My Art 30 students have finished their paintings with narratives about water. The UV light has worked better than expected, with students frequently coming up to myself or Ms. Moe and asking us to take a look at their artworks. Today their paintings were installed in the Warman High hallway along with UV lights so viewers can explore the various layers of their paintings. They will be up for a couple weeks, and all are invited to come check out their exhibition. Ms. Lebiszczak's class came by after my art students had critiqued it and I heard comments like "These are beautiful" and "I wish school wasn't always so academic so that we could learn about subjects this way".
Water Narratives: An Art 30 & Environmental Science 20 Collaboration
“For many of us, clean water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely, if ever, pause to consider what life would be like without it.” - Marcus Samuelsson
Water is essential to life as we know it; indeed, the human body is constructed of 60% water. There is a limited amount of clean water on earth and human beings do not have equal access to it.
This project was a collaboration between Ms. Lebiszczak's Environmental Science 20 class and Ms. Gerrard's Art 30 class. Warman High School received 2 water testing kits from the Safe Drinking Water Foundation (SDWF) this fall. SDWF is an organization "which was founded in 1997 by five international scientists (from Canada, Russia, Scotland and Japan) in order to assist rural communities in developing countries with their water treatment issues. However, it was soon discovered that there are many issues in terms of drinking water quality right here in Canada, primarily in rural and First Nations communities, so SDWF focused on those issues. SDWF became a registered Canadian charity in January 1998" (Hancock, 2018, personal communication).
Science students tested a variety of Warman's water and presented their results to Ms. Gerrard's art students. The tests revealed that the waters in and around Warman were very clean. Some of the main chemicals students examined were nitrates, which can promote eutrophication or massive algae blooms in freshwater ecosystems, arsenic, which is extremely toxic, hard water, which affects tastes and scaling on pipes, and copper and other heavy metals which can create health problems.
The Science Students tested Warman tap water, local water from Prairie Oasis pond, rural treated water and rural untreated water. They found that all of the water samples were very safe. They expected the rural untreated water would have higher nitrate levels in it because it comes from a farming area. However, it was lower than the required amount. Students found that all of the samples tested high for hard water, but that is to be expected given that there is a large amount of calcium in the bedrock in Saskatchewan. Students did notice that the Warman tap water was higher in copper than we expected, but they realized that this was likely due to experimental error or that copper pipes can leach copper into the water. To remedy this, it's recommended that people with copper plumbing run their water to flush the copper before they drink it.
Both the science and art classes spent time discussing water availability in Saskatchewan and read that many First Nations communities have been under boil water advisories, some for years. Science students discussed how people often think about how they need to address water scarcity in developing areas, but forget to look within our own province or country to address the needs here. Students talked about water treatment and what could be done to ensure all Saskatchewanians have easy access to clean, safe water.
Subsequently, students from the science class shared their findings and various facts about water with the art students, and they teamed up to discuss what messages about water should be communicated to Warman High Students in each of the artwork. Ms. Gerrard read the picturebook "The Water Walker" by Joanne Robertson to the collective group, so as to include an Indigenous perspective about the value of water. Art 30 students subsequently studied various artworks by Luba Lukova, and emulated her style by limiting their colour palette to three colours and employing clip-art style symbols to convey meaning. Finally, art students applied special invisible phosphorous markers and/or paint to their artworks that only show up when ultraviolet light illuminates them - in doing they are able to convey a double narrative within their artworks.
In art, media is sometimes important to the artist's message. This is true in this exhibit: the use of UV is symbolic in that UV light systems are one way that water is disinfected by water treatment plants since UV light kills bacteria. Next to this sign are several UV lights that can be switched on to explore the hidden messages in the artwork. Please return the UV light at the end of the exhibit. A safety reminder never to point UV light in people's eyes.
This week the collaboration between science students and art students began. Two groups of students from Ms. Lebiszczak's class came to present their Warman water testing findings to my Art students. My students were interested in the results. As an observer, it occurred to me that the collaborative process that is beginning between the science and art class adds a sense of purpose to what is being learned and shared between groups. Having an audience matters and knowing that one science student's work has implications for an art student's work creates purpose and adds meaning to the learning process.
Yesterday we gathered our two groups together and the science students shared facts about water with my art students, who will now create acrylic artworks that express clear messages about water. These artworks will line Warman High School's hallway as an art exhibit and collectively communicate messages about water back to Warman High School's student population. Some of the artworks' messages will be literal; for example, raising awareness about the average Canadian's water consumption per day (329 litres); others will communicate a social justice narrative about water; for example, there are many boil water advisories today on reservations across Canada - access to water is not equal amongst Canadians (you can see a boil water advisory map of Canada here). Art students will be creating works in the style of Luba Lukova. When they are finished we will meet up with the science students one more time and together apply UV media to the artworks - the UV media allows students to further communicate their narratives, but only lights up under a blacklight which means viewers must interact with the art if they want the full experience and, in doing so, they become engaged in their own learnings.
We finished yesterday's lesson by reading Joanne Robertson's picturebook The Water Walker, which is a true story about Josephine Mandarin, and Ojibway woman who loved Nibi (water) so much, she walked over 10,900 miles to raise awareness about the importance of it.
These are some of the key STEAM projects we will be focusing on this year:
Sarah Gerrard teaches Visual Arts 9-12 at Warman High School. She recently received a grant from the Prairie Spirit Schools Foundation to infuse her courses with STEAM.