Croshare at Aspex Gallery Portsmouth for Antiuniversity Now, June 2016

Croshare at Antiuniversity Now 2016 – What did Tom think?

Having trained to teach English as a second language, I am familiar with structured learning, and the typical relationships between a teacher and their students. I am familiar with the hierarchies present in most learning environments, and appropriate balances of formality and informality. These help, for the most part, create an appropriate environment in which learning and teaching, and all associated processes, take place. It’s interesting to have noted that all of this practically goes out the window when it comes to Croshare.

Some of those participating in Croshare sessions treat everyone there as though they’ve known them for years, and occasionally feel free to share information on such subjects as their ailments, family, friendships, jobs and relationships – some of it feeling very personal, and some of it feeling as though it would have been better kept private, only discussed amongst those directly involved. People touch each other on the shoulder, on the arm, on the hand… People manipulate one another’s fingers as they help someone find the correct loop through which to pass their hook, or a method to achieve the correct tension when handling the yarn. The experience becomes very personal and very intimate – something which is quite startling, because hardly anyone at Croshare sessions knows another person there.

There’s also an element of what some people might consider inappropriate or oversharing based on, for example, their own cultural or social background. It’s been interesting to note that no one has ever stated nor enforced a personal boundary during any Croshare session conducted to date; the demographic of our participants has intersected those of different cultures, ethnicities, genders, nationalities, races, religions, sexes and sexualities. Many of these have their own ‘guidelines’ or ‘protocols’ for personal contact, and none of these have ever appeared to perform them, with every participant behaving in the same way.

I don’t think that the ‘loss’ of a more formal and structured teaching environment is something to do with the subject matter being in the arts field. I currently work in a creative higher education environment, and see learning and teaching taking place in a very well-maintained, very structured environment, with appropriate pedagogic methodologies being employed. I think this has its roots in the historical and traditional associations between yarn crafts and the domestic sphere, and the social contexts in which these have typically been conducted.

Those at the sessions feel ‘safe’. They feel that they’re ‘amongst their own’, because of the shared interest in the craft – even if they are a complete beginner and will pick up a hook and some yarn for the first ever time that day. There’s this feeling that, although you’re the teacher, that you’re the ‘expert’, you’re on the same level as the learner because the subject matter isn’t something that’s strictly academic – not something requiring a strict and rigorous commitment, and not something for which the learning process is restricted to that moment, to that exchange, to that environment – or to any one teacher.

Because anyone can learn and teach these crafts, the egalitarian and social elements of their practice and performance become more important than the crafts themselves, more important than the physical processes by which a final artefact is produced. It feels as though this overrides anything else.

I find it very easy to relate to my learners when I teach crochet, in comparison with the more ‘academic’ teaching I’ve done. I find it easier to remember what it was like to be in their positions, to make my first chains and to fumble my way through my first double and treble crochet stitches. Perhaps that makes it easier for me to teach them, and for them to learn from me. I find it difficult, however, to be as relaxed and informal as they are. I think I still approach this from a more structured perspective, thanks to my teacher training. I want to remain at a distance from them, and for them to see me as a teacher until they state that they have learnt everything they want to. Perhaps this is something that will change the more Croshare sessions Sharon and I run.

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