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Occupational therapy and ESCALA

A group of four people looking over an artwork on a table.How can artworks develop understanding of lifespan and extend conceptual thinking for those studying Occupational Therapy?

The barely legible words inscribed on León Ferrari’s Untitled (1997) calligraphy are taken from a poem by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Ferrari includes sections of In Praise of Darkness (1969), a poem in which Borges reflects on his loss of sight and his mind’s retreat into memories of the many things he saw in his lifetime: the street corners of his native Buenos Aires; the faces of his friends which are now fading; and the many books he read which have now been deemed illegible by his failing eyesight. What can Borges’ poem and León Ferrari’s calligraphy tell us about lifespan, end of life and death? This is one of five works used in recent Object-based Learning (OBL) sessions with occupational therapy students from the School of Health & Human Sciences at the University of Essex. In his writing, Borges often referred to the theme of time and In Praise of Darkness is a touching poem on the effects of visual impairment on the writer and avid reader. What is more, Borges’ old-age forced him to confront his own mortality in the poem. The content of Ferrari’s artwork and his reference to this literary giant of Argentine literature are an excellent trigger for discussions of end of life, death and the theme of lifespan.

Thanks to the opportunity to work alongside Anita Steinberg, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy, we now run OBL sessions in all three faculties here at Essex. After meeting at a recent ‘Good Practice in Teaching’ conference, Anita and I we were able to identify potential synergies between Anita’s curriculum and our OBL approach. After careful planning we chose five artworks in ESCALA for two of Anita’s sessions that relate to the content of her module. We split the class into groups of three or four students and each group focused on a different artwork, spending ten minutes discussing it, before moving onto another artwork. We used Yolanda M. López’s Our Lady of Guadalupe (2007) tryptic and Ana Maria Maiolino’s Por um fio (1976) in the first session where students reflected on transitions to adulthood, as well as cultural and generational difference and working life.

León Ferrari’s Untitled (1986) architectural blue print activated thoughtful analysis on working and living spaces in contemporary society. Students reflected on what an ideal working or living environment might look like and what happens when a space controls our freedoms. In the second session, Marcelo Brodsky’s class photograph from Buena Memoria (1997) generated a space where students reflected on youth, occupation and different stages of life and death. We also used the aforementioned Ferrari calligraphy in this second session.

Our strapline Connecting through Collecting underpins much of the work we do at ESCALA from acquiring artworks through to their use in teaching and research across the University and these sessions were no exception. Anita’s occupational therapists in training immediately drew on their own experience and made connections between artworks and their curriculum content. At first we asked the students to respond to the artworks with little to no previous knowledge of their content and then we asked them to contribute ideas and share them with the group. They each brought new insights to the artworks they discussed. In the second session groups worked with texts including the full J.L. Borges poem In Praise of Darkness and Marcelo Brodsky’s photobook Buena memoria (first published 1997). The former enriched their understanding Ferrari’s calligraphy and the latter gave the students more understanding of the specific case of Argentina and those affected by the dictatorship (1976-1983).

Anita had the following reflections on the two sessions:

“From an occupational therapy programme perspective, the overall aim of the Object-Based Learning sessions was to provide first year students with an opportunity to develop and extend conceptual thinking. Preparatory reading was carefully selected to provide students with an introduction to concepts that could be relatable to the artwork, occupational science and occupational therapy but without placing limitations on exploration of ideas. A class tutorial was scheduled after each OBL session for students to discuss, relate and apply the OBL discussions to occupational therapy. The ensuing discussions explored the concepts of what is meaningful to people, how that relates to the way they engage in their occupations and the factors that may influence occupational engagement and performance across the lifespan.

Informal feedback from students highlighted that they enjoyed the opportunities that the new Object-based Learning approach offered their development, in particular in challenging their thinking. As a lecturer and programme lead, I was particularly impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and engagement in the sessions, with all students contributing to the discussions. It was interesting to hear the observations that the students made about the artworks, their interpretations of what they saw, and how they linked their thoughts from the OBL sessions to content from previous teaching, reading and practice placement experiences.

Drawing upon the structure of the two OBL sessions, the module ended with a session offering students the opportunity to select a creative item that, for them was meaningful and demonstrated a period of the lifespan or related concept that had been identified within their learning. All students presented their ‘art forms’ and facilitated in depth discussions about the relevance of their item to the module content and their own learning. It was apparent from the range of media presented, and students’ rationales for selecting the items, that thought and attention had been devoted when selecting items.”

In these sessions students had the opportunity to strengthen their group work, observational and communication skills by discussing these artworks with their peers. There was a palpable buzz in our Teaching and Research Space as each group discussed an artwork. The sessions informed further discussions Anita had with her students in later sessions and conversations started in the ESCALA space continued after the students left. We look forward to welcoming Anita and her students back next year for more OBL sessions and building on this success. If you would like to discuss the possibility of using ESCALA artworks in your teaching or would like to organise a research visit please email

Sebastian Bustamante-Brauning & Anita Steinberg

Image: Occupational students and staff discussing artwork. 

Frontrunners' placement

Two frontrunners sat at a table reading a textIt’s that time of year again. We are really excited to say that we will be offering one Frontrunner placement this year for a University of Essex student to work with the Collection.
We have had some amazing frontrunners in the past who have gone on to achieve great things having worked for the Collection. Details of this year’s placement and how to apply can be found on the Frontrunners website. The deadline to submit applications is 13 Oct 2017. Good Luck.

If you want to hear about one of our Frontrunner’s experience last year. Here is Max Turner’s summary of his experience. Max was our Object-based Learning Frontrunner. Thank you Max for all your work:

Over the course of my frontrunner placement I have had the privilege of being involved in a number of interesting and exciting projects. Some of the highlights have been: participating in object-based learning projects with students from local schools; collaborating with the Department of Languages and Linguistics to compile material that was used in the Portuguese language curriculum; and translating material used in the context of the collection and its objectives.

This position has allowed me to develop an excellent skillset which will stand me in good stead for the career path I wish to follow in the future. As an MA Translation, Interpreting and Subtitling student, the professional translation and interpreting experience I gained during the placement has been invaluable. Furthermore, I have been able to hone my research, communication and organisational skills, all through the engaging setting of working with an accredited museum.

I feel it is important to mention that this internship was tailored to play to my strengths. I was able to excel and contribute in areas directly related to my academic field, and I can only hope that my contributions leave a lasting and significant footprint in the annals of the ESCALA collection. As an avid student of Latin American culture, history and politics, having the opportunity to work with art from so many different parts of the continent has been inspiring. I can honestly say that I have learnt enormous amounts about Latin America through the art this collection has to offer, and the unique stories behind each and every piece.

Finally, working as part of the ESCALA team has been an enriching and wholesome experience, and I would like to express my debt of gratitude to Jo and Seb for making this such a positive placement that will undoubtedly be of great use to me in my future endeavours.

Image: ESCALA Frontrunner Max Turner (left) during "Footrprints of Memory" event.

Recent acquisitions

As an art collection at the University of Essex we value art that earns its place, tells a story and is committed. Our acquisitions since 2015, by (in alphabetical order) Alberto Baraya, Alejandro Jaime, Sandra Monterroso, Lucía Pizzani, and Eduardo Villanes, are very good examples of this kind of art. Most of them relate broadly to our key themes: indigenous America, identity, land and the environment and human rights. These themes reflect the existing strengths among our holdings and some of the most pressing areas of research among our academic community more broadly. At the same time, each of our recent acquisitions is better understood from a multidisciplinary perspective and we look forward to working with students and staff over the academic year 2017-18 to investigate these artworks more fully and to use them in teaching and research. For now we have written some brief descriptions of each artwork.

Alberto Baraya

Expedición Machu Picchu: Orquídea parásita verde
Expedition Machu Picchu: Green Parasitic Orchid

Mixed media

Alberto Baraya’s Expedición Machu Picchu: Orquídea parásita verde (2013) belongs to his series called the Herbarium of Artificial Plants, an on-going project where the artist investigates the legacy of the traveller artists who went to Latin America during and after the colonial period. Baraya creates taxonomies of artificial plants that he collects on his travels to different places. He also challenges the nineteenth-century practice of anthropometry and classifying people. In his encounters with local people in his expeditions he invites people to measure his physical features and in so doing interrupts accepted racism in these historic practices.

Alejandro Jaime

Andenes III
Platforms III
Digital print, drawing and watercolour

Paisaje expandido / paisaje contenido IV
Expanded Landscape / Contained Landscape IV

Oil on photographic print

We’ve acquired two works by Peruvian artist Alejandro Jaime Andenes III (2014) and Paisaje Expandido / Paisaje contenido IV (2016). Both explore the effects of human interventions in the natural landscape. The first shows the traces of indigenous agricultural terracing used extensively in Peru and elsewhere in the Andes, both in pre-Columbian times and today. The other shows the more destructive side of large-scale extraction of materials from a massive open mine, likely to be that of Chuquicamata in Chile. Chuquicamata is source of the majority of the world’s copper and is one of the largest open mines in the world. Jaime’s two works respond to our theme of indigenous America as well as issues of global environmental exploitation.

Sandra Monterroso

Lix Cua Rahro / Tus tortillas mi amor
Lix Cua Rahro / Your Tortillas my Love


Lix Cua Cahro is a 12 min 30 second video of a 2003 performance in which the artist is seen making maize tortillas. Monterroso chews the maize while reciting various phrases in Q’eq’chi, one of the main langauges of the Maya of Mexico and Guatemala. Eventually she makes dough and then tortillas from the maize, offering them to her ‘Love’. The video is a way for Monterroso to explore her own identity as a Mestiza woman of Maya ancestry and the role of women in Maya communities. This artwork adds to our holdings of art from Central America which has been a recent area focus in our collecting and relates to the theme of indigenous America and identity as well as the connection between humans and the land through staples such as maize.

Lucía Pizzani
Las Cáscaras

Las Cáscaras (2013), which could be translated as ‘skins’ or ‘shells’ is a video project filmed in colour, outdoors in a natural setting with an added tropical forest soundtrack and featuring four women enclosed in cocoons made from textiles with African designs. The vibrant patterns, in earth tones, echo those found in nature and the women who move within and against their cocoons, appear to be in a state of becoming. The video relates to and was exhibited with Pizzani’s monochrome Impronta ferrotypes (also in ESCALA) in El Adorador de la Imágen at the Sala Mendoza, Caracas, in 2014 and, like the Impronta series, belongs to an ongoing exploration by Pizzani of transformational processes, both in nature and in relation to women.

Eduardo Villanes

Gloria Evaporada
Evaporated Gloria

1995 re-printed 2010
Museum folio containing 10 photographs, 8 in B/W and 2 colour

Autoretrato gloria evaporada
Evaporated Gloria Self-Portrait


Invitación-objeto (réplica actual)
Object-Invitation (contemporary replica) 2012
Screen print on recycled cardboard (Gloria Evaporated Milk Box)

Our most recent acquisitions are three artworks by artist Eduardo Villanes. All are from a project by the artist from the 1990s called Gloria Evaporada, developed during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). The title is taken from a popular brand of evaporated milk. In 1992 nine students and their university teacher were abducted by a government death squad from the Cantuta University in Lima. Their burnt remains were later found in a mass grave and returned to families in boxes of ‘Gloria’ evaporated milk. In reference to this atrocity, Villanes manipulated similar boxes, changing the lettering from ‘evaporated milk’ to ‘evaporated people.’ The artworks we’ve acquired refer to an exhibition and performances that Villanes made in response to Fujimori’s repressive regime and are closely tied to our human rights collecting theme.

More than half of our recent acquisitions: by Alberto Baraya, Alejandro Jaime and Sandra Monterroso, were researched and proposed by postgraduate students at the University, taking a module developed and delivered by ESCALA called Collecting Art from Latin America, which is run by the School of Philosophy and Art History. The aim of the module is to give students practical, real-world experience of writing and presenting a proposal to an acquisition committee as well as giving ESCALA the opportunity to benefit from a range of research and perspectives in relation to our acquisitions. Over the last three years students have been proposing artworks related to our indigenous America collecting theme. 

The work by Lucía Pizzani was part of an exhibition in June 2017 organised by MA Curating students at the University’s gallery, Art Exchange. For the exhibition, called (Co)vert Corporeality, we suggested that the students look at the work of Pizzani, who was already represented in ESCALA with three wet collodion prints from her Impronta series, purchased by ESCALA in 2014 with a Museum Acquisition Grant from Pinta: the Latin American Art Fair. In (Co)vert Corporeality the students showed included Pizzani’s video work Las Cáscaras and invited her to create a related performance in Wivenhoe Park at our Colchester Campus. We decided that Las Cáscaras would serve as an important link between this student initiative and our Impronta examples, offering a different perspective on the black and white collodions.

Text by Dr Jo Harwood & Sebastian Bustamante-Brauning

ESCALA Autumn term highlights

As we close for the Christmas break we would like to wish all of our students, staff and supporters, especially our artists, a peaceful time and a happy New Year.

Below we have chosen some highlights from Autumn Term 2017. We hope you enjoy them.

Since October we have …
// Worked with amazing staff and students in the following areas to deliver and support art-based teaching:
// Language and Linguistics (with artworks by Antonio Henrique Amaral, Cecilia Vicuña, Siron Franco, Milagros de la Torre and Graciela Iturbide)
// Art History (with the Tucumán Arde archive donated by Graciela Carnevale, and artworks by Marcelo Brodsky, León Ferrari, f.Marquespenteado, Coco Fusco & Juan Pablo Ballester, Alberto Baraya, Regina José Galindo)
// Interdisciplinary Studies (with artworks by Wilson Díaz, Yolanda López, Cecilia Vicuña, Hector Giuffré, Ana Ekcell, León Ferrari)
// Psychology (with artworks by Marcelo Brodsky and Graciela Iturbide)

Sadly, we say goodbye to an exceptional colleague and ESCALA collaborator Anita Steinberg, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy in the School of Health and Social Care, who is moving on to a new role.

Begun to collaborate with:
// The excellent and necessary University of Essex-based Contemplative Pedagogy Network
// Supported appreciative and committed external researchers:
From: Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, France, Uruguay and the U.S.
Working on: Emma Reyes, Mónica Rossi, Carlos Cruz-Diez, María Freire, Ana Maria Maiolino

Welcomed some very enthusiastic and insightful Art History and ISC staff and students to our Teaching and Research Space to see artworks by Cynthia Soto, Cildo Meireles and Alberto Baraya, the Taller de Gráfica Popular, Teresa Pereda, Alejandro Jaime and Carlos Martins

Accessioned the following artworks:
Untitled, 1994, by Antonio Bonilla (El Salvador) donated by Joanne Bernstein
Blood in Paradise, 1994, by Erwin Guillermo (Guatemala), donated by the artist and mediated by Joanne Bernstein

Moved the following artworks (Due to the Albert Sloman Library’s refurbishment of the Large Reading Room)
Double Eclipse of the Moon, 1998, by Raúl Piña– to the ESCALA Gallery in the Silberrad Student Centre
Three Paths, 1995 by Daniel Senise – now on display in the foyer of the Constable Building, near to the ESCALA Teaching and Research Space
Closed for Restoration – We apologise for any inconvenience caused to the public, 1992 by Ana Placencia – now in our ESCALA Teaching and Research Space awaiting a new location for display

Photo of artist Siron FrancoMet up with Siron Franco whose painting Memória, in the ESCALA Gallery (in the Silberrad Student Centre), started the Collection, and who was in London to celebrate the opening of his exhibition at the Brazilian Embassy.

Last but not least:
We welcomed our new frontrunner, Enrika Pavlovskyte, BA Literature and Modern Languages to the team. Enrika began in November and has already made some excellent contributions to our collection care work, which we are focussing on now that we have handed over most of our teaching in Art History and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Directorship of the BA Latin American Studies and the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies to Dr Lisa Blackmore - congratulations Lisa!

Christmas opening hours:

The ESCALA Teaching and Research Space is now closed for appointments and enquiries until the week beginning 15 January, when the University’s Spring Term 2018 begins. ESCALA Gallery in the Silberrad Student Centre at our Colchester Campus remains open. Here you can see a small permanent display of artworks from the Collection.