KPU’s Field Schools Could Take You as far as the Amazon

Study food in Rome, art in London, design in Morocco, or more

(Samantha Mayes)

Field schools give students the opportunity to advance their education in beautiful, unfamiliar places, and next year Kwantlen Polytechnic University is offering four of them to choose from.

If you’re interested in learning about holistic food systems, you can travel to Rome, the Eternal City, to meet with experts in food and agri-business design (of course, you’ll be able to visit wineries, cheese production labs, and olive oil consortiums too). This one will be taking place from April 20 to May 4 this year, and applications are open until Dec. 15.

Iryna Karaush, a KPU instructor and researcher in food design, spent years studying how to avoid food-based crises. This pursuit brought her to Rome, where the field school’s host, an international food study organization called Gustolab, is based.

“We’re looking at food systems from the perspective of design, agriculture, and business … and with Gustolab, [students] can see what happens in the world with food design and food research and what it takes to save the planet, basically,” she laughs. “A simple task!”

They will also study the slow food movement based around “local food, local tradition, and to reduce the footprint of the commercial food industry,” which Karaush says began in the 1970s.

“It originated in Italy, basically in Rome. What happened was it was a resistance to commercial food, because the comfort food that comes from chains and commercial food was overclouding or pushing away farmers and local food, which Italy didn’t want to tolerate,” she says. “That’s a movement we have now experienced in Vancouver.”

Slow food isn’t all they will be studying, however. Karaush sees food as a unique medium, and as such, there is plenty of room to explore within it.

“You can see fashion through food. You can see social relations through food so easily. You can see how we’re connected and how we’re disconnected with our cultural food,” she says. “I think that should be the key point: to explore the culture, to explore the city, and most importantly to see what we’re missing in our culture, what can make our food and our relationship to it better.”

If that doesn’t appeal to your taste, so to speak, you can consider going to Barcelona and Marrakech. In these two locations, students will explore the most impressive architecture in the cities—and arguably in the world—including the Sagrada Familia and El Badi Palace.

The school website reads, “Through these excursions we will gain insight into contextual and cultural history of the regions, as well as personal, community, and global issues related to design and the built environment.”

Applications for this are open until Dec. 1, and the excursion lasts from May 1 to May 16.

The nature-based Amazon Field School is back again this year. For anyone compelled by the idea of immersing yourself in the jungle, paddling down rivers, and taking a break from modern technology, this might be the program for you. The Runner wrote about it in December of last year and spoke to Farhad Dastur, an instructor for the program.

“It’s going to bring you back to a much more ancient place that humanity has always known but very recently has forgotten,” he said. “I just believe that these kind of experiences are really powerful, transformative experiences in a student’s educational journey, and I want to be part of that.”

According to Dastur, some of the concepts they explored as part of past field schools include “problems of climate change, of habitat loss, of cultural extinction with Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, of how we can balance stability with economic development.” Unlike the other three field schools up for grabs after the new year, this program is only available in 2020, but those interested can reserve their spot online now.

Making its first appearance at KPU this year is the London & Venice Biennale field school, which will whisk students away into the world of fine art and globally renowned museums and exhibitions. From June 1 to 20, the group will spend time in London and Venice, studying contemporary and classic artists and eventually attending the Biennale, described on the field school’s website as “the world’s most anticipated and attended contemporary art exhibition, held once every two years as a showcase of the best of global contemporary art.”

With each of these trips comes a study-at-home component on KPU campuses. During this period, the field schools will feel like the first few weeks of a normal course, albeit with more anticipation and excitement than you might find in an average classroom. Prices vary for each of them, but there are several scholarships available to students who need them. If you’re interested in reading about those, check KPU’s “Funding Your KPU Global Learning Experience” page online.

Dorothy Barenscott and Elizabeth Barnes are running the London & Venice Biennale field school together, but it isn’t their first time teaching abroad as a duo. They also brought art students to Paris and Documenta in 2017, which they said was a huge success. According to Barenscott, many of the students who participated in that field school have gone on to graduate and thrive in their arts careers, claiming that they were inspired by their experiences studying abroad.

Barenscott, who specializes in contemporary art, is particularly interested in the art market. Barnes is a studio painter inspired by late modernist 60s abstractions who also teaches drawing.

“Our curriculum is London art, post-war, which will begin with the pop art movement in London, which actually began in the late 50s,” says Barnes.

Barenscott adds, “Most importantly, we’re looking at the intersection between the worlds of art, the worlds of fashion, and the worlds of consumerism and music.”

Most third-year fine arts students will already be qualified for the two courses being offered through the field school, although “strong first and second year students” will also be considered if they prove that they can write at a third-year level. The instructors highlight that “the most important is a willingness to travel and a degree of independence,” as those in the program will have most evenings free to explore and learn on their own time.

“The course is sort of the anchor, meaning that Elizabeth and I work through the ideas raised in this course both within the context of the art history class and then when it extends into studio,” says Barenscott. “But the act of travelling and seeing actual works is something that you cannot compare to studying in a classroom.”

Although she says that “most students sign up for art field schools not thinking so much about the exhibition, but that’s usually the thing that ends up being their favourite event.”

“You might sign up for London and Venice as a bonus, but you might find Venice is the thing that blows your minds the most,” she says.

Barnes adds, “You might find going to the museums, knowing this art history and having it fresh, and then going to Venice and then seeing what’s going on right now is really great.”

Students tend to chose to go to London in particular because of its identity as an “incredibly dynamic and fast-changing city.” With the impact of Brexit still resonating in England, and constant demoviction, gentrification, and construction similar to what can be seen in Vancouver causing stress and disruption among citizens, it is also a city in transition.

“There’s a ton of interesting conflict and anxiety in the city, and as a result fantastic art is being produced to respond to all of these shifts and changes in London. London is also one of the centers of the art world,” says Barnes.

Applications for the London & Venice Biennale field school close after Jan. 31. A maximum of 25 students, including those from both in and outside of KPU, will be accepted, and those who would liked to go are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.

To find more information about the cost of attending each of these field schools, contact an instructor or determine whether or not you’re eligible. Students can visit KPU’s website.

Good luck and bon voyage!

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