Mikaela Clark Gardner
Fourth year, Art Education Specialization
Culture Jamming: Responding to Hegemonic Images Through Appropriation
This lesson plan focuses on the art of détournement or culture jamming through understanding and practicing the ethics, strategies, creative process and action-based dissemination. Culture jamming is a social justice oriented methodology that plays with humour, wordplay and wit through appropriating normalized oppressive, hegemonic media or corporate images to reveal their truth. Culture jamming can be used in schools “to promote civic engagement with images, society, and identities” (Sandlin & Milam, 2008, p.326). Culture jamming is relevant to high school students in many ways. Visual culture is closely connected to students’ everyday lives, thus their knowledge will be central and useful within this project to show what is urgent, trending or popular. In addition, adolescents often seek to investigate crossing boundaries and pushing the limits. This lesson acknowledges and supports pushing boundaries as a strength to critically question injustices within our society and to take creative action to dismantle oppressive images. The classroom is also a safe space to explore the effects and ethics of crossing boundaries. In the lesson, we will discuss and practice the theory, “Ethical Spectacle,” within our culture jamming. This theory originated from Duncombe and Boyd’s work, where Duncombe (2014) states “spectacular interventions have the potential to be both ethical and emancipatory.” (p.230).
As a teacher, I will be facilitating the project through providing resources and guidance, but it is important that the project is a democratic process of student-teacher decision-making. This is to foster a creative environment of agency and ownership for all involved. Dewhurst expresses the importance for students to be part of decision-making and “leave room for learners to identify and define their own artmaking.” (p.10). Although I will outline the available materials and amount of class time for the project, our decision-making process will happen during class and group discussion. This provides time and different spaces for inclusive dialogue for students’ to express thoughts, questions and ideas for their project. As the teacher, I will respond with activities, guiding visual prompts, guiding questions for groups and resources to help deepen their learning experience.
Overall, this project aims to help students deepen their understanding and knowledge of systemic oppressive structures, to develop critical thinking, to creatively reinvent images, to gain experience taking action on issues important to them and to have ownership over their own learning.
The length of sessions are one hour each with a total of 6 classes.
This lesson is for high school students in their last year. The students need to be familiar with various art materials, visual and media literacy terminology, and research methods. This lesson will be introducing new concepts beyond the art classroom basics. The maximum class size is 30 students.
Art materials & Equipment
There is flexibility for art materials, depending on the students’ chosen theme for culture jamming. The art materials that will be available are:
Culture Jamming Concepts and Definitions:
Appropriation: intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects (MoMA, n.d.)
Culture Jamming/Détournement: “Appropriates and alters an existing media artifact…in order to give it a new, subversive meaning” (Malitz, 2014, p.28)
Ethical Spectacle: “offers a way of thinking about the tactical and strategic use of signs, symbols, myths, and fantasies to advance progressive, democratic goals” without crossing ethical boundaries (Duncombe, 2014, p.230). Duncombe identifies five ways that Ethical Spectacle strives to be: “
Participatory: Seeking to empower participants;
Open: Responsive and adaptive to shifting concepts;
Transparent: Engaging the imagination of the [viewer]…without seeking to trick or deceive;
Realistic: Using fantasy to illuminate and dramatize real-world power dynamics…that otherwise tend to remain hidden in plain sight;
Utopian: Celebrating the impossible —and therefore helping make the impossible possible.” (p.230)
Floating signifier: “a symbol or concept loose enough to mean many things to many people, yet specific enough [towards]… action in a particular direction” (Smucker, Boyd & Mitchell, 2014, p.234).
Hegemony: “leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others.” (Oxford dictionary, n.d.)
Subliminal messaging: an underlying message through image and text to subconsciously influence the viewer
Subvert: “undermine the power and authority of an established system or institution” (Oxford dictionary, n.d.)
Transitional spaces: An in-between space, an interruption where “the viewer-learner begins to (re)consider her/his role in society, both as an individual and in relation to others” (Sandlin & Milam, 2008, p.342)
Interactive Prezi showing images and videos of artist/activist groups (e.g., Adbusters, Banksy, Guerrilla Girls and The Yes Men). Examples of visuals at the end of document.
Art Media Exploration
Before students start their research process, there will be a ‘warm-up’ art-making activity called, Collaborative Self Jam. The class will get into circles of roughly ten people. Each person will have a sheet of paper and a marker/coloured pencil. Students will have 15 seconds to draw their face, then pass their sheet to the next person. On top of the other person’s face, they will draw their own face in 30 seconds. Again, they pass it. This time they are looking at a sheet with two different faces overlapping and they need to try and connect these faces together. This activity continues with other add-ons, such as, drawing a tongue, a third eye, a cat beside them and so on. Let the class make suggestions. The point of the activity is to see the humour in art-making, to make odd or juxtaposing connections and to get ideas flowing about what appropriation means. In the end, each sheet of paper will have everyone’s work in some way and will often come out as a hilarious image.
Students will be encouraged to experiment with altering and twisting images in different ways during their brainstorming and sketching stage before settling on design/concept. Students are responsible for choosing and exploring art materials available in the classroom. The teacher prototype, along with images of the process, will be a visual and tactile example of some of the possibilities to explore.
During the research process and art-making, students will be given time to get into groups of three or four to discuss their findings and ideas. The group discussions will take place during research/sketching/brainstorming, during art-making and dissemination process and a whole class reflection at the end. This facilitates a supportive, collaborative environment to give opportunity to discuss and share ideas or to help overcome challenges. Students can work individually or in groups of 2-3 for their project, although this can be negotiated depending on the context of group dynamics. The classroom environment will be make as open as possible for students freely to move around, work individually, have space to collaborate and get into groups.
Guiding Questions during Group Discussion
1. Why did you choose your theme? Why is this social justice issue important to you?
2. Look at examples of hegemonic images that relate to your theme. Why do you think are they promoting these oppressive messages? What visual and text tools are they using to convey their message? How can you learn from their tools to your advantage in revealing their truth?
3. What images and/or symbols are related to your theme? What materials would highlight your theme and subversive message?
4. Who is your target audience? How are you going to draw their attention? What do you want them to walk away with?
5. Think ahead. How are you going to display your artwork to the public? What materials will be bold for viewers to see from a distance? What materials or art techniques will show the best if your work is being photocopied in black and white? What size are you working with?
During my sketching process, I played with posture, emotions and symbols. I wanted the boy to look tired, focused and consumed by his video game. I first drew a controller in his hands, but then changed it to a gun, to show the reality of what he is doing in this hyper-realistic video game. The controller-gun is covering his mouth to symbol his passivity and obedience to the game.
The video game, “Call of Duty” advertises the slogan: “There’s a soldier in all of us.” In reality, he is a young boy, staying inside, whose mind is occupied by a black-and-white, violent imaginary world. There is a window in the background of the image, showing a bright sunny day that he is missing out on.
The second image I drew takes the “Call of Duty” slogan to a global level. The image is a reminder that war is first and foremost a legitimate horror and not a source of pleasure or entertainment. The international charity War Child estimates that there are 250, 000 child soldiers in the world today, who are often forced to kill their own families before they are taken away (War Child, 2014). Our culture of violence has become normalized through advertising, movies, video games, music, etc. This image attempts to put war in its real context.
The action-based dissemination is vital in getting the learning environment outside the classroom and into the real world. Throughout the project, the class will discuss the ethics, safety and laws regarding culture jamming and display within public areas. Students need to reflect on logistics with location, the materials needed, durability/protection measures for artworks, the size and legal aspects. On day four, there will be a specific discussion on the rules regarding postering in the city or defacing property. *Students need to talk with educator about their ideas of public locations before they proceed.*
Day six will be the final reflection for the project. As a class, each group will discuss their journey in research, art-making and dissemination.
Reflection Questions: What did you enjoy about the project? What challenges did you face? How did you problem-solve to overcome the challenges? Looking back, would you have done something differently? Would you have liked the project to focus on another direction? What influenced and motivated your art piece? How did you consider Ethical Spectacle within your work?
Final notes: The allotted time frames for each day are suggestive. Students may take a shorter or longer period of time to complete certain parts of the project. Throughout the six classes, the educator will be available for helping with research, asking questions to get students to think critically about their process, sitting in on group discussions, and helping students navigate the art-making and dissemination processes.
CBS Corporation (Producer). (2011, February 26). “Banksy” creates street art and mystery [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDaYqK19q4k
Child soldiers. (2014). Retrieved April 03, 2016, from https://www.warchild.org.uk/issues/child-soldiers
Culture Jammed. (n.d.). Retrieved April 02, 2016, from http://culturejammed.tumblr.com/
Dewhurst, M. (2010). An Inevitable Question: Exploring the Defining Features of Social Justice Art Education. Art Education, 63(5), 6-13.
Duncombe, S., Smucker, J., Mitchell, D., & Boyd, A. (2014). Beautiful Trouble: A toolbox for
revolution (A. Boyd & D. O. Mitchell, Eds.). Toronto: Between the Lines.
Frankenstein, M. (2010). Studying Culture Jamming to Inspire Student Activism. Radical Teacher, 89, 30-46.
Guerrilla Girls: Poster Index. (n.d.). Retrieved April 02, 2016, from
Hegemony [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved April 02, 2016, from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/hegemony
Lambert, S. (Director). (2010, August 10). Light Criticism [Video file]. Retrieved from https:// vimeo.com/14050409
MoMA Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved April 02, 2016, from https://www.moma.org/learn/ moma_learning/themes/pop-art/appropriation