Eng teaches video and new art forms in art spaces, youth centers, human service organizations, and universities. She has worked with Eyebeam Art Center, Art in General, Parsons Paris, Asian American Art Center, CityArts Inc, Vire Volte Theatre (Paul Belmondo Ecole Municipale D’Arts Plastiques), VisualAIDS (Lifesigns), FEGS (Eye2Eye youth media), as well as being a guest lecturer at School of Visual Arts, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, DCTV, Atlas Institute, CU Boulder, and Harvestworks. She taught new media workshops to Parisian youth and adults with Windup Media. She recently taught culture jamming/appropriation with digital media at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In 2020 she spearheaded a new cultural leadership organization, Creative Catalyzers that bridged art with sustainable organizations, tech companies, and human service organizations. She is teaching professional practices for creative technologists at NYU Tandon School of Engineering.
Dressed in a white lab coat and donning a blue wig, I begin class with a collective breathing exercise in presence. My entrance is not a gimmick but carefully orchestrated choices to draw students into the learning environment to be active community members open to discovery. The breath brings the group together on common ground, preparing them for unexpected possibilities. My pedagogic framework combines the dialogic performance of theatre (symbolized by the wig), the experimentation of laboratories (symbolized by the lab coat), the wisdom of the lecture hall, the exchange of critical thought of the forum and the studio filled with exercises in health and creativity. I structure the class as a staging ground where students can explore their voices, share with the group, and eventually contribute to the growth of society.
Over a century ago, the Bauhaus school implemented a similar holistic teaching philosophy that treated artistic creation as an integral part of life’s social and historical fabric. Their regard for art as a catalyst for democracy echoes the ideas of American philosopher John Dewey. Dewey believed that art expands perception necessary to formulate new concepts that can elicit societal transformation. I, too, believe that thoughtful art and design have the potential to be socially engaged acts, and therefore I encourage the full power and individual responsibility of artistic creation. ‘Art saves Lives’ is the tagline on the website for a community arts project I developed and directed in Ethiopia. The message disseminated by students through theatre, music, and mural painting provided the education necessary in combatting the AIDS crisis and preventing more deaths.
In a highly competitive 21st-century digital global world rife with divisiveness, isolation, and declining empathy, humanistic learning must be intertwined with theoretical and vocational teachings. A humanistic approach encourages students to contemplate how their designs serve an understanding of politics and ethics. In line with a contemplative art method, I encourage students to reflect and articulate how their creations and artistic process demonstrate ethical practices and inclusive design. In open critique sessions, students are held accountable for their creative manifestations shared in public and trained to articulate orally and in writing how their work fits in a historical, political, and aesthetic context. A high level of discipline for completion and commitment expected of students trains them to have a deeper knowledge of themselves and authentically align with their vision rather than designing from surface motivations such as popular trends and public praise.
I consider the classroom a living entity that needs attunement for a constructive environment that balances individual and group needs. To foster a thriving class community, I include physical exercises drawn from Viewpoints by choreographer and educator Mary Overlie. A technique developed for proscenium performers, Viewpoints as structured physical group activities enhance presence, collaboration, listening, concentration, improvisation, and creativity. These exercises are implemented spontaneously as beneficial interruptions to the agenda. I insert them into the schedule when I observe dissonance or disruption in the group. For instance, on the day of an art critique, I sensed the nervous tension from the students. Before beginning the critique, I announced we go outside and jog in a circle. They were instructed to stop, jump up and crouch down when they could feel that it was the right time. Nobody could lead, follow, nor try to push the others to jump with gesturing. They would do this exercise multiple times until they attuned themselves to one another to the point that they would synchronize and jump altogether. Over the years, all my classes have had phenomenological exercises such as Viewpoints, meditation, and clear envisioning exercises, regardless of the subject. These exercises take 10 minutes and lead to transformational results fostering solid community, respectful collaboration, and increased empathy.
Like the praised Bauhaus and Black Mountain College art professor, Joseph Albers, I believe creativity can be taught by combining play with rigor. This may seem contradictory, but when these two are woven together, students enjoy learning and the creative process while demonstrating concentration and disciplined form. Playful exercises engage students and tap into aspects of creation and design that nullify preconceived notions that often limit possibilities. In my first year as an art educator, I taught students to draw. Rather than design a post-classical art classroom with desks around a central model, the room was cleared of furniture, and students sat on the floor in a circle. Before putting their hands to paper, they were instructed to put on blindfolds and feel the objects they brought to class to draw. Other exercises included using flashlights to project onto paper to play with time-based lines and draw with light. Students then attached wire to paper, adding three-dimensional lines and casting shadows to the flashlight drawings.
Pluralism in the academic body contributes to the rich diversity of histories, knowledge, and experience. It also complexifies discussions with a multiplicity of interpretations. By maintaining a professional interdependent community environment that acknowledges difference, misunderstandings are healthy occurrences that can be resolved respectfully and openly rather than triggering chaos. With lab coat and wig, I remind my students that life is like theatre, and we play multiple situational roles. In stepping into the academic role as learners, they will make choices that differ from the other roles at home, at the workplace, at the gym, or in the club. Through language, gesture, and posture, I model how they are expected to respectfully engage with other classroom members, professionally present themselves, and articulate with intellectual exchange rather than personal emotional reaction. Having lived in Africa, Europe, Asia, and America, I’m sensitive to assumptions of localized facts and acknowledge throughout my lectures and discussions we speak not as ambassadors, but individuals with differences that can widen our understanding of the world as we contribute to building a better global community.