Temporal Spatial Agency
I enter the art installation Agency of Time (2008) at the Sheldon Museum of Art4 in Lincoln, Nebraska with students from my curriculum theory class in the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of NebraskaLincoln, USA5 (see www.sheldonartmuseum.org/exhibitions/past_exhibitions. html). The artist, Leighton Pierce, is concerned with composing meaningful experiences in space and time. Such concern seems very fitting for curricular enactment in classrooms. This is the assumption I ask students to consider as they enter the installation. Pierce (2008) explains that he works with interfaces in architectural space to “explore the collision and intermixing that occurs between multiple images and sound over time, across space, and within the associative mind of the viewer” (www.leightonpierce.com). The installation immediately positions all of us to enter into the experience already underway. Using images and sound, Pierce projects fast-moving video footage on three wide screens along one wall, and playing across and around the surface of a vertical column centered within the installation space. The experiential context incites inward personal associations while in the presence of engaging stimuli on the outside (Kennedy, 2008-interview with the artist). The students and I each recognize aspects of the stimuli and we respond in varied ways. Alongside the internal associations, the context invites physical movement within the installation space, but all move slowly and carefully, taking in aspects of the passing perspectives offered by lighting, sound, streaming images, and proximity. The low lighting, abstracted imagery, and somewhat familiar yet strange encounters makes for our tentative movements within the space. Each screen recursively reveals the same imagery, but reworked and reordered in continuous cycles. We catch glimpses of rolling fields, trees, flowers, a woman, a bench, stairs, and a tunnel-like passage. We hear rustling leaves and branches in the wind, water flowing, distant bells, and footsteps. The interplay of images within the installation space draws us into the experience. The soundscape similarly does so too. The familiar sounds intersect with the play of familiar imagery, instilling an overall tone and suggesting a narrative in the making, and yet all stimuli are moving too fast to allow for details and particulars that might reveal a fuller story. So, we find ourselves lingering within a fast-paced, motion-filled context, unavoidably interpreting as we are immersed within the experience created. Impressions emerge through the experiential whole of the installation. Individually and collectively, the students and I return to these impressions to consider the task of interpretation and its temporal and spatial play within experiences of all kinds, and in particular we seek implications for our curricular experiences as educators. Temporality, as a movement of past, present, and future that figures into every moment, surfaces as a permeating impression of the installation, Agency of Time. All students are practicing educators and the installation positions them to confront how time as a past, present, and future movement is co-opted in their
curricular practices. Time is something they acknowledge to be much more of a commodity or an entity than something experienced as temporal agency within their classroom settings. Time is a commodity that controls and accounts for pacing charts that outline scope and sequence, and short-and long-term curricular planning. Time is an entity that regulates and schedules time allotments for specific subject matter and related skills, and ensures coverage of material and time spent on tasks. Hunsberger (1992) refers to these time associations as “clock time” (p. 66). In fact, several students explain that “teacher time” clocks are encouraged in some settings to monitor length of time for specific activities and behaviors, sounding and flashing a “time’s up” alarm. We discuss how, in clock time, the past is forever behind us and the future always before us, with the present given little regard (or even empty) because the finished, future product is the primary focus. Agency of Time provides an opportunity to consider time within the experience of the installation itself. Hunsberger posits time as a “flux of intentionalities” with future and past inseparably involved in the present. She explains how the divisions of past, present, and future “do not always serve us well” (p. 65). We reflect on how Pierce (2008) brought us into a space in which the future and past are experienced through the flux of intentionalities within the living present. Dewey (1934) explains that in doing so, “Time as empty does not exist; time as an entity does not exist. What exists are things acting and changing” within and through time (p. 210). Concrete access to things acting and changing within and through time is what Pierce’s installation provides. Spatiality, as the context entered through the world of the installation, is also a permeating impression. The installation is within a rectangular room, but the moving imagery, soundscape, flickering colors, lighting, and suggestive narrative creates what Pierce characterizes as “an acoustic coloring of the entire space” (Kennedy, 2008). Spatiality as an acoustic coloring entails transitioning from Hunsberger’s (1992) “clock time to inner time and to a different sort of reality” (p. 66). Individuals’ perceptions, emotions, and memories are called to the surface and infuse the space. The students and I are challenged to think of educative spaces beyond the rectangular room typically arranged and structured to minimize interactions, toward educative spaces cultivating “pedagogical tone” (Van Manen, 1991) and the realities of such a tonal space enabling and deepening interactive opportunities found within inner time. Dewey (1934) claims that “Works of art express space as opportunity for movement and action” (p. 209). Pierce’s installation becomes such an opportunity for accessing the agentic possibilities of curricular experiences as spatial encounters and negotiations.