Struggling together in the plastic vivarium

This page is a small invitation into our research that follows the making of a children’s studio at Santana school in Cuenca, Ecuador. This studio aims to act in artistic response to the simultaneously toxic and life-giving ecological dependencies with plastics in the school’s neighbouring forest. Yet, artfully noticing the relational life and logics of plastics with children beyond human use requires particular pedagogical conditions outside of anthropocentric frames.

Inspired by Pinar Yoldas’ art exhibition (2014), Ecosystems of Excess, the generative problems and queries proposed in this studio are centered around the question: If life evolved from a plastic debris-filled forest, what might emerge? Using a common worlds research framework to imagine possible life in what participating educator’s have named, ‘the plastic vivarium’, we make visible the pedagogical dilemmas, inconsistencies and struggles that both resist and instruct collective, artistic processes and the ongoing emergence of this studio as an imperfect, eventful place (Kind, 2012; Vecchi, 2010). Thinking with material and conceptual tensions, metaphors and hesitations in our encounters with plastics, the inquiry aims to create pedagogical spaces that intensify “inconvenient and disconcerting cohabitations” with plastics, children and the inventive creatures that are grown in the plastic vivarium (Taylor, 2016, p. 1457).

Coming soon, we will share some of our most profound (and ongoing) struggles in cultivating a studio that is not only a beautiful room with materials, but a place that is living and activated by particular ways of being and thinking together with children. In particular, we are consistently challenged to resist child-centered educative practices that continue to reduce children’s artistic processes into some kind of developmental gain. Together with the school’s atelierista, much of our initial work in the atelier has involved undoing ideas about curriculum and children’s artistic processes. We struggle together in thinking curriculum as made with – not for –children (Vintimilla & Kind, 2020), and taking seriously the onto-epistemological proposition that creativity is not located intrinsically inside the child, but rather is a relationally composed event (McClure, 2011). Though we are haunted by developmental desire, it is by returning to these ideas and holding them at center of our pedagogical work that it has become possible to think in collective and contradictory spaces with children, educators and plastics at Santana.   

More on the plastic vivarium to come!


‘The plastic vivarium’ emerges from dialogues with Sylvia Kind, faculty member at Capilano University’s department of Early Childhood Care and Education and atelierista of Capilano’s Children’s Studio. In February of 2019, Sylvia visited the studio at Santana and immensely supported us in rethinking the role of the arts in education through several workshops and a public lecture event. The ideas that shape the emerging studio processes at Santana take much inspiration from Sylvia’s work, and her 13 years with the Children’s Studio as a site of artistic and pedagogical experimentation.

Photos by Alex Berry + Sylvia Kind