Curatorial Projects > How I Learned To... (2008)

How I Learned To... by Weston Teruya and Michele Carlson

April 21 - May 24, 2008
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

A new collaborative installation by Weston Teruya and Michele Carlson explores and disrupts the traditional American classroom. Increasingly recognized over the past couple of years for their intricate works on paper including collage, paint, and drawing, both artists have created individual bodies of work that use the actions of reframing, reorganizing, and restructuring existing objects and images to execute their respective conceptual and artistic visions.

A wall chart based on Howard Zinn's seminal book A People's History of the United States informs the painting on the gallery walls. With millions of copies sold, Zinn's social history fleshes out the bare skeleton of traditional historical texts with the stories of working men and women throughout America's history. The wall charts, designed as posters to be hung in the classroom or at home, are organized thematically as well as chronologically. Through full color graphics (referenced through the lines and symbols circumnavigating the room) and condensed text, these charts allow the reader to trace the developments of specific topics - such as slavery and resistance to the role of women - that go beyond the wars and presidencies of traditional U.S. history. Yet, events that ultimately shape history, even as told through Zinn's pioneering approach, aren't as neat and linear when it unfolds. Sometimes it is messy and undirected, intersecting with a myriad of other factors, including class concerns, cultural conventions, and social norms. Teruya and Carlson remind us that history as taught through books and in the classroom isn't always how it is pictured.

They also imagine a much more practical history that can exist within the classroom - one that is passed on from year to year, peer to peer. Hidden within and behind the architecture of desks and bookcases is a collective repository of learned experience and shared knowledge. Notes such as "Hate will eat you" and "Read every day, if you read 20 minutes a day you'll read over one million words a year" and "Don't get pregnant at an early age" are intended to provide real and functional educational information that can help those in the classroom get through school and become the best individuals they can be. Simultaneously playful and insightful, Teruya and Carlson's installation invites us to remember how we ourselves learned the things that we now know, and to consider the different levels and types of education that we did or did not receive in school.

In his previous and current work, Teruya has explored spaces of privilege and control and the objects that live at these bordered spaces, such as barricades, chain link fences, grass lawns, everyday commonplace chairs, flagpoles. Carlson has worked with intensely charged historical and contemporary cultural symbols and artifacts, such as fabric patterns, pit bulls, and transportation devices, to remove and resituate them from their familiar context in order to create a space where new stories and memories can be constructed. They both have used and referenced objects that still carry with them traces of their original social and cultural purpose (such as the protective barricade or the maligned pit bull), but have been transformed into more ambiguous and undefined arrangements, allowing for the possibility of intervention and change through the imagination.

Although both have worked in media outside of drawing and painting, this is both Teruya and Carlson's first full-scale installation project. The established worlds they have created on paper become manifested into a room-size installation, transforming our gallery into a prototypical Californian classroom, yet one constructed with their identifiable artistic and conceptual approaches of reframing, reorganizing, and restructuring existing objects and images. By disrupting and re-imagining the environment that we learn and grow up in, Teruya and Carlson explore how we form our notions of nationhood and identity and how histories of marginalized communities are taught and absorbed into these ideas of nationhood and citizenship.