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TC, As You've Never Known It

Notice anything strange lately on campus?
By Joe Levine

If you’ve had occasion to wander around Teachers College lately, and something seemed, well, different, the answer is yes: someone really is trying to mess with your head.

That riot of rainbow-colored wrapping adorning the old elevator shaft in Thompson Hall?  That avalanche of plastic beach umbrellas piling out of the wooden cubbies on the third floor of Zankel? That odd scent of apple-cinnamon in the basement near the old swimming pool? The gnawing suspicion that those Cristo and Jean Claude images used to hang somewhere else?

And what about that strange agglomeration of pipes in the window, to the right of the staircase of the pool, where, if you stand in just the right place, you just might see John Dewey’s visage flickering like a sighting of the Virgin Mary?

It’s all real.

In fact, the question of how well any of us really know Teachers College – and not just TC, the intellectual enterprise, but also TC, that strange and often labyrinthine space where hallways and stairwells don’t always align – is an implicit theme of “Doing and Undergoing,” an exhibition of commissioned works by more than 20 professional artists that will use the campus itself as a kind of ur-text for exploring the Deweyan concept of learning through experience. 

“Doing and Undergoing” will formally launch in October with works by Luis Camnitzer, Nicholas Knight, Vikki Michalios, Kara Davis, Katherine Daniels, Jorge Pardo and other well-known professional artists, but bits and pieces of the exhibition are beginning to appear now.  That stealth approach, which is calculated to make passersby stop and do a double-take after seeing something out of the corner of their eye – or after walking by something so obvious and bizarre that it the mind doesn’t initially process it – goes to the heart of what the exhibition’s organizers have in mind.

“People don’t notice things until you change them,” says Richard Jochum, Associate Professor of Art and Art Education, who conceived the idea for the project. “We wanted to do an exhibit in concert with the College’s 125th anniversary that would not only familiarize people with parts of the campus they haven’t seen, but also give them a fresh perspective on the parts they thought they knew. We call it ‘Doing and Undergoing,’ which is a phrase from Dewey, because ultimately it’s not enough to simply have an experience – you really have to undergo something for it to be transformational.”

When “Doing and Undergoing” launches in October, viewers – or, more properly, participants – will embark from TC’s Gottesman Libraries on a half-hour walking tour in guided by a video on a portable screen. The audio for the tour will be a story scripted by a playwright that incorporates elements of TC’s history, and will include music performed by Angelo Miranda, TC Video Services Coordinator, and James Corter, Professor of Statistics and Evaluation.

The tour will begin in the library and take viewers through five floors of campus across different buildings. Some of the works, such as sculpture by Camnitzer, a Uruguayan conceptual artist, that clusters together actual books and papers, will be physical objects. Others -- the “scent installation” by Risa Puno in the basement of Zankel near the swimming pool that treats passersby to the smell of apple-cinnamon and cut grass (albeit at “seasonally inappropriate” moments); a hydro-pond with lamps and seeds, also in the Zankel basement, created by Michalios – will be ephemeral happenings that prompt more active audience engagement, including deciding what is and isn’t part of the exhibit. (Hint: the wooden flats that lean against the wall next to the hydro-pond are helpfully tagged “not trash.”)
Still other works play consciously on the setting of an educational institution. For example, an installation on the second floor of Zankel by Knight, centers on a sentence from the writings of James Clerk Maxwell, a 19th-century Scottish theoretical physicist. The sentence reads: “Metaphysical doctrine…is not much use in a world like this in which the same antecedents never again concur, and nothing ever happens twice.” The sentence – which, naturally, appears twice – is diagrammed as though it appeared in an eighth-grade grammar text.

“A lot of the work is experiential, involving inquiry – it’s not just about beautifying,” says the exhibit’s curator, Robert Gero, an artist and philosopher who currently serves as assistant professor in the Visual Arts Department at SUNY College at Old Westbury. “People wander through here every day, but they don’t notice things. Part of what we’re trying to do is to defamiliarize to bring a deeper understanding, which is really part of the mission of the College.”

The Columbia Daily Spectator visited and reviewed the exhibit.

The exhibit is free and open to the public through December 15, but registration is required. To register for a tour, please go here:

The exhibit is also open for video-guided tours. Visitors may come to 525 West 120th Street and to the Gottesman Libraries circulation desk and borrow an iPod with a recorded video guide.

Published Tuesday, Jul. 9, 2013


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