Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Contemporary art and Michigan State University

 It was a bitterly cold, snowy Sunday when the French sister-city delegation and members from the College and I set out for a visit to East Lansing, Michigan USA. Lansing is the capital of the state and East Lansing is where you find Michigan State University and an interesting museum of contemporary art.
I'm not a fan of contemporary art  but I was curious to set what is considered worth being hung on these walls.  

The museum itself is very new and has some interesting architecture. In the rain, the entrance loomed like a giant teethed maw. An illusion but not conducive to warm comfy moments. I guess I'm too used to old European architecture these days.

 The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University  explores international contemporary culture and ideas through art. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid, the museum features a striking fa├žade of pleated stainless steel and glass, signaling the museum and the university’s dynamic vision. More than 70 percent of the 46,000-square-foot facility is dedicated to exhibition space.

There was use of very different media. One wall consisted on thousands of tiny nails and string in a painstakingly produced geometric pattern.
Various sorts of modern female vestments/armour were on display. At least they were recognisable as something concrete.

Geometric patterns and splashes of paint seemed to be in vogue. 



There was even a representation of a bed built from wooden crutches. Well, I'd never have thought about doing that but is it art? It was done in a rather rudimentary fashion.

 And then there were the metallic shapes; completely plain but they caught the light and made quite beautiful effects amongst themselves, from reflections of other objects around them, when they moved. 

One thing that really puzzled me was a sword on display. It said it was the sword of Joan of Arc, France. It didn't say it was a copy and it was displayed above eye-level which made things awkward for the viewer. If it was the real sword what was it doing in Lansing and not revered somewhere in France such as Rouen or Orleans?  Odd.

Another thing I couldn't  get my head around was the idea that computer-generated geometric patterns are now considered art. Yes I know, artists work with their current media but it just doesn't seem the same to me.

The exterior of the building is very low maintenance and juxstiposes well with the 19th century buildings around it. I went for a walk in the nearby streets once the sun came out. 

What an amazing campus they have at Michigan State University.MSU is the eighth-largest university in the United States, with 47,800 students and 2,954 faculty members.  It's enormous but more than that, it's so different from French universities. 

There's the one integrated campus with so many facilities, some of which add life to the place because they are available to the public. There are shops and businesses catering to students' needs.The quality of the facilities is first rate and there's space for sports fields and a giant stadium.

Not far from Spartan Stadium their mascot Sparta pulled up ion his buggy/ cart thingee. There we were, the mostly-French delegation tumbling out of the van in order to get a photo with the university sports mascot. No doubt he thought we were crazy, but it was a bit of fun.

I was very impressed with the size of this ivy-league uni and what it offered students though I imagine those from small towns might struggle to adjust to the immensity of it  all. I enjoyed my day out and we all dined together at the home of French Professor.

For further info on the museum visit http://broadmuseum.msu.edu/about

For further info on msu visit http://www.msu.edu/about/index.html

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A magical place for children in Albion

While spending time at Albion, USA I was introduced to a children's centre of surprising and delightful creativity and organisation. I'd like to share some of the ideas I discovered there because these concepts could easily be reproduced elsewhere. I loved wandering around and seeing children and parents interacting with the mini--environments. I was, however, careful to avoid photographing any children and parents as this is forbidden.
The water table has running water where children can put slide in slices of plastic to alter the 'river's' flow and speed, and sail little boats etc

Some of the ideas at this Kids'N' Stuff children's museum can be done at home.

There's a stage with overhead balcony for putting on plays. Plenty of props and costumes. There's even a large puppet theatre where children can create their own imaginative stories.

One 'cabin' is devoted to Italy. Children are invited to cook pizzas in the pizza oven, play gloves supplied and play ingredients too. A picture of the Mona Lisa adorns the wall and there are other reminders of Italian culture and history.

Let me introduce you to the veterinary clinic. here we have stethoscopes and examining equipment, carry cages and food bowls. There is a light wall where x-rays of animals can be viewed, a reception area and information wall.

There is no shortage of animals needing to be checked and examined. Everything was scrupulously clean, of course.

The AgKnowledge section gives children the opportunity to become a farmer by planting and harvesting crops and feeding the animals They can use the hopper which sorts the grain according to what each animal likes to eat.

Atright is a bucket of animal food consisting of soybeans and wheat for the kids to sort in the hopper and feed to the animals


or maybe the children would like to drive a real John Deere harvester? you can do it here via donated equipment.

 Air and Movement exhibits teach children features of air movement, wind energy. here a ball is introduced and you can watch it move through the maze and even interrupt the passage.
Kids are naturally interested in bodies and how better to explore than putting a body together by moving x-rays into the correct positions on the table. A life-size 'doll' is also available to explore internally. see his organs spilling out. They can be popped back in, thank goodness.

The conservation station allows kids to explore the natural world around Michigan. They can be a conservation officer learning about the local plants and animals and discussing how to help the environment.

The messy art room is much as you'd expect; full of aprons, paint media including recycled materials
The Albion Community Foundation music room gives children the chance to try many types of musical instruments. An electronic organ has had the front panels replaced by glass so you can see it working while you play. there is a composing wall, drums to bang and instruments from other parts of the world.

I especially liked the PVC pipe organ. You tap on the inlets of each pipe with the bottom of a jandal. As you can see from the colours, each pipe prodes a different tone. it's very physical and it's fun.

Around the centre are US Mail post boxes. As children go about their learning activities they can write and post messages. Once they get to the Post office they can grab a post bag, visit the boxes and collect the letters, take them to be put in individual pot boxes at the Office. Letters can be weighed on the scales and stamps affixed.

Those who want to get physically serious can use the climbing wall. How high you get depends on how old and strong you are. There are hand and footholds only. It looked pretty difficult to me though I understand from staff that some kids get to the top.

The grocery Store is particularly impressive. It has equipment that works. The scanner takes the price of the article and the till records and makes additions. It's superbly stocked with all categories of food and grocery items.

Other areas of play include a glowroom wbhere kids can lie down on beanbags to look at the ceiling where stars and other objects can be viewed in the dark via ultraviolet, a little stream and bridge, barn, an infant and toddler area, an upstairs hospital and health centre.

There's a classroom on tap for school teachers to use. The centre is used for birthday parties, girl and cub scout programmes, field trips, preschool music and art and after-school programmes. It's open from Tuesday through Saturday and had 18,000 visitors in 2012. Albion can be proud of this awesome facility visit www.kidsnstuff.org





Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Reinforcing Franco-US city ties

It's been a hectic month, especially with a recent trip to  Michigan USA. Once again I was there for work, furthering the teaching partnership a College has with my workplace.

Over the course of the week I was working with Professor  French on detailed planning of the Introduction to Sustainability course which is taught at the College and via web-conferencing. I'm responsible for the planning, the implementation, the communication, some tutoring and working the online blackboard platform MOODLE.

All the teaching and administrative staff at the College are a delight to work with - professional, organised, on-time, respectful and friendly. 

 I stayed in one of the houses that is located at the far end of the campus and a bit of a walk to the centre of campus.  The weather was freezing; snowflakes and rain were in evidence and lugging my heavy laptop bag, documents, camera all the way, several times a day was bad news for my painful shoulders. But breakfast required the walk. Meals were taken in the student cafeteria which leaves French student cafeterias for dead. So, meetings, planning, discussions with people I already knew was a pleasant though tiring way to spend the week.

The trip also coincided with a French delegation from two towns  which are sister cities to the one in Michigan.  Though I've never visited these towns I did have the opportunity to meet the mayors and other members of the delegation. Included in the visit was a ceremony to recognise the 15 year sister-city relationship. 

Since the beginning of the relationship over 600 people have travelled back and forth including children, students. adults on cultural exchanges and, it seems, me. We all had a buffet meal at the home of a French professor. It happened during the American Golf Classic final so there was lively comment and mixed discussions plus good wine.

One afternoon was spent in a Presidential Summit, presenting sister city relationships , a global learning alliance and a relationship with the University of Grenada (Spain). Here you can see the out-going  College president speaking, and the panel of sister-city members discussing the merits of transatlantic relations.

The mayor of one of the French cities, offered to try to help me with my ongoing titre de sejour issues - after 8 months of visits to the prefecture and 3 temporary visas France still hasn't managed to give me a decent ID document. 

I'll have to go back to Chartres this week to try for a fourth temporary one so I can stay past next Tuesday and get paid for May. The mayor is influential in his region but doesn't have any personal contacts at Chartres so we don't know if he can encourage the public servants to give me my legal ID. I've emailed him all my papers anyway, just in case and it's kind of him to take an interest.