based on the different ages and their way is as much as possible dialogical between the Arts Tutor (museum educators) and young visitors: the entire guided tour is always based on what is visible in the exhibition space to involve actively children and young people. The workshops related to the visit are mainly manual activities, with the use of different materials (such as papers of various weights and texture, fabrics, wood, buttons, beads, ribbons, leaves), but there are opportunities for younger people to deal with digital tools as well. For our programs it is always important to spread and adapt the most relevant contents of the artist,

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Hangar Bicocca. Ph Lorenzo Palmieri

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Hangar Bicocca. Ph Lorenzo Palmieri

Tuttofuoco_HB_10_Ott_2015_-¬_Lorenzo_Palmieri_040Hangar Bicocca. Ph Lorenzo Palmieri

in order to make them enjoyable and usable by children and young people from 4 until 20 years. In particular with regard to the tours designed for schools (from childhood to secondary school), the emphasis is on how contemporary art gleans from interdisciplinary subjects and gives a different perspective of the present by using profoundly different media.

How did the experimentation, given by direct contact especially with children, improve your approach and what were the results?
The results were very satisfactory, especially with the youngest children, because they don’t have any preconceived judgment on contemporary art. The children’s curiosity is an inexhaustible source of enrichment also for educators. They, compelled by their questions, often have to think more about some aspects of the installations, never considered like adults. A fundamental element is to assume always that nothing is obvious and that children have the fantastic power to surprise you all the time: a statue without feet can be disquieting for an adult, but perfectly possible for a child whose imagination is constantly active, as well as a video, full of colors and music, can be disturbing for children and extremely fascinating for adults. The greatest difficulty for the planning of tours is to identify with children, pre-teens, teenagers and adults, but if you manage it, the results are stunning, sometimes moving. Another important aspect is not think that younger visitors are simple pots to be filled with lots of information: the most effective and long-lasting thing is to spread even only one important information having a direct connection with their past and experiences, rather than report several data.

Do you involve sometimes experts or artists?
In recent years we have also benefited from the contribution of both artists and experts in other fields, in order to give the opportunity to the younger public for facing with specific professionals, always by the mediation of the educators. Co-designed activities with professionals always provide an added value to the experience of children and young people because, beside the educational/ didactic angle, there are the authentic passion, vision and knowledge of experts who have made a particular art their job. The collaborations with the artists were many: from Carlos Casas to Moira Ricci, from Julius Squillacciotti to Lupo Borgonovo, from Giuseppe Matteo to Ielasi Nasini. Each of them exposes him or her competence for the younger people, by creating a synergy of mutual enrichment and giving to the youngest ones the opportunity to share unusual points of view on the world and learn otherwise inaccessible techniques. During this year we explored the involvement of not artistic professionals, but with very specific skills, such as writers for young people (Francesco Gungui), chefs (Andrea Frattini), writers (Roberto Imen Tonoli) and patternmakers (Carlo Zocco).

Could you describe a workshop in which you noticed a particular success for children learning?
There isn’t a workshop that in particular has been more successful than others. But both educators and professionals have noticed that children and young people become passionate about something that is spread to them with passion; moreover, the more technical and specific aspects of a technique or a profession are investigated and examined in depth, more their involvement is total and active. Propp’s narrative method, or the kinds of microphones for the sound recording become interesting as video games or popular movies.

Did you start experiments, research and / or partnerships with other realities?
Collaboration and researchs haven’t yet been activated with foreign activities, but there is an agreement with the Department of Education Sciences “Riccardo Massa” of the Bicocca University in Milan.  In particular, in collaboration with the Bachelor of Primary Education, the first participatory training course, called “School and contemporary art: new forms of participatory planning”, for primary and secondary schools teachers, has just been presented (Thursday, September 17, 2015, ed). The aim of this course is to share a different way to enjoy the art with the teachers, and to make teachers and pupils fully protagonists in the interpretation of displayed heritage. Since the earlier phases of the display, they participate in a dialogue with the communication and educational team, the curators of the museum and the professors of Bicocca University. The course originally referred only to the exhibition “Hypothesis” by Philippe Parreno, but reaching such a success among the teachers, the decision was to repeat it in February in relation to the exhibition “Doubt” by Carsten Höller. The whole project is part of a research program on the relationship between school and contemporary art that will be the subject of a national conference in spring 2016. Furthermore, within the agreement, a project took place in autumn 2014 in collaboration with the Training Orientation Service LAB’O, that develops different areas of research in which art becomes a vehicle of knowledge, education and transformation for orientation issues. The contemporary artwork becomes a fundamental starting point to learn about the world of the artist that creates it, but also vehicle to talk about different disciplines, seemingly distant from art, enriching them with new ideas and new perceptions. The meeting/conflict with the artwork, in relation to its both formal and content aspects, becomes the “difference that makes a difference”, to achieve – under certain conditions, which will be the subject of experimentation and reflection – a truly transformative learning.

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Elvira Lamanna

She graduated in Art History at "La Sapienza" University of Rome, with a dissertation about art and institutional critique from the '60s to 2000s. She obtained a Master's degree in Educational Management for contemporary art in Turin. Art critic, she deals with contemporary art, in particular in relation to interdisciplinary practices, political activism and alternative pedagogy. She is undertaking a Master of Research among the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College in London.

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