The Carl Wagan Bookmobile made a trek down to North Adams, Massachusetts on November 1-4, 2012 for a student performance at MASS MoCA. Responding to the exhibition, OH, CANADA and its curatorial enthusiasm for the Great White North, students at OCAD University in Toronto, Ontario created The Justin Beaver Schoolhouse. In this project we played with myths and ideas about Canadian-ness, engaging museum visitors in a variety of activities that gently educated and stimulated discussion around issues of identity.
Classes, which were all under 2 minutes in length, included HOME ROOM (introducing students to the Principles of Carl), LANGUAGE ARTS (testing students’ knowledge of Canadian idioms), FRENCH (Parlez-vous français? Apprendre dans la classe JBS français), HISTORY (quizzing students in general socio-political knowledge and polling their countries of origin), GEOGRAPHY (drawing maps of Canada from memory), MATHEMATICS (converting standard units to metric), ECONOMICS (bartering the early-Canadian way), and NUTRITION (teaching students how to make Kraft Dinner, introducing Ketchup chips, and conducting a blind maple syrup taste test– Quebec vs. New Hampshire).
Under achievers were sent to the Canadian Breakfast Club in DETENTION to write lines and all students had their photos taken for the JBS YEARBOOK.
The Justin Beaver Schoolhouse activity culminated in a Convocation Ceremony in which visitors recited the Oath of Citizenship (see above) while The Maple Leaf Forever played in the background. Merit badges ranging from General Excellence to Remedial Assistance Required were issued based on student achievement in all classes.
A Canadian Tuxedo themed launch party at Melanie Mowinski’s amazing space PRESS turned Carl into a photo-booth for the evening while double denim bad-assery reigned inside. All in all the Justin Beaver Schoolhouse experience exceeded all expectation! About 100-125 people came through while a bluegrass band played just outside in the MASS MoCA Cafeteria and Sol Lewitt wall paintings occupied the adjacent space. Not too shabby!
Many, many thanks to Rachel at the museum for making the whole experience possible. It was a tremendous honour (with a U) to be able to react to OH CANADA and to engage with contemporary art in a much richer way than just looking at it on the walls of the gallery.