Switzerland & Southcaucasus

Month: May 2018


  Painting Department, Art College, Sukhum/i

In the course of the discussions, it seemed to me that our discussion had assumed that there is a fundamental difference, when, in fact, there is a more gradual one: Also in education in Switzerland, at least as far as art education is concerned, it is necessary to know the techniques of screen printing, painting, and ceramics etc.  In my view the difference in Swiss education lies in the practice, that the techniques follow a content much earlier in the institution’s curriculum. Both processes – learning a technique that can transmit a content, as well as reflecting about a content which a technique can realise – are conducted in parallel at the ZHdK. In this way, it seems to us, it is more likely to be able to rid oneself of technique in favor of a content in order to create a new content – a not insignificant circumstance when it comes to the horizon of creativity and ingenuity, which we consider an important medium of social action to be expanded.


      Sculpture Departement,  Art College, Sukhum/i

One question that often cropped up in conversations with the students and teachers from Sukhum/i was that of technique. In general, at least I understand, Sukhum/i’s academia assumes that first a basic technique has to be learned (building a figure, perspective, techniques of painting, sculpture, graphics …), before an individual can develop its personal talent. That means, ability is absolutely necessary to go beyond, whereas in Europe the opposite attitude has existed for some time.


Art Academy Suchum/i

Due to this very comprehensible process, it seems urgent to invite the cooperation partner to be equally involved in the leadership of the Bülach part of the exchange. How / by what means this can be prepared, remains to be worked out. One possibility is to agree on a content and to work on each content with the resources available and the personal interests of each student. In this way, Sukhum/i and Zurich student’s familiar (academic) structures will begin to mix.

Looking for new things

  View form Sukhum/i’s Art College

In the course of the process I try to describe, it became apparent that planning our collaboration in such a way that it left the initial starting point or subject open, resulted in exactly those hierarchical problems that one theoretically, in the honest conviction, sought to avoid: that there is always somebody who will take the lead. In most constellations, it was the students from Zurich who quickly drove the open process in a certain direction to get out of perplexity.

There were also structural reasons for this:  The team from Zurich had already met several times, before the cooperation partners came along.  And these came from different institutions. Equally strong was the fact that our cooperation partner lives in an isolated territory and was therefore open-minded, even wished for, something new – but actually we did as well!

First morning in Sukhum/i


Most participants, including myself, appear one hour early for breakfast. – There was some annoyance in the air since yesterday – some students disagreed with the plan that we, the lecturers, tried to propose to them during our train journey from Tbilisi yesterday. To them, it seemed too strict,  too abrupt, we were told. It was also criticized that a plan, as soon as it had arrived in our heads, would be hard to drop. In addition, and most importantly, the students thought, that an initial idea would leave the partners no space for their own proposals. They would be overrun, and that would be exactly the “colonial attitude” we normally would criticise. Some students expressed themselves less explicitly. Apparently we had been unable to convincingly communicate our concern.

In retrospect, however, it is clear to me that both sides were right, given their own horizon of experience. We lecturers had already collaborated with unknown partners many times, and always had found it beneficial to have an idea that could develop in the encounter. The students, on the other hand, were careful, and this was reasonable and cautious.

Explore Sukhum with Anika, School Nr. 10

The Bridge Group

Our team in school number 10 formed quite quickly, already in the first week when we had to find materials. We found ourselves inspired by the idea of an Art Bridge. For us, a bridge could be the symbol that through art it is possible to connect people from all over the world. Just as we in the group experienced that we got to know each other through our joint interest and passion for art, we wanted to bring this feeling of friendship to our pupils in school number 10.
Even though we didn’t have as many pedagogical discussions as I expected in the beginning of this exchange, I still learned a lot about the way of teaching in Sukhum throughout our lessons. I was also a bit surprised that I didn’t have any other Swiss student from Art Education in my team. I would have liked that in order to have some exchange with more experienced students of my university. Anyway, I felt really comfortable in my team, and we felt that over time we became really good in working with each other. Everyone of us could speak openly about their wishes, criticism etc.

What is Switzerland?


Our idea of the Art Bridge went through a big change, when we heard about the age of the pupils and the duration of the lessons. We only had 45 min per class (pupils were of an average age of  7  to 11). Unfortunately our ideas of the bridge couldn’t be realised in such short lectures, so we had to break them down to a certain minimum.

I am not sure if we, due to the short time in classes, were showing still a quite stereotypical view of these two places. But in order to keep up with the interest of the pupils in Switzerland it was important for us to keep the topic of the bridge and to do our best to not fall into stereotypical attributions. We tried to question the thoughts that the pupils have about the Swiss Alps and the Southern Caucasus, and also to show the similarities. We showed them similar pictures from both places as well as common music or legends. It was nice to see how engaged the pupils worked and how irritated they were, when the couldn’t distinguish the places anymore. The different classes had to draw, paint or create parts of the bridge, which we put together on the last day in order to create the Art Bridge of school number 10. I am happy with the results and I found it interesting when the pupils started to create something new, like a new place or a new legend.

Teaching and Improvising

If I had to describe my teaching experience in Sukhum with one word it would be: Improvising. First thing that comes to my mind is the language barrier. Even if I had a translator with me, during the lessons he was often helping our Swiss teachers to communicate with the original teachers of our classes. So I found myself often interacting with both the pupils and my classmates in a gestic or mimic way. Even I think we have to prepare better for the language barrier in Switzerland I am still kind of thankful for this experience. It shoed me that language is not just about speaking but includes a lot more and which makes it possible to communicate even without the language. Second is that we couldn’t see the school before our first class teaching. That made it difficult for us to know what we can expect from the school, the pupils and the lessons. We also didn’t know about the age and the time of classes a few days before. So we had to break down our project to a certain minimum so that it was possible to work with it in this circumstances. Even if it made me a bit sad that we had to deal pretty superficial with our topic and maybe created some stereotypical view on Switzerland it was a decision we had to make in order to keep our interest in the topic of the art bridge. Also other points like loosing our classroom spontaneously or classes that didn’t bring their crayons for some reasons required fast decisions and improvising from our team. I am really happy how it worked out and that despite all the problems we faced we grew together as a group where everyone had their influence and importance.

Pupils from Sukhum/i

What surprised me a lot where the pupils themselves in school 10. They were very interested, open and hard working in our classes. Even though we needed some time to learn how to best work with them in order to keep them focused, I felt that they were really enjoying their lessons with us. Also their feedback ”DA” (their answer on if they liked the lesson) or the photos and autographs they wanted at the end to the lessons strengthen this feeling. Even if it became more clear to me, that in the future I want to work with older students, I am really thankful for this experiences. Never before had I considered  to teach pupils of the age from 7-11 years, but I can now understand what good sides it has. What I liked the most about the pupils, were the moments when they couldn’t tell the difference between Sukhum/i and Zurich anymore or created steps, figures and drawing that were mixing our inputs in the lessons and created something new.

Way Home

Now back home I am still thinking a lot about my time in the Caucasus. Not only the teaching, but also the place and the people we met, make me reflect a lot about myself, my school and my home country. I hope that I somehow also left some trace in this places or in people I have met in this time. Hopefully all of them can come to Zürich and have a great time here. I am looking forward to the ideas they bring for the school in Bülach, and to the time we will spend and work together. See you in September!



Out of many different materials, such as found objects or scrap, we created an installation in the classroom. The installation should illustrate a phantasy cosmos. With this phantasy cosmos we wanted to stimulate the fantasy and the creativity of the pupils. We wanted them to invent new planets, or an own world.

Many pupils needed some time to get involved. We tought each class just for 45 minutes. But it was very nice that some pupils came back to us a few days after the class and brought their drawings. They had continued drawing at home.


I’ve got the impression that the pupils like to go to school. That’s the main thing.


We (ZHdK students) are all art educators and pursue an ideal. What we we pursue and strive for is often not yet a reality in Swiss primary schools. When looking at the reality in Sukhum/i schools, we should not forget that.


On the first day we started with the lesson we had planned. The art teacher of the school criticized our lesson. The next day, we integrated a topic of the art teacher. In the afternoon of the second day, the art teacher integrated our input in his lesson. On the third day, we again were able to react to his input. This meant we had a constant exchange with him during the whole week, which was very interesting and mutually instructive.


Whistling with the pupils. On the first day we created paper-birds with the students. At the end of the lesson, each student held his bird and walked around the room whistling with his bird. Throughout the day we heard students whistling in the school.

Number 6 school

School number 6. The school was on the outskirts of Sukum/i, situated on the main road, only 50 meters back from the coastline. Not far away, a derelict railway station, built in 1950s grandeur, sleeps, as loud engines and dusty cars speed pass. School begins at 8:30 and has 5 classes for primary school pupils, 6 classes for secondary school pupils. A lesson has duration of 45 minutes, with intermissions of 10 – 20 minutes to break, rush to the next class, or eat. In the courtyard that we see on the photo here, parents catch up on the news, as they wait to collect their sons and daughters.



What pedagogic techniques in art class?

Primary schools in Sukum/i seem to be structured in a traditional, authoritative way. Here, the pupils are encouraged to copy the teacher exactly, with litle room for personal interpretation. While a show/copy strategy can be effective in specific contexts, in Switzerland we don’t often use this pedagogic style in art classes. This photograph shows pupils, who present their uniform landscape to us, their guests.


Draw out of intuition

In short concession, sounds collected from around Sukhum/i were played to the class. This exercise was aimed at shaking the student’s idea of drawing perfectly, or just drawing objects. Instead, it should encourage them to draw out of intuition, and to think about how the sound was made – the movement that made the sound. on the drawing depicted here, the pupil translated four different sounds in four different ways. This kind of outcome was very encouraging for us, because it meant the pupil had understood our instruction and had experimented.


draw out of intuition

Interpretations of sound

After playing a variety of short sounds, that we had recorded from the urban environment of Sukhum/i, the students were asked to take out a new blank piece of paper, and this time they were instructed to listen to a longer sequence. This longer sequence had a narrative structure: There were two characters, firstly a woman walking down some stairs outside, with birds chirping in the background, the opening of a door, turning on a washing machine and feeding her cat. The second character, the cat, can be heard in the background, as she enters the laundry room and then again meowing in thanks, when she receives her food. The students were asked to draw what they had heard as they had heard it.

See the photo for example: Like many of his fellow pupils, this pupil of about 7 years had focused on drawing the sound elements as objects, such as tree leaves, the cat and a washing machine. However, this pupil also had understood from our previous presentations, that representing movement in the drawing was a further possibility for translating sound. Here this pupil drew dashes and circles in what we can read as beeps from the washing machine turning on, as well as water starting to flow, and the cat food falling into its dish. This pupil was able to merge two different interpretations of sound in one drawing.


Incorporating elements of sound; tone, movement, rhythm, volume

elements of sound – tone, movement, rhythm, volume

This drawing indicated that the child had learned what we had hoped it would learn, namely incorporating elements of sound – tone, movement, rhythm, volume – into a drawing. Instead of just drawing the object creating the sound, this young participant drew not only what he saw in his mind – the train as an object – but also the sound originating from  the train tracks, the wheels and the carriages.

Teaching, Teaching, Teaching at School Nr. 6

(Image 1 not ready)

Pupils Listen Carefully
After shortly introducing ourselves, we asked the pupils to stand together in a circle in the front part of the classroom. We told them to be really quiet and listen carefully to the sounds. We had collected the sounds in the preparation week the week before. We had not expected such excitement from the pupils. They could not stand still! They wanted to tell us immediately what was in their mind, as soon as the first sound was played. Our plan was to play four sounds, one after the other, and discuss them at the end. We had to change that part of the lesson. For the talkative pupils it was important that they could express their imaged images and stories straight after listening to each sound. Such reactions showed me that I do not have much experience with children in the age between seven and eleven.

Sounds Transformed into a Drawn Expression
One of our goals was to make the pupils aware of all their senses, not just their sight. Linked to that purpose was the ambitious aim, that they would express the sound, or the feeling initiated by the sound, in a drawing. This is a really abstract way of drawing. We gave them an introduction to the exercise, first only verbally. We did not want to draw an example, because we wanted to avoid that they would just copy us.  The task to draw the abstract sounds with crayon was not easy for them. Many pupils were blocked, or not sure about what we asked them to do. So they where looking around, checking their neighbors paper.
Leaving them hanging without more instruction, and giving them no rules, and no right or wrong, was very challenging for them. For us it was also hard to bear this situation, and not be tempted to give them more input. To avoid this unpleasant situation of not knowing if any child would start drawing, we prepared an exercise, were we asked them to draw sound as a one ongoing line without taking the crayon away from the paper. In the end we gave them an example on the blackboard, and showed them how to give rhythm to a line.

Sound Story
One exercise was listening and drawing after hearing a longer sound, which told a story only in sound, without words. First the pupils just listened carefully to the sound. Then they listened again and drew simultaneously what they had heard. This really stimulated the pupils phantasy. Everyone made up their own story and drew it in their own style. Some of them stayed in the non-object-based way of drawing. They drew sounds all over the paper, in one composition. Other’s drawings were abstract, they drew more like notation as lines. Some of them got more objective and drew images of what they had heard, and others combined an abstract visualisation of sound with an object in one image. It was nice to see and talk about all the different ways of translating sound into a drawing. I think it was educational and the pupils could draw a lot from it.

Pupils in the Corridors
Soon after the school bell rang, children were running through the corridors of the huge school Nr. 6. The younger ones have such an energy, which has to get out of them in the breaks, because the lessons are strict and disciplined. For me, the noise in the corridors was quite hard to bear. I am not used to so many young children at the same time, but I loved watching them running around. The energy and the pleasure that I saw was inspiring. How could this be taken into the classroom as well? I can imagine an art class as an environment, where there is the possibility to bring physical acts into a lesson – maybe as performative parts. That idea just came in my mind at the time we  already were practicing our prepared lessons. I will keep it in mind for the next time.

All in All
It was so educational for me to teach one class after the other. Although we refined our lesson over and over, some classes just reacted differently. The older they were, the more abstract they drew. Some of the pupils said, they cannot draw an object in a nice way, so they stayed non-objective. That would support the theory we learned from our Professor Dieter Mauerer in Switzerland: Teenagers would really want to draw realisticly, and if they are not able to do so, they would rather not draw at all. I think the younger pupils draw more freely.  Anyhow, standing in front of the class, lesson after lesson, gave me a lot of confidence in teaching.


Take a look at the exchange in Suchum/i with Doris

It was a great experience to meet the students from Suchum/i. On the first day we had the task to buy and collect different materials in Sukhum/i. That was funny and interesting, but not as easy as we thought at first. But it gave me an idea of which materials are available, and which are not common – especially for artworks.
I also learned in the first week that they use other techniques to work with children. When we were trying to get some glue for papier mâché, my team and I went to the market, where there are professional shops for decoration. I thought it would be easy, because in my childhood everyone had done a mask or other handicrafts of papier mâché. But even in the wallpaper shops they did not know that children can do handicrafts with paste and paper. But finally we got two packets of paste.
I liked to work with papier mâché, because I wasn’t used to it at all. It’s a technique that I had not worked with since I was a little girl.


It seemed to me that the pupils had really enjoyed our lessons. At least they answered our question, whether they would have liked more of these lessions, with a clear and loud “DA!” in the loudness of 30 children. That encouraged me a lot.
To be honest, I do not know what the kids learned in our lesson. I do not even know what, according to the local curriculum, eight to ten years old kids here should be able to do. I don’t even know that about Swiss pupils. Until now I was always concerned with teenagers. But I’ve noticed that some of the younger pupils worked with the plastiline like it was paint. The creatures and trees they created were very flat and they could hardly be placed upright. But at the table in their group, they could see that other pupils gave the figures more volume. I hope they learned something by comparing their work with the others. Therefore I think our decision to work in the topic of alien planets and creating with plastiline wasn’t so wrong. I definitely loved all the imaginative and artful creatures they built in our lessons.


At the end of the lesson the pupils were eager to show to us what they had created. I was impressed by the presentation skills of the pupils – also of the little ones. Many of them showed no problems to talk about their idea and told a short story about the figure they had created. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to appreciate their story immediately, because I didn’t understand their language, and to get a translation would have taken too much time. Sometimes I felt ashamed about that. Because I think a teacher should listen attentively when a pupil is talking and should give a response or a feedback immediately.


The visit of a school in the southeastern part of the region of Abkhasia was very impressive for me. The building and the infrastructure were not in such a good condition as in the school Nr. 2 in Suchum/i where I had been teaching. It seemed to me that this school had been forgotten in the last 25 years. I hope the drawing material we brought is really useful for them, and that at least one time, the pupils  will paint with it over the edge of the paper.


When we got back to Tiflis, I enjoyed to catch up on visiting the market. That’s something that I had missed out in Sukhum/i. I was overwhelmed of the colors and smells of the many fresh goods. It was a funny day, as it was Noras birthday. So there was always something to celebrate. And we met many nice people on our tour after the market. Maybe I just felt also a little relief that I could communicate with foreign people again without the help of any interpreters. At least a little bit.

Welcome Dagmar

My name is Dagmar Reichert, I initiated this exchange project and am responsible for it on the side of the Swiss foundation artasfoundation (www.artasfoundation.ch). I very much look forward to all the encounters, to the sharing and exchanging that this project – hopefully! – will bring!

Vor-Bilder und Schul-Räume

Student group at the school in Ochamchire, April 2018

Anna’s lesson at the Russian school in Suchum/i, April 2018

Autograph hour after class in School no. 10, Suchum/i, April 2018

Before class in School no. 5 in Suchum/i, April 2018

Lunch in canteen von School no. 5, April 2018

School no. 10 in Suchum/i, April 2018

Gallery of former Art Graduates of the University of Suchum/i, April 2018

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