Mark Wittig Artist Statement
View of Educational Structures
The lived experience of learning disabilities is the primary subject matter for my creative research. As a youth, I attended the Child Study Center for three years, a school in a teaching hospital, where I became intrigued with disabilities research. I am inspired by the larger learning-disabled community to create artworks that comment on the learning disabled experience with language, and question the prevailing systems of education (and culture) which devalue fluencies and skills outside prevailing norms.
With this ongoing project, View of Educational Structures, I am creating a typological study of the history of education in the United States of America. In this body of work, I am photographing and building architectural sculptures, about education to create a body of work that highlights the variations within educational structures. This ongoing project has a well-developed research agenda that is informed by John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and Bell Hooks, arguably three of the pre-eminent educational theorist of the twentieth century.
To create the black and white images of these structures, I am using a 4x5 large-format camera and black and white film. The use of large-format photographic tools allows myself to fully immerse in the slow process of creating a tangible photographic object. When standing in front of these various school structures and creating the photographic images with a large-format camera I am continuing the photographic history created by masters of the media from Eugène Atget, Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and William Christenberry. When building the architectural sculptures, I am continuing the precedent set by William Christenberry who translated some of the buildings he photographed into sculptures. To create my architectural sculptures, I am using different construction techniques: from designing, cutting and assembling by hand, to using computer-aided design programs to design the structures, and using a laser cutter to precisely cut the parts out, and then hand assembling the parts together.
This long-term project focuses on providing a platform for students, teachers, educational researchers and community members the opportunity to consider the challenges and goals of education and how educational structures influences the learning process. One of my hopes for this typological study of education is to allow historical thinking and contemporary thinking about education to reach a wider public audience.
As an element of, View of Educational Structures, I am photographing school buildings that played a role in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in: Brown v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court case that is known as Brown v. Board of Education combined five different court cases that originated in different parts of the United States. The five different court cases were: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka filed in Kansas, Briggs v. Elliott filed in South Carolina, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County filed in Virginia, Gebhart v. Belton filed in Delaware, and Bolling v. Sharpe filed in Washington, D.C. I have traveled to Topeka Kansas and photograph the Monroe School Building that played an important role in this Supreme Court case. I have photograph Little Rock Central High School that played a pivotal role in desegregation, three years after the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. I plan to travel to Delaware, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia, and photograph the educational structures within these areas that played a role in challenging the constitutionality of segregation in public schools in the United States of America.
I have also been working with the Julius Rosenwald Fund archives housed at the Fisk University’s Franklin Library and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to photograph and build architectural models of educational structures that the Julius Rosenwald Fund, help build throughout the South from 1917 to 1932. One of the goals of the Julius Rosenwald Fund was to provide safe and purpose-built state-of-the art schools for the African-American population across the South. When Julius Rosenwald died in 1932, his fund wound down as he intended leaving a legacy of 5,357 schoolhouses, shop buildings, and teachers’ homes from Florida to Maryland and Texas. In 2002 the Rosenwald Schools were placed on the America's 11 Most Endangered Places, I plan to play a part in raising awareness of the surviving structures.
For some viewers, the work I create is a metaphor for the frustration I and others have felt living in a society that devalue fluencies and skills outside prevailing norms. With my creative practice, I am using my skills and fluencies as an architect and artist to build a long-term creative practice that will allow a free and open conversation about education. I am always striving to develop new work that precisely combines elements which clearly emphasize the empowerment potential of creating artwork that openly talks about the history of education and the lived experience of learning.