Kym Maxwell interview | Uneducated @ Counihan Gallery

DAMP, Victoria's Secret, 2014 (detail)
Photograph: Maura Edmond

Kym Maxwell introduces the show she’s just curated like this: “I said to my students – these are primary school students, six seven and eight – if an exhibition was called uneducated what would the show be about? And one of them said, it’s about being unsupervised.”

That’s a pretty neat summary of what education represents to many children (and many grown-ups too). Education means supervision, control, rules and discipline. It means being watched and managed. It's something done to you, not by you.

It’s also a pretty neat summary of the themes at play in a new exhibition Maxwell has put together for Counihan Gallery in Brunswick (until 5 October). Called Uneducated, the show is about the other kinds of learning that we participate in, learning that takes place outside the strict confines of traditional, institutionalised education. This is liminal learning or sub-learning; the kind of learning that takes place between the learning you’re supposed to be doing.

More specifically, Uneducated is about the importance of art in encouraging these kinds of unstructured, unexpected and at times entirely unintentional encounters with education.

Uneducated, Counihan Gallery, 2014  (install)
Photograph: Maura Edmond

Maxwell says that the starting point for the exhibition was a work by Dutch artist Annette Krauss called Hidden Curriculum, which was produced in collaboration with students aged 15-17 years, who were navigating their way through their final years of high school. In one video, two girls demonstrate how to use a mobile phone in class undetected. In another, four boys perform a strange silent acrobatics routine, sliding their bodies across the glossy floors of the school corridor. It is a joyful study of ‘out-of-bounds’ behaviour.

Maxwell studied fine arts and then education, and still works as a primary school teacher. As she explains, “Hidden Curriculum is a buzzword in education that you learn about when you study to be a teacher. It means the kind of learning about society or institutional practices that are indirectly taught through the structures in which learning is supposed to happen.”

She says that whether you know the term or not, hidden curriculum is a huge part of education, and if you've got school-age kids, you've probably experienced its effects firsthand. It helps shape the implicit and everyday culture of a school. “It’s why families place such importance on choosing the right school and so forth.”

Uneducated, Counihan Gallery, 2014  (install)
Photograph: Maura Edmond

Most of the artists in the exhibition have at some stage worked in the education sector – as artists-in-residence at local schools, on artworks produced in collaboration with students, or they’re teachers themselves. But only a couple of the pieces in Uneducated are explicitly pedagogical.

Instead, works in the exhibition by artists like Nick Selenitsch, Nathan Gray, Dan Arps and Peter Hill use rules and boundaries, improvisation and play, to construct new works. They recycle and recontextualise materials. They solicit our participation. They frame making art as an experiment or as research, as a way of discovering something new about the world and our place in it.

Those approaches to producing art aren't new. They belong to a number of well-established conceptual traditions (situationist and fluxus movements in particular). And they most certainly pre-date the recent emphasis on education in the arts - both the 'educational turn' in curation and museum practices and the rise of fine arts Masters and PhD degrees, which re-cast artworks as 'non-traditional research outputs'. 

And that, I think, is what Uneducated is trying to say; that the very language of contemporary art is the language of learning. Or that contemporary art is always already engaged in acts of education, even when - or perhaps especially when - they take place outside of formal education.

>> Maura Edmond
>> Posted 12 September 2014

Uneducated, Counihan Gallery, 2014  (install)
Photograph: Maura Edmond


5 September - 5 October, 2014
Counihan Gallery
233 Sydney Road, Brunswick, inside the Brunswick Town Hall
Wed - Sat 11am - 5pm | Sun 1pm - 5pm