Public Pedagogy of Everyday Objects & Spaces Encounter: Table Talk

Karen’s Table 2

I am drawn to Karen’s Table 2. I would name it my Florida Sunshine Breakfast Table–my grandmother used to call orange juice we drank every morning at her house “Florida Sunshine.” Its round structure and funky graphics make it a fun table suitable for casual breakfasts.

My family eats most of its meals together around our round kitchen table. Unlike many of my peers, I grew up with the expectation that we would all eat together around 6pm and could not leave unless we were excused. We still even abide by the same seating arrangements claimed decades ago. One major (and traumatic shift) notwithstanding, my mother sits closest to the cooking area, my father next to her looking out the window, my brother next to dad, and me with my back against the window. My father used to sit in front of the window, but he moved to my original seat after having chemotherapy in the mid 1990s. It’s much easier to get in-and-out of, and farthest away from the cold window.

The first time I brought a boyfriend home for dinner, he sat in my brother’s traditional seat. A stern “That is MY seat” from my older (and much taller) brother scared the pants off of him and has been fodder for jokes for years.

Every family moment, big and small, was discussed around our dinner table. For me, it was a sounding area for advice regarding school dances, report cards, college applications and more. I believe the circular format of my kitchen table made it easier to discuss topics and listen to everyone’s opinion.

To me, having a place at the table means one’s position within a group is valued. I prefer the dynamics of a round table, as it doesn’t have the hierarchy inherent in a table with a “head” seat. Tables are created in many different shapes and styles and provide diverse functions. As seen in our readings, a Japanese tea ceremony table may be seen as a bench by Westerners. A banquet table in a fancy dining room provides a much different dinner setting than a kitchen island with stools.

My old Cetaphil face wash

Metaphorically, tables could be thought of as a theatrical stage. It provides a setting for events to occur: group meals, party food presentations, market transactions. The stage, along with the presentation of objects on it, is crafted through creative choices. Different stages yield to different experiences.

Thinking about a different kind of table–a dressing table– I looked up 2 face wash products: Cetaphil and Mychelle. A few months ago I flipped out over my skin, thinking that I was allergic to something in Cetaphil that made my skin extra dry (sulfates). I went to a local natural grocery store and was told that the Mychelle Honeydew Cleanser would be much better for me.

The face wash I’m currently using

I looked up these two products through Good Guide and Skin Deep and saw that while Mychelle has a lower hazard score (1 vs. 3), Cetaphil’s Health/Society/Environment rating is much better (7.4 vs. 6.3). It’s interesting that Mychelle is marketed as a natural, organic product but does not have highly rated working conditions. I hope that companies do not forget ethical treatment of human beings while striving for ecological beneficence.

Assignment: Make a personal connection to one of the tables, name the table (and designate its page number). At your blog entry 2 introduce yourself to the others in your group with a story that relates to your chosen table by responding to one or more prompts. Use Good Guide & Skin Deep to learn about the social, environmental, and health performance of household objects in your home. Share one discovery. 

New Semester, New Blog

We’ve been asked to create a new blog for my A Ed 813 class, but I’d like to share the posts on my “home” blog as well. The class is focused on “Inquiry into the public pedagogy of contemporary visual culture for relevancy to museum and K-12 art education contexts.”

I had a tough time coming up with a public sphere of influence that would compare to the examples already posted (a mall, sports stadiums, DVDs, suburbia). One idea that kept returning to my thoughts was Times Square. I believe the myriad meanings associated with the area can provide a rich discourse on the subject of human-built environments. 

Times Square image from Wikipedia
Like many young adults from suburbia, I dreamed of “getting out of Dodge” and making it big in New York City after school. Two months after graduation in 2007, I moved to the Upper-Upper East Side of Manhattan and got a job working as a web designer near the Flatiron building. Before I lived in New York, I saw Times Square as a glamorous beacon of the metropolis, pulsing with the electric heartbeat of the city. 

My opinion changed for the worse after living in Manhattan for a few months.
I began to see the dazzling ads displayed on billboards as gaudy representations of a city fueled by consumerism to the detriment of compassionate human relationships. It is well known that no self-respecting native New Yorker would choose to spend time in Times Square. The irony of this can be seen in the massive Target advertisements perched on multiple building in the area for more than 7 years before a branch opened in Manhattan

The media has had a defining hand in shaping the area and its experience. It’s named after the New York Times building (the founder of which asked the city to rename the vicinity after moving in). Theater and other (seedier) entertainments flourish(ed) in Times Square; it’s home to Broadway, after all. Even the neon lights and advertisements that sprout like weeks from surrounding buildings are popular tourist photo backdrops. The crushing crowds stream in from all sides, eager to take pictures and experience the area. 

But what does the area have to actually experience? Avant-garde theater no longer exists, after being pushed out by revivals of popular performances guaranteed to make money instead of sparking controversy. Nor do any commercial establishments exist that cannot be found in a suburban mall—FAO Schwartz is now a Toys R Us, and the only Red Lobster and Applebees in the city are located on 42nd Street. 

bell hooks stressed the importance of space as defining the activities and people that inhabit it in Black Vernacular: Architecture as Cultural Practice. Perhaps Times Square is meant to be a shrine to consumerism with oversized ads serving as icons of capitalism.

Me (left) in Time Square with a friend in 2007
To me, Times Square represents a simulacrum of city life. It is an area that defines New York, yet it is meant to shape visitor perceptions to enjoy a cleaned-up, Disney-fied city where everything is for sale. It is a marketer’s dream, where tourists pay to take pictures next to advertisements. But who am I to look down upon this? After all, I too have the requisite Times Square photo—this was taken with a friend my first week in the city. I’m on the left, wearing glasses.

For more information its history and on what others think of Times Square, check out the following links:

Works cited
hooks, b. (1995). Black Vernacular: Architecture as cultural practice. In Art on my mind: Visual politics (145-151). New York: The New Press.

Introduce self by locating and describing a public sphere of influence in the human-built environment (e.g., mall, Internet site, television show, listserv, news broadcast, advertisement, artwork, built-environment).