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V.6 N.1, November 2000

Following The Process: A Non-Modern Inter(face)

by Alex de Cosson

Department of Curriculum Studies
University of British Columbia


"...the dilemma (is) how to share ... without directly telling" (Towers, 1998).

If the postmodern was to realize that the hope pinned to modernism was expired, that there was no 'one' way to interpret, see, analyze, but rather to be open to the multi-layered meanings that are inherent in a constantly changing wor(l)d, then the post-post(non)modern is to say yes to the possibilities of a multi-dimensional reading and be challenged by what lies ahead. Whatever 'ism' it becomes, there is hope found in an enactive engaged-with wor(l)d, allowing the process of involvement to become our teacher. Working with pre-service teachers renews this vision of being becoming.

This paper illustrates my pedagogical interest, my "hermeneutic wager", if you will, in a non hierarchical - non linear, visual representation of language/text: a pedagogy that accepts that there is no one answer, but equally knows as each creative act is solidified, so is a new opening. As a mobile fills liminal space in its continual search for perfection, so can a curriculum of art build on liminal spaces to create a complex 'whole-becoming'. As such I am interested in the visual presentation of the text on the page - the over-all visual language as well as the over-all interpretive text/language.

A Post-post(non)modern inter(face) coexisting with
‘Caro Diario’ (dear diary), Facades (part one)
a Film in Three Parts
by Nanni Moretti
in Italian with English Subtitles
(already layering)
Inter-weaving Pre-service Teachers’ Reflections
(writing on)
Walter Marchetti
an Italian Sculptor/composer
Journal Entries.


An Entrance Way

Through the multi-leveled and 'open' text, Eco (1989) suggests that there is neither a beginning or end, "no privileged points of view, and all available perspectives are equally valid and rich in potential" (p. 18). A liminal point provides the framework for others to grasp at this complex 'whole-becoming'.
That the text presented may be read in many different ways - that it may indeed mean more - less - other - to those who read it, is the 'wager'. Wor(l)ds demand to be read and (thus must be) organized in a manner in which they can be engaged with, and it is in "engaging with", that further "thinking" is evoked to suggest meanings implied in the signs of the wor(l)ds.
I do not want to direct, I only wish to 'shepherd' (Towers, 1998).
This writing has its roots in philosophical hermeneutics (Gadamer, 1986), that which is continually reworked and reinterpreted at every reading. I utilize narrative story as a mucilage to pull various threads together, concurring with Hatch, and Wisniewski, (1995) and Stewart, (1997) who view it as a powerful medium that creates meaning.
I am not interested in anarchy, however, subversion has always attracted me.
To be subversive suggests that you accept the governing body, the 'facade' if you will (what is set up as the 'front ' or 'facade'), at the same time, however, looking for ways to undermine this facade without toppling the entire edifice, as it can still be of use as the 'new' is built. As the artist Mark Pauline (1989) said, "You do indeed have to bite the hand that feeds you" (video dialogue).

... the visual arts have a completely different possibility to become international than does language, if only we learn to discern, understand and evaluate the differences in the pictures. ... Perhaps art and art criticism can help us, a little bit, to continue to live. Collapse and disintegration produce new creative power which creates some-thing new. Recycling. Artists interpret the new contexts at the same time as they rebel against them (Chambert, 1995, pp. 15-16).

To help in the reading I provide the following text identifications:

1. Times (Regular) 14 point:

Over-all threading narrative.

2. Times (Italics) 14 point:

Quotes from Nanni Moretti.

3. Textile 12 point:

Quotes from Pre-service teachers.

4. Courier 14 point:

Diary entries from 1999.

5. Sand 14 point:

Dream sequences.

6. Comic sans MS 14 point:

Diary entry 1995.

7. Times (Regular) 12 point:

Narrative entry of partner.


(Shepherding 1)

On second viewing of 'Caro Diario' (Dear Diary), I am looking forward to the first part, the one with buildings - 'the floating facades' as they are to my memory -, and the end of part one, Pasolini's monument (broken facade) paralleled with Keith Jarret's piano improvisation, his January 24, 1975, Koln Concert.
The facade: the surface, the visible presence - that hides, that shelters, that holds, the inner workings of life.

"I keep moving because I've learned if you don't keep moving you will miss all the best parts of life," comments Nanni Moretti, the protagonist/director.

But then there are dreams

We all feel we are fully at home only in one language, and we call that one our mother tongue. We may have learned a few foreign languages as well: French, Russian, Italian. But we forget that we all speak one other language, and that is the language of dreams. This language is a remarkable one. It is a universal language that has existed in all periods of human history and in all cultures. The dream language of primitive man, the dream language of pharaoh in the Bible, the dream language of someone in Stuttgart or New York - they are almost the same. We speak this language every night (Fromm, 1987, p. 59; my italics).

Image-worlds hold us in dream time, the shifts and jumps that when positioned later, after waking, are (almost) incoherent in there ability to slip and slide away into the multi layered space that is our real time in wakefulness. How the stories hold their 'form' in dream-time, how the stories are coherent and full of life and 'real' in their space is truly 'remarkable'.

February 15, 1999, Dear Diary, took the bus down to the video store, rented Nanni Moretti's 'Caro Diario' for my second viewing. I am intrigued by it. Read an article in 'Utne Reader' magazine, on 'Lucid Dreaming'.1 I think there is a parallel - something to contemplate.


But then there are dreams

(The boat)2 ... a pipe feeding energy or substance - it is subversive - it pulsates. I see the 'L' pipe, valves and turning points. I know it contains 'importance', I feel its pumping. I do not ask where to. I am singularly aware of its subversiveness. I 'know' ... but equally, I should not.
There is the boat, (we are at sea) - large - but it is not the story, it mixes.
The pipe and its contents, is important.
We walk to the giant bird house. It is the size of a normal house - full of bird holes and birds. The bird songs are simultaneously translated - becoming intelligible text.

(On waking, I recall being in awe of this, this ability of the birds: realizing these songs were words - words I could 'read' in dream-time - communication!)

'The Hunt', 1965, in the Marchetti exhibition3 had a component which utilized man made bird calls, "the strange instruments used by hunters to deceive birds. ... Many of the bird calls are no longer made because no one hunts extinct birds. The disappearance of paradise is an everyday event" (Watson, 1999, p. 2).

We are on a gray-green cliff, we gaze far out to sea. Complimenting each other, on the right and left horizons, are active oil rigs.
Over head there are shots of light, 'laser pulse beams', sent to find the "ripples in the concept". The beams can detect the cracks. We are confident that 'they' know what they are doing. Suddenly one of the lasers hits the oil rig to the right - a huge explosion, white gas (ether) pours out. We run. The tranquillity turned to extreme danger.

Is this Kosovo? ... my feelings of complete horror at the maiming and slaughter of people ... for what? Of course I know the reported reasoning and a part of me agrees, we cannot allow Serbs to kill Albanians, so we kill Serbs and they continue to kill Albanians. I stare at a TV screen watching the daily battle reports, thankful that we live in the 'new world'. I realize the full force of what this means, the left behind hatreds and generations-old conflicts that simply seem non-reconcilable.

We run past the bird house, over the brown earth, towards the children. They don't know the white gas will envelope soon. We enter the hollow. The approaching danger brings chaos. There is a second explosion. We dive. I am now fearful for my life. The gas is seeping over the high ground, I am there, it envelopes like steam. I dive into an area with old, plush red, movie-theater seats, that have boxes in them. I open one, there is someone crammed inside. I try others ... they are squashed full ... adults ... children.
This is where there is safety. I feel this. I know this. I open more - all full. Where is mine? ... a flat horizontal box with lattice work sides - I can just fit in, but do not want to.
The lasers, 'looking for the cracks in the horizon', still shift and dart, if they find one they would expose the 'L' joint of the subversive pipe line under the dock. The boat is vague. I try to find it. I wake.


(Shepherding 2)

March 2 1999, Dear Diary,4 to input forty minutes of writing, has taken two sessions of over an hour at each sitting! Can this be explained by the process? ... having to reread the past, to recreate it, (input), rather than the simplicity of free flowing discourse placed on paper.
It is interesting to look at the process in terms of various time frames. "Is time wide or is it long?" (Anderson, L., 1995).

February 16 1999, Dear Diary, I should be putting this directly on the computer, but it's not the same thing - something about pencil & paper still holds.

March 14 1995,5 Dear Diary, I still haven't decided on this, I am thinking about using photography. These are the wild cards that will play themselves out over the remaining couple of weeks that the process can run,6 before closure is called.7


Writing with-(in) Teaching/learning

I write every day in my head. I have all this bottled up, it's like a sponge that has soaked in all it can and then must be wrung out.8
I have to go and teach my class. I'm prepared, I like being prepared.
The coffee shop where I'm sitting to write has hockey on T. V. above my head. I think ... 'I haven't started to write the paper!' 'What do you mean?' I rhetorically ask myself. 'All of this is'.
A woman asks to use the other half of the table, "Do you have to go up and get it?" "No they come around", I answer, in reference to food.
I can not write all I want to.
I am tense from 40 minutes of writing. I slow down. I breathe ... 'let it go', I say, breathing deeply, 'It is time for a different time frame, time to go teach your class, to let my class teach me...'9 ... with

"displays (of) great enthusiasm and flexibility in order to motivate the students ... committed to their learning and recognizing that students learn only when they are interested and able to work at their own rate" (student Arte 320).10

How to repeat the rhythm? ... the strong rhythms.

I play the pirated audio tape to listen to the Italian words, the rhythm ... I am searching for the rhythm. I listen ... I hear... I listen.


(Filmic Remembering)

I become the moped (read film), going down building flanked streets. Once again the rhythms pull me in. Hypnotic, 'world beat' rhythms. The rhythms hold me ...
I - (moped), glide down tree lined boulevards, winding, luscious - up-scale - streets, festooned with sumptuous apartment buildings - search 'Spineceto'11 down-scale government subsidized housing complex, facades interchanging, one to the next, so comfortable ... presenting their impeccable fronts to the world. I do not want to know what lies below, the human mess that we inhabit behind these monuments of rhythm ... of language ... of art.
After a long period, much longer than normally given to the simple pleasure of looking - the surprised pleasure mounting - the thought I am having is echoed by Moretti, "I always thought it would be a great film to do buildings, just buildings" ... and on they float.
For a moment my historical inquisitiveness is satisfied by the inclusion of names and dates for these floating palaces: 'Tufello, 1960'; 'Vigre Nuove, 1970'; 'Monteverde, 1976' ... Through me they slide ...
The Spanish Tango flows with the moped. Buildings flow ... their facades continue the soft fluidity.12


But then there are dreams

"I don't only like looking at the outsides of buildings, I like to look inside too. I make up stories of being a film scout and needing a fifties facade and interior, they usually let me in."13

The Koln Concert (into-onto) Marchetti (reflected)

An album she had when I first met her, a confirmation of taste.
To me, a cherished memory.14

The last sequence to part one of the film. My anticipation is vibrant, this can make me cry.
I had not heard this music for a long time when it found me on the first viewing, but it was immediate - I knew it within two bars. To see this sequence again just for this!15
I search the screen for the peripheral; the beach with the umbrellas, the wandering souls, the discarded cars and derelict buildings (such a contrast to the strength of the city facades) as we follow the ride to Pasolini's monument, cut, bruised and ruined. A diving bird, a construction of abstract flowing lines of cubist concern. The other side (we see) deteriorating, the plaster falling away from the exposed armature.16

"I have never been to a contemporary gallery before so I considered the field trip to be an exciting new adventure" (student ARTE 320).

I am searching with the music, as Keith Jarret's pure, free form, 'Koln Concert' plays.17 His foot pounds, using the echo pedal as an instrument. My heart responds to the soft keys. The melody repeats, flies high, the low notes holding as the upper register builds and builds on a known tune. I have heard this before, I know this tune, but it is his ... his Koln Concert, improvised for an audience - caught on tape, then disseminated to the world - to be repeated over and over.18

"After our field trip, I began questioning my long-standing dislike of 'modern' art and wondered if this bias would or should be passed along to generations of my students? I hate to think that children will grow believing that the only great works of art are those hanging on the walls of European galleries" (student ARTE 320).

That thrilling moment caught as he thumps the depths and holds it longer than you think, then holds empty space to fill it with the upper trill - over arching, connecting back, an autonomous moment spiraling down

behind ...
the moped over takes the fading sound of the piano.

"From the moment I entered this exhibition, I was confused about what a gallery meant to me. My prior knowledge of a conventional gallery had a definition of being a place where paintings and sculpture were displayed for individuals to view. However, the Marchetti exhibit brought new meaning as we became the art" (student ARTE 320).


More Writing (breathed) Spaces

How much faster the film goes than I can write! How full film time is! ... even with such simplicity. I had thought, 'I am simply rewriting the film.' No it is not possible. I can not even get close to writing the film ... to capture what captured me. It is 'open' ... inclusive.
How clearly I played back thirty minutes of film.19

"For days I wasn't sure what to make of the artist and his work, then eventually decided that this was probably the type of response he expected" (student ARTE 320).

(This is a letting go)

I question this exercise, this structure. How close is it to what I wanted? ...
I take a deep breath, I feel the healing of breathing and writing. This wanting to know 'the answer' is very ... well ...

"I have never had a piece of art enthrall me like Marchetti's salt room. I was like a kid with a new toy who could be entertained with this object for hours" (student ARTE 320).

March 21 1999, Dear Diary, in the small hours of last night I woke from a nightmarish dream, that added another layer to this meaning-making-becoming!20

The location is a railway car, in the early 19th century. Everyone is dressed in period clothes, gentlemen and ladies. There is confusion in 'setting', between the 'wild west' and French society. I am walking down the corridor. I turn and laugh at my fellow passengers, "I am awake", I shout, getting the text confused, then, catching the error, "No, I am dreaming, but I know I am."
I continue to laugh with demonic glee, protected, as it were, by my 'knowing' this dream state. The passengers engage with shock, after all, this is their reality.
There was another segment to last nights dreaming. I cannot remember the location or context, only the 'feeling'. The text was clear, very clear ... 'this writing is not Postmodern'. I woke disturbed.

March 29 1999, Dear Diary, I now call closure to the collection of data for this project. I know that I have to work the pieces, wrestle them into (a) shape, that I will touch and stroke to get the form (I want).


Final Reflections

This paper has inter-woven various elements; visual style, personal narrative, pre-service teachers' thoughts on contemporary art throughout a threading of a foreign film that spends much of its time viewing (deeply) the facades of buildings.21
As Eco (1989) suggests, we can look to the artist Alexander Calder's, or for that matter the pre-service teachers' engagement with mobiles, as "elementary structures which can move in the air and assume different spatial dispositions. They continuously create their own space and the shapes to fill it" (p. 12). Just as a mobile is continually changing, so could this paper, as it goes through the hermeneutic process of redefining its meaning in each new configuration.
I have literally taken it apart and put it back together again multiple times.

As with an art work, so with this paper
no answers ...

As stated at the outset, it is here that its pedagogy lies: a pedagogy that accepts that there is no one answer, but equally knows as each creative act is solidified, so is a new opening. As a mobile fills liminal space in its continual search for perfection, so can a curriculum of art build on liminal spaces to create a complex 'whole-becoming'.
Today in the Fine Arts Library - I notice for the first time a Calder like mobile drifting softly in the void above the reference tables.

An instant caught
in the corner
of my eye
frozen to the page.

However frozen
substance thaws
taking new form - new meaning.

The same substance over and over - constant being becoming (as in a Goldsworthian22 sculpture).


  • Anderson, L. (1995). Laurie Anderson: Live concert, March 20 O'Keefe Centre. Toronto: Voyager Presents.
  • Chambert, C., (1995). Strategies for survival - NOW! In C. Chambert, (Ed.), Strategies for survival - NOW!: A global perspective on ethnicity, body and breakdown of artistic systems (pp. 11-20). Lund, Sweden: The Swedish Art Critics Association Press.
  • Eco, U. (1989). The open work. Boston: Harvard University Press.
  • Fromm, E. (1986). For the love of life. New York: The Free Press.
  • Gadamer, H. G. (1986). Truth and method. (G. Bardon & Cumming, Trans. & Eds.). New York: Cross Roads Publishing Comp. (Original work published 1965).
  • Hatch, J. & Wisniewski, R. (Eds.). (1995). Life history and narrative. Washington, DC: The Farmer Press.
  • Magnusson, M. (Ed.). (1990). Chambers biographical dictionary (5th ed.,). New Yorks: Chambers Ltd.
  • Marrone, R. (1990). Body of knowledge: An introduction to body/mind psychology. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Pauline, M. (1988). The will to provoke: An account of fantastic schemes for initiating social improvement. [videotape]. [on-line]. Available:
  • Stewart, R., (1997). Constructing neonarratives: A pluralistic approach to research. Journal of Art and Design Education, 16(3), 22-32.
  • Tollefson, T. E. (1995, March-April). Don't go back to sleep. Utne Reader, 68, 16-17.
  • Towers, J. (1998). Telling Tales. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 14(3), 29-35.
  • Watson, S. (1999). Walter marchetti. Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, exhibition brochure, University of British Columbia.

  1. "Once you're awake, (in the dream) say aloud 'I am the dreamer of this dream.' Reach out with your hands to make contact with other dream characters. Thank them. Ask for their guidance" (Tollefson, 1995, p. 17).
  2. font is used for its visual identity. I not only want the dream to stand apart from the whole, but also to enhance its 'dreamnessness' by the use of 'script'. These dreams are a parallel unconscious - the workings behind the facades. The fonts are deliberate manifestations of moods.
  3. The work of the Italian sculptor/composer, Walter Marchetti, at The Helen Belkin Gallery, February 5 to March 21, 1999.
  4. This entry has a "past tension" as the times referred to are "real" but no longer accurate. It does, however, talk to the continual change of time as it is (re)used and (re)defined by the continual (re)fashioning of the text as it becomes its becoming in its "present tension", where both past and future come together to form its expected "future tension".
  5. 'Courier' the font used for the 1999 diary entries is contrasted with 'Comic Sans MS' used for this one diary entry from 1995.
  6. How long can a process run? When to call closure? This diary entry from four years ago illustrates a constant question. That is, when is the right time to pull the strings - that loosely hold the elements of the creative process, the building of a new work - together?
  7. For me this has most often been answered externally, an exhibition opening. The reference to photography, in this particular entry, was solved with a series of SX70 photos incorporated into the 'works-on-paper' exhibited in the sculpture installation Into Glass Walls, at The Canadian Sculpture Centre, Toronto, 1997.
  8. I have worked in visual mediums for the past twenty years, so at this juncture it is words that I wish to continue battle with, to make the text do the work. I want the text to stand. I want this to work in and of itself.
  9. There are many different time frames. The totality is realigned, but the pieces are all there.
  10. This is the first of a series of quotes from pre-service teachers who took an arts methods course I teach at The University of British Columbia. Some are reflections on the content of the course, while others are specific to an exhibition of contemporary art, the work of the Italian sculptor/composer, Walter Marchetti, at The Helen Belkin Gallery, February 5 to March 21, 1999.
  11. These names are written as they sound to me.
  12. On the second viewing I relax. I no longer oppressively follow the central moped image. I look to the sides of the screen. I look to find those details missed the first time, that neo-baroque balcony, that tree, that dancer.
  13. 'They', those who live behind the facades. 'They', who live real lives as I do, with all the melodrama, all the mush that is the human condition. It is not that these are less than the facades but that they are different. A different concern. The facades are constant - markers of time stood still.
  14. This text is a size smaller to indicate that it is operating on a separate level. The positioning of 'she' (my partner) in this work, relates to a sequence in the film where Moretti indicates a facade topped with a penthouse apartment that he and Angelica (his partner?) fantasize owning - we are led to the 'interior' of both body/mind and building structure.
  15. It is memory that feels these known notes, but it is not visual; sound has a separate connection to emotion. The auditory memory searches for the 'known' harmonies, cadences, discourses, within the work as it unfolds.
  16. Behind every facade, is an armature, a life, a dream world.
  17. I have dug the album out of a stored-away, never listened to, collection of records, at the back of a basement closet, and replayed its scratched surface on the now, little used, high end, belt-driven, turn-table.
  18. The facades are repeated over & over, as the film is repeated in different cities throughout the world, these two 'time based' mediums intersecting, weaving a new identity from distinct and separate pasts.
  19. Those 'film' facades still play in my mind, changing how I now see buildings.
  20. I experienced 'Lucid Dreaming', that is, I was able to state in the dream itself that I was dreaming and there-by subvert it (Tollefson, 1995). I was 'with' myself, in character, 'knowing' I was dreaming.
  21. (There is so much more to know beneath the surface.)
  22. Andy Goldsworthy, master of the ephemeral 'earth sculpture', says of his own creations, "I take nothing out with me in the way of tools, glue or rope, preferring to explore the natural bonds and tensions that exist within the earth."
About the Author

Alex de Cosson has worked as a professional sculptor exhibiting nationally and internationally for over twenty five years, he has an MFA from York University and an M.Ed. from Brock University and is currently working on a Ph.D. at UBC. Alex has taught art for over twenty years, teaching at The Ontario College of Art and Design since 1989 and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design since 1999.

Alex's interest in arts based research can be traced to meeting Dr. Gary Knowles at the 1999 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Copyright rests with the author.

Posted November 2000
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