I'd like to introduce you to one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known: my son, Ben Cuevas.
When Ben was 18 months old he made a very detailed and intricate pencil drawing, and informed us that it was “Dorothy🪄(from the Wizard of Oz) eating pizza🍕 with Santa Claus🎅.” And why NOT put three of your favorite things in the whole wide world together in one picture?
When he was five, he announced that he would need all the towels in the house to hang up in the back yard as curtains for his theatre... which he would be making as soon as we got the cement mixing company we’d just used to pour a patio, to come back and pour him a Greek amphitheatre with stadium seating. (Spoiler alert: we said no, lol).
When he was 10, Ben decoupaged a series of news articles onto a hoodie and wore it to collect candy from the neighbors for Halloween. He explained that he was dressed up as “Public Opinion”.
So it was clear from Day One that Ben was going to be an artist, who would use his skills and talents to create powerful social commentary. And that’s exactly what he’s done.
Ben learned to knit as a young adult, from a friend. (He didn’t learn from me because I have no spatial skills and can’t even knit a potholder). He soon graduated from knitting in two dimensions to three. His first knit sculpture was a biologically accurate three dimensional heart, which he placed inside a bell jar.
Of course, like any parent, I was proud of my child’s achievements and thankful for all he’d learned as he was graduating from college. But this exhibition was much more. I realized that Ben was not only creating art that was inspiring, thought provoking, and aesthetically beautiful.
I realized he was teaching.
Ben’s exhibit consisted of a series of rooms that the viewer walked through to experience the body in layered and complex ways.
In The Waiting Room, people were invited to sit on the transparent chairs, and fill out a clipboard that asked “What are you waiting for?” (People answered in all sorts of ways, such as “My ship to come in”, “Mr. Right”, “a chance”, etc.)
Ben himself appears on the three TV’s imitating the Big Pharma drug ads that play in medical waiting rooms.. but instead of peddling drugs he is portraying the three Fates knitting the threads of one’s life.
You can see three versions of his knitted heart, in bell jars. Beyond the line of hanging threads is a black curtained enclosure which contains the Hospital Room (see next picture).
In this view of Ben’s “The Hospital Room” exhibit, the viewer develops “x ray vision” to see the organs inside the body.
Mirror tiles on the floor enable us to see the undersides of the organs reflected from below.
Repeating variations on themes of:
deepen the visitor's understanding of what it means to exist in the world as we experience it through our human bodies and senses.
As I explain to my students in the Course Design Formula® Master Course, teaching means “arranging a series of events that promote learning”. (And learning, in turn, can be demonstrated by adapting to one’s environment in ways that promote survival, as evidenced by adaptive behavior change that is lasting and permanent).
So teaching means arranging a series of events that cause participants to change their perspective and resulting behavior in meaningful and positive ways.
What a powerful mandate one takes on when one steps into the role of teaching… in any medium or context. You are helping people live more successful and meaningful lives in the ways that matter to them,.. .whether through improved earning power, emotional well being, more meaningful relationships, enhanced self expression, spiritual growth, or any other area of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Ben’s body of work as an artist focuses on profound physical and metaphysical issues.
As he says in his artist’s statement:
“Throughout my work, cultural and personal embodiment
of self is paramount to unfolding the layers of meaning.
Each of my investigations into these meanings
bring about new questions as to
how we see ourselves or want to be seen.”
--Ben Cuevas, excerpt from Artist Statement
After graduating from college, Ben was awarded an artist’s residency at The Wassaic project,
where he knitted a life size human skeleton.
He even knitted the teeth,
using knitting needles so small they were
practically the size of hypodermic needles!
Since its creation in 2010, the knit skeleton has amazed and delighted people all over the world.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Working with the body of the Earth rather than the human body was a new experience for Ben.
After spending time in the community and learning what was important to the people who live there, he decided to use macrame (a popular local craft form) to create representations of the local desert landforms.
He took pictures of landforms using a polaroid camera gifted to him by a family friend, and then recreated them in macrame.
This past weekend, we attended the opening of Ben’s solo show at Studio 203 in Los Angeles.
I was blown away by this show and what it means for the evolution of Ben’s body of work as a a person, an artist, and a teacher.
I’m excited to share with you what I learned from the show and the powerful ideas it expresses and contains.
Titled “Non-Binary Code”, the show focuses on
“...gender identity, textile-based practices and coded meaning through several large-scale knitted wall hangings and an interactive installation….. …
Cuevas plays with the binary nature of the knit/purl stitch inherent to knitting. Translating the word “non-binary” into literal binary code, Cuevas then attributes the knit stitch to “1s” and the purl stitch to “0s,” creating a knitting pattern that forms the basis of each piece’s textural composition...
The use of binary code also has an especially poignant connection to the history of textile production, in which the jacquard loom and punch card knitting were both used to develop the first computer languages.”
Did you know that the origin of the word “technology” is related to textiles (the creation of clothing and household fabrics being one of the earliest forms of craft and still one of the biggest industries in the world today).
Labor conditions in textile manufacturing have been and remain a huge social justice issue world wide.
The commercialization of the cotton industry in the 1800's was central to not only the rise of capitalism but the horrors of slavery.
So these are not small issues or incidental connections, they have been and remain fundamental social issues affecting millions of people on a massive historic and global scale.
Ben’s show at Studio 203 consists of several large-scale knitted wall hangings and an interactive installation.
The exhibit invites the observer in to become a participant.
We were encouraged to put on white coveralls and roll around on the large soft pillows Ben had lovingly created (each with the word “non binary” knitted all over its cover using binary code—similar to the wall hangings).
The pillows were incredibly comfortable and inviting. While sinking into them I had a delightful conversation with another exhibit visitor, someone I had never met.
Ben had done exactly what I tell my Master Course students leads to effective teaching: he had created a series of events that allow participants to engage in exploration that leads to learning.
This exhibit was powerful in so many ways, and for me the learnings had to do with quantum physics, the “fabric” of the universe itself, and the “code” that writes our lives.
The idea of an art exhibit where the walls are white, the art is white, and there is no concrete representation of any kind of object or image, pulls me into an understanding of the abstraction of code that can be used to create anything the viewer wants.
The original blank canvas so to speak.
Like Magritte’s famous painting “This is not a pipe”.. .that is both a representation of a pipe and yet not actually a pipe, the central idea of the work is the fact that it is BOTH binary and non binary at the same time.
Ben's wall hangings and pillows literally say “non binary” over and over again ... using binary code to write those words.
For me as a viewer and participant, the power of this idea lies in quantum physics, where a particle can be both a particle and a wave at the same time, and where a particle can both be at a location and NOT at the same location, simultaneously.
If the above is true, then the sequential nature of time gets blown away. If more than one thing can be happening in the same space at the same time, then time must loop in around on itself (knit and purl itself –they do call it “STRING” theory, after all) in non linear ways.
It is highly unusual at an art exhibit to be invited to get down to ground level and roll around on top of the art... yet that’s exactly what viewers were invited to do here.
While lolling luxuriously on the pillows I experienced several things:
Although I was at an art exhibit I could not see any art (while lying on the pillows I was looking straight up at the blank ceiling). The art was underneath me and I was feeling its texture (the words non binary knitted in binary code) over and over using my back. A highly unusual way to perceive and experience art… very powerful.
🗨️Social rules and order
What are the rules for interacting in a space? Or for experiencing art? Or for interpreting the flow of space and time?
This exhibit literally pulls you in.
Many people found it so relaxing to lie on the pillows that it was a challenge to regretfully get up!
It’s like the code was trying to swallow us and return us to our origins).
While conversing with a fellow pillow-loller I learned that visitors are invited to put on white gloves and “activate” the wall art pieces by touching them.
This felt very forbidden to me.
It is a powerful trope of art exhibits that one is to maintain one’s distance from the pieces hanging on the wall and certainly refrain from touching them.
Yet here we were invited to touch and experience the art in a tactile way.
This gave me the feeling of “reading” with my hands, much as I imagine it might feel to read in Braille.
This in turn leads to the idea that the surfaces we encounter in themselves represent a type of “code”, that tells us where we are and what is happening around us.
One can experience this show as a meditation on “oneness” (nonbinary) and “twoness” (binary) and the relationship between them. Twoness emerges from oneness and merges back into it. They are the same, and yet different. We can “transcend the material” nature of the physical bodies we were born into, to experience and identify with our inner nature as souls, whatever that may mean for us.
As a mother and an observer and fan of Ben’s work, I see the evolution from the concrete representational skeleton to the flowing macrame landscapes of the Boxo project to these more abstract non-representational wall hangings.
Ben's work has moved towards interpreting the concept of "embodiment"
in increasingly abstract and inclusive terms:
The wall hangings on the right side of the gallery are the top halves of the same piece whose open portions continue on the left wall… .as if the flow of code were extending across the room (with the giant pillows, and US engaging with them, in the middle).
Go see it!
I’m not just saying this because I’m Ben’s mother. This is an incredibly profound and powerful exhibit, and I am honored to share it with you as an example of exemplary teaching.
This is teaching that invites the learner in
and encourages them to engage on multiple levels:
tactile, kinesthetic, visual, and social.
This is teaching that changes you and your perception of the world and the way you understand the rules of interaction with space, time, yourself, and others.
If you have the opportunity to be in LA between now and January 13th, 2024 I hope you get a chance to experience Ben’s show.
(And if not, I'm thankful we can share these reflections and learn together from Ben’s work through this online medium.)
The artist as teacher
I am impressed by the teaching power of Ben’s non-binary exhibit for many reasons.
It does not tell us how to think, feel, see, or know things didactically --
instead it invites us
to experience the world in new ways
through our senses and
through interaction with ideas, materials, and other people.
The artist has literally created and shaped a space in which profound learning can occur.
This is what I invite each of you to do in your own way as you reflect on the wisdom you want to share and the mission you are here to fulfill.
I hope you find Ben’s example as inspiring as I do.
The ORIGINAL "Mom and Ben" pic!
(Long ago and far away...)
Mom and Ben at Ben's art exhibit opening
September 16 2023
Of all people on Earth, Ben has been the most exposed to my philosophy of teaching and learning.
He attended a year-long program on teaching from the level of the soul, with me, while he was still in utero. He served as a (willing or unwilling) beta tester for all my curriculum projects while he was growing up.
When he was in nursery school I provided a monthly parent/child learning activity for his class. He was the only student who got to see the behind-the-scenes month-long process of preparation and design that it took to create an engaging three hour live activity.
As Ben says, teaching is the family business: not only his mother but his grandmothers and great grandmother have all been teachers.
As an adult, Ben has taught as a guest lecturer at Ohio State University, the University of Indiana, and Brown University, among others.
Thank you for allowing me to be both a proud mother and an awed visitor to Ben’s growing body of work, and thank you for coming with me on this virtual exploration of art as teaching, and how we can experience and learn from it.
Here in this community, we are makers, shapers, creators, designers, and thinkers.. using our creativity (and the affordances made possible for us to teach online through the development of binary code!) to create richly textured learning experiences for those we are here to serve.
Are YOU an artist? Or a craftsperson?
How do you use your creativity to design experiences
that shape and transform the way your learners interact with the world?
Let's talk about it!
Come to the community meeting
(except major holidays)
9 AM Pacific/ 12 Noon Eastern