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Art exhibit rethinks climate relations

March 13, 2020

Disruption. Disorientation. Dialogue. An exhibit at the London Regional Children’s Museum is focusing teacher candidates and early childhood educators on how they can use these actions to help children respond to climate change.

Education graduate students Alex Berry and Sarah Hennessy created the exhibition to provoke a conversation on how humans interpret climate change as well as children’s relationship with the climate.

But, they intentionally didn’t offer a solution to climate change.

“What we’re trying to provoke is a disorientation because each of the installations are grappling with an idea that research has been thinking about over the past two years,” said Berry.

A number of installations –  such as food, water, waste, plastic, land and weather – made up the exhibit, added Berry.

What’s unique about the exhibit was the limited nature of explanatory documentation. Instead, Berry and Hennessy focused on visuals that disrupted visitors’ experiences and provoked conversations.

For example, a weather installation engaged visitors as they looked at a canopy of swaying tree tops while listening to child-made rain and a chainsaw orchestra. They were also encouraged to draw pictures and write comments about their observations. In addition, visitors at a food installation sat at a dinner table and looked at a menu and chandelier made of rotting food, said Hennessy.

One group that visited the exhibit were teacher candidates who went as part of a field trip for one of their courses. Hennessy said the exhibit made them uncomfortable because they don’t have the tools to discuss climate change with children.

“This is the beginning of building that toolbox,” said Hennessy. “It’s opening up dialogue for different conversations, thinking and pedagogies.”

Hennessy and Berry are members of the Commons Worlds Research Collective and some members of the collective are part of the Climate Action Network – an international, interdisciplinary partnership researching climate change within the context of early childhood education. Members are from Canada, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ecuador. Using creative, experimental and generative pedagogies, young children, early childhood educators and researchers are cultivating alternative knowledge about environmental and sustainable living across the world.

“Our responses are aiming to generate new ways of being a human that are more situated in the mess and that don’t exempt ourselves from the problems we contribute to and that we are so deeply a part of,” said Berry. “We are gesturing very modestly toward alternatives of being a human in the twenty-first century.”

The exhibit at the London Regional Children’s Museum is part of an international series, which includes ‘Conversations with Rain,’ the first permanent children’s installation at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth and the ‘Sensorial Becomings: Climate Pedagogies with Children’ exhibit at the Art Centre Gallery of Cedar Hill Recreation Centre in Victoria, BC.

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