The Experience of Wonder

ginko biloba leaf

How can we investigate wonder?

I think that a direct, personal experience is the best starting point. So I went to my favourite public garden near home, where I love to walk or sit in a bench. I was ready to wonder looking at nature, as it often happens to me in that place; ready to catch pictures to share with you and to carefully observe all the process. 

But that morning nothing happened, even if nature was beautiful as usual… nothing . I was a bit disappointed and suspected that intentionality was an obstacle: maybe one can’t look for wonder. If you look for it, you can’t find it.

So the new plan was to retrace some of my past walks and to find out if there were some recurring elements, a kind of  list of clues, that characterizes those experiences of wonder. In other words the underlying question is: does a common denominator of the wonder-experience exist?

The first clue is easy and confirms my suspect about intentionality. I didn’t expect anything, I did not look for anything. Something just suddenly happened or I suddenly noticed something.

The second -ever present- clue is an inner empty space, needed for let wonder come in. My head was not busy or full of thoughts. Sometimes I was just too tired for thinking… sometimes it was Sunday or a daily break from work. Anyhow, I would generally call this quality a receptive, sensitive, welcoming emptyness.

Third clue: wonder happens through details and tiny things. It is delicate, it plays hide and seek and does not like haste or noises.

Clue number four: it is revealed through the senses, so it is mostly an aesthetic experience, not intellectual.

I could also state that it is connected to beauty, but the word “beauty” is too complex and general, difficult to define… What does it concretely mean? So a more useful question is probably about the recurring aesthetics qualities or topics that I associate to beauty.

I found at least three ones:

  • The wind or the movement of the air
  • A special kind of light (very warm but not too strong) that interacts with some surfaces, creating shadows and transparencies
  • And of course leaves. Not “any” leaf but “that” leaf, in that moment and place, seen from a precise point of view and through “that” light.

I wonder (in the sense that I ask myself) if everyone -like me- has got some specific aesthetics qualities typical of their own perception of wonder. Maybe these personal aesthetics elements are somehow connected to our roots, to the physical places where we come from or even to our very first encounters with the world.

Fifth clue:  I felt immersed in what I was looking at as if bounderies become less definied and for a split second, my ego disappeared.  I was not Roberta Pucci, atelierista, from Reggio Emilia, etc… but just my perception, an insightful, not-personal awareness. Also, the daily, usual perception of time changed for a little while, like a small oasis where time stands still.

This kind of feeling is as involving as fragile;  it can easily desappear, specially if I want to catch it by taking a picture or a video.

So here is the clue number six: taking pictures can be an obstacle for keeping a state of wonder.

Why? I think because -for taking a picture, for example of a leaf – I need to place myself “out” of the relation with that leaf, to take an external point of view, so coming back in my shoes, getting out of the connection and looking at the leaf from outside.

This makes me think to some educational context and some teachers that overwhelm children with questions or take a lot of pictures when noticing that children are deeply involved or attracted by something… Please let’s be careful and help children to take care of their precious moments of wonder. Yes, wonder can be the beginning of a meaningful learning… but it’s itself like oxygen for our soul and not only a pedagogical tool. 

Finally, a last question: where does wonder happen? Usually in nature, in my case, but perhaps there are some typical wondering-places for each of us?

Is wonder potentially everywhere, but it depends on our state of mind if we can access to it?

Can the extraordinary be hidden in the ordinary?

How can these clues and a deeper understanding of our direct experience help us to acknowledge, support and preserve the wondering experiences of children?

I would like to know to know what is your experience, hopefully adding others clues to this map.

Well, we are coming to the end of this short walk… thank you for joining. I wish you to enjoy the experience of wonder and take care of it. With open eyes and heart, but without looking for it!

You can watch the video of my Wonder Exploration clicking here.

Thanks to Suzanne Axelsson for inviting me to think about this topic. Also, in the guide Wonder of the Facebook Group The Original Learning Approach you will find other interesting reflections about it.

The Grammar of Corrugated Cardboard

Corrugated Cardboard

Following the suggestion of what I call the “Grammar of Matter”, we should try to observe things as if we were seeing them for the first time; with respect and curiosity, without already having a goal or a precise outcome in mind.

This chapter of the grammar is dedicated to corrugated cardboard: what are its transformative potentials? Or in other words, what transformations do its characteristics suggest to us? Let’s start with a small scrap piece, derived from a box of cookies.

I pick it up: the strips in relief are immediately an irresistible invitation to cut, while the two folding lines show where to stop cutting.

Now it can move in many ways, it seems to come alive, it becomes a tunnel, a millipede, a carnivorous plant…

Another action, generally associated with corrugated cardboard, is “rolling up”. If we combine it with cutting (or we put it in relation to other objects), various shapes can be created, in turn composable and combinable with each other.

On the left: picture by RobertapucciLab – On the right: picture from the book Créations en papier, mgf atelier

There are different kind of corrugated cardboard: as we have seens, it is used for small food packagings, while other colored ones are available in art supply shops, or you even can buy large rolls, generally used as industrial packaging.

What happens if we try to remake the same shape in a much larger size? A detail, a small decoration becomes a high impact presence.

Setting and workshop by RobertapucciLab for the public library “Il Castello dei Ragazzi” (Carpi, Italy)

The rolled strip that looked like a small sprout, can become a tree if using the maximum size of the roll. And then, more trees can generate a forest within a room… The setting of these images was designed as part of a creative workshop for a public library (in Carpi, Italy). Some tables were set with some materials and tools, ready to welcome adults and children to create colorful flowers for the trees.

“The grammar of matter” invites us to put the qualities and properties of a material in relation with the context around. Here is an example of how this can happen. One morning, the Swedish educator and atelierista Maria Kozlowska saw a large roll of cardboard standing in the storeroom and had the idea of making a corrugated cardboard labytinth for 2/3-years-olds children.

Pictures by Maria Kozlowska

It is a single length of corrugated cardboard that the children shape and reshape, explains Maria. The children form new “rooms” by pinching the paper together and closing into these spaces, alone or together. They open and close the rooms and the walls are changed by their actions, while organically shaped passages are formed.

By very actively investigating the material, children become aware of how their actions create new patterns and formations in the space. They also move their fingers on the corrugated cardboard wall and create sounds. In fact, noise is a characteristic aspect of corrugated cardboard.

“They are creaking footsteps” says Denise, the four-year-old author of this work entitled “The creaking house”, clearly inspired by the sound of material. The image is taken from the beautiful book “Mosaic of marks, words, material” published by Reggio Children, which clearly illustrates how children are able to be listening and in relation to the nature of the material they are using.

Pictures from the book Mosaic of marks, words, material, Reggio Children

The corrugated cardboard can fold and has got stripes: so the rainbow was a spontaneous association for Lorena, a three-year-old child struggling with a strip of cardboard and indelible markers. In most of their explorations, children spontaneously adopt an empathetic approach of curious researchers that we, as adults, can rediscover only with a certain, initial effort of awareness and intentionality.

Folon, Voyage brun, 2000

By what magical alchemy does the French artist Folon manage to transform an anonymous piece of corrugated cardboard into such an evocative and poetic seascape? I believe that for any professional, a respectful and curious dialogue with the material is an indispensable element to reach a good level both from an aesthetic and functional point of view, as demonstrated by many examples in the field of art and design.
The great Italian designer Bruno Munari reminds us that the observation of natural shapes is very useful to the designer, who gets used to choosing materials for their nature, for their technical characteristics, and not to use iron where it would be better using wood (or glass where plastic would work better, and so on).

There is a limit we cannot go beyond, in the sense of constructive simplicity.

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Architecture scale model in a design exposition, MAXXI Museum, Rome

If you are interested in the creative exploration of materials, you are welcome to join the Facebook group “The grammar of matter” and to eventually share your cardboard research.

A special thanks to Maria Kozlowska for her precious contribution and beautiful pictures, including the cover one.

#thegrammarofmatter

Identity Investigations

I have always been fascinated by variations: how identity can change and remaining recognizable at the same time? In other words, while changing, at what point that identity is no longer recognizable? And what is that make it recognizable through changes?
There are many ways to explore these questions using images and materials. Or even by playing with Esther. But who is Esther?

Initially, it was a paper strip, a processing waste of a paper work lying on my desk among other materials. It was casually folded in three parts and this folding gave to the piece of paper a special kind of balance so that it “seemed something”… I touched it softly: it began to swing and I began to see it alive. As its identity was taking shape in my mind, I tried to shape it with scissors and here she is: hello Esther!

Once her identity was defined, I just played with it. How does she move in the space, how many positions can she take? How can she relate with different shapes or contexts?

How can her characteristcs be transformed in order to create variations? For example: changing dimensions, material, texture, the shape of some folders or details…

In his book “Fantasia”, the designer Bruno Munari lists a number of creative techniques to transform a known object by changing its characteristics, in order to develop imagination. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • using opposites and antonyms (a fast turtle)
  • multiplying a part of a whole (a dragon with seven heads)
  • changing dimensions (a huge ladybug)
  • changing color (a blue bread)
  • changing material (a sponge hammer)
  • changing the function (a shoe used as a flower vase)
  • changing the context (a ship in the middle of a meadow)

The identity of every character will also evolve within a narrative frame, through encounters, stories, adventures. For example, what if Esther met a cat?

The topic of identity and its possible transformations through variations is also developed in many picture books for children. Here is an example of some pictures from “Hyppopposites” by Janik Coat, where the hippo identity is explored through different colors and textures.

The exploration of the possible variations of an object (of a character or an image) makes us investigate the limits, the potential and the essence of its identity: at what point of the transformation we can say that something has completely turned in something else? Which elements determine and affect one’s own identity?
Like Munari said, “a fish with horns is still a fish”?

Enjoy your identity exploration and don’t miss Esther Trilogy on robertapuccilab Youtube channel!

Dialogue with a sheet of paper

dialogue with a sheet of paper

Imagine you are seeing a sheet of paper for the first time in your life: who’s that? The sheet speaks to your eyes, only by its presence: color, shape, size, location in the space. Maybe it speaks to your nose by its light smell. Then for the first time you take it in your hands. It communicates through its texture, hardness or softness, consistency, humidity, weight, and also with its sounds.

If you are curious, with an open mind while observing and touching it, the sheet will reveal you its possible transformations. For example, you immediately guess you can fold or roll it: it seems the sheet itself, for its characteristics, invite you to do such actions, as other ones like crumpling or tearing. What objects and tools seem to be attuned to interacting with this material? Scissors, stapler, hole punch, needle, nail, fork… And why not water? In how many ways the sheet can be transformed with these tools?

Each one of these actions can be developed through endless variations. For example, as far as folding, you could use different fold’s sizes, inclinations, proportions, different shapes of the starting sheet, different rhythms… Then, you can combine all these actions: cutting and folding, wetting and crumpling, and so on. Moreover, choosing different types of paper each one will react differently.

“Folding Techniques for Designers” by Paul Jackson; “Il gioco creativo – La carta”

You can see as even a simple material like a sheet of paper holds within itself an entire world, waiting to be discovered. BUT in every dialogue there are two partecipants. Until now, we have considered only the material. What about the other one (me, you or the child that handles it)?
Every action on matter evokes some kind of associations, emotions or memories. For example tearing and cutting are probably perceived in different ways by the same person. Thus, each person has got some favourite actions she likes doing with a specific material. In the meantime, everyone will do the same action in her own way (with a certain speed, muscle tone, care, pressure, mood, focus, etc.). This is why every encounter is unique. Isn’t this amazing?

Photo by Orit Jacobson

In the beautiful book “The spirit of matter”, Nona Orbach and Lilach Galkin deeply investigate just that: the connection between our inner world and materials. They write: Each individual has a way to internal dialogue, usually words, images and metaphors. Living a close relationship to art materials, we find ourselves conversing through them in our personal creative process, as well as when observing others’ development. Physical matter is not merely an object, tool, paste or powder. It is words taken from the concrete world, which undergo personalization and serve to express an internal world.

Now, imagine you wants to create (or you ask children to create) with a sheet of paper a specific product, for example a little boat of a certain shape. In this case, you will not really “see” that sheet in all its potential, as you are focused on your predefined goal and will use paper only as a means. Of course nothing bad with it… But the approach I am speaking about is something else. It is a mutual interaction in which both the two partecipants are playing, so that the material is not completely forced in a prior idea.

This could also be an interesting metaphor of a dialogue between two persons. If one of them is not interested in the other and only talks about himself without listening, whatever person he will have in front of him, he will say the same words. In the meantime, the other one will be totally passive and between the two there will not be any kind of exchange. Instead, being in relationship will open new and unexpected paths.
Of course, there are many possible balances, symmetrical or not, between the two parts. For example, you could have a quite precise idea to realize, like a paper boat, but you will let the material suggest the better shape or dimensions, according to its characteristics.

So, how can you describe your dialogue with a material? Who leads, who follows? The leader and the follower can switch during the same creative process: how does this happen?

Pre-schools teachers from Fano, Italy

In the relational approach I tried to describe, the personality of matter meets the personality of the creator. Before the creative process takes place, both the potentials were already there, but silent. While transforming the material, you are making visible your unique essence; in the meantime, while the material is transformed, its nature unfolds.

Photo by Nona Orbach

Every human being holds within them a combined heritage of characteristics, likes and dislikes that make them who they are. Actions imprinted upon matter may represent this richness. All of these qualities, when assembled and marked down on paper, clay, etc., leave visual signs that create a unique fingerprint. This essential imprint will develop and become enriched throughout our life, if given the chance. This is how the artist and art therapist Nona Orbach beautifully describes the unique essence that every person reveals through matter in the creative process.
In other words, it is a mutual enrichment, respecting the specific potential and limits of both parties. An ecological, empathic approach towards world, to whatever big and tiny thing we meet.

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#thegrammarofmatter

If you are interested in the world of materials, you are welcome to join “The grammar of matter” group on Facebook.