Educating about the Asturian landscape: the mine, sounds and architecture.

Interview with Lucía Arias, Head of the Education Department at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial

Published: Aug 26, 2013
Educating about the Asturian landscape: the mine, sounds and architecture.

Lucía Arias and Juanjo Palacios. Image: LABoral and Lucía Arias

By José Luis CalderónNicola Mariani Arte y Sociedad

Since 2009, LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial has been developing different projects which have given renewed value to the landscape in Asturias and the various ways in which we can appreciate it, with “sound art” gaining a special importance.

All of these projects meet different educational objectives, and additionally, the LABoral art centre has organised a range of didactic activities for both school children and adults to learn about them in greater depth.

In this interview we sum up these projects by speaking to the Head of Education of LABoral, Lucía Arias, so we can learn about the educational activities organised related to them.

To organise these ideas, I have detailed the projects we will be referring to below:

-       La mina y su sonido [The Mine and its Sound]: as Naiara Valdano wrote in LABlog a few weeks ago, is a project, which comes within the activities in the exhibition “Aprendiendo de las cuencas” [Learning from Las Cuencas], bringing together sounds recorded from the Asturian mining pits by four artists. It originates from “El arte y su sonido” [Art and its Sound”], a project which in turn was the result of the show Visualizar el sonido [Visualising Sound], held at LABoral.

Learning from Las Cuencas: an exhibition project which, as Montaña Hurtado spoke to us about last week, is the fruit of research by zon-e architects, which is being held at two venues and which shares with the previous project the aim of restoring value to mining areas.

Architecture and Schools: placed in the context of the previous project, Learning from Las Cuencas, this is a call for proposals aimed at 3rd and 4th year secondary school and Baccalaureate students to design utopian uses for abandoned buildings within the Asturian mining landscape. We will be able to find out about this call in more depth on LABlog in the coming weeks.

mapaSONORU: created by Juanjo Palacios in 2009, this is a project which encourages listening to soundscape (not especially mining) through field recordings, with the aim of creating a sound map of Asturias. Next week we will be able to find out more details about its recent edition for 2013 thanks to Nuria García Arias.

JLC: At first sight it seems that both mapaSONORU and “Art and its Sound” were set up with research and, to some extent, educational aims.  Is that the case?  Which was the first educational activity organised by the Educational Department of LABoral Centro de Arte for these interconnected projects?

Lucía Arias: Effectively, both projects were created with research objectives and as a result of the research, educational purposes, but in a different way.  On the one hand, the mapaSONORU project by Juanjo Palacios already existed and from its inception it was a production project. As shown on the link, it is an open project aimed at awakening interest in sound and the creation of a sound map of Asturias, involving in a community way a public who can send in its proposals.

The experience between LABoral Centro de Arte and this project has been very productive since the beginning, given that it neatly draws together the concept of production with education and dissemination, as well as something essential for LABoral, which is drawing the public into the production process, since we aim to be not only an exhibition and diffusion centre, but also one of production.

MapaSONORU was the first of these projects you mentioned, but at the same time “Art and its Sound” came from this process, from another perspective, as was the context of the exhibition “Visualising Sound”. On the occasion of this exhibition, the curator Juan Manuel Costa suggested that four recordings of our actual art centre - a space generally associated with silence - be made by Asturian artists. In this way, we could integrate the presence of a phonographist as is Juanjo Palacios, various Asturian artists and the curator Juan Manuel Costa. Both mapaSONORU and “Art and its Sound” have contributed towards creating a community; in fact, in the wake of “Art and its Sound”, a blog was created where you can find information on this process.

Landscape in the project mapaSONORU. Image: LABoral and Lucía Arias

JLC: Except “Architecture and Schools”, all of these projects have arisen from the concept or discipline of “sound art”, about which generally very little is known in society even today. Did you show the participating artists from early on the intention of creating didactic activities aimed at different publics in order to understand them better, or was it necessary for the LABoral team to create specific activities “ad-hoc”?

Lucía Arias: These projects have involved different types of audiences. On the one hand, a more specialised public made up by technicians and artists in the sound field, and also, an audience showing a great interest in sound, along with a more general public or people unfamiliar with the subject. Overall, though, we noted there was a lot of interest in this area. As we commented before, possibly the most interesting development has been the creation of a community, as well as working groups, debates, spaces for sharing information on sound art, both at a technical level and for exchanging opinions. All of this has caused an increase in interest in sound. In addition, the L.E.V. Festival has played a part in generating interest. It should also be taken into account that these projects have a certain relationship with electronic music which interests the young public.

Regarding the specific activities you asked me about, one of the most positive experiences so far was the workshop that Juanjo Palacios gave last December on phonography and attentive listening with ONCE, given that the approach of this group to sound was very different from what we might have expected. You can find more information on the following links:

Photo of the workshop by Juanjo Palacios at LABoral with a group from ONCE.

JLC: What has the reaction been so far of the participating public in mapaSONORU? Have you come across unexpected reactions from adults or students related to the concept of “sound art”?

Lucía Arias: The reactions have been quite varied, some also different from what was expected, as I positively talked about in reference to the workshop with ONCE, and in general, all of them were very satisfactory. As I was saying, there has been quite a different public, with a predominance of a specialised public, always interested in the subject. The people who have enrolled, have been either very specialised in the subject (sound art artists, phonographists…) or they were very keen on sound art.  As for the general public, the projects have been very well received since the start and we can see that there is a highly growing interest. Almost everyone wants to learn the techniques. We should also remember that to a great extent, anything related to music and sound tends to hugely attract the public.  In addition, in recent years, different art centres ranging from the Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid) to Matadero (Madrid), have contributed to a growing awareness and diffusion of sound art.  And this growing interest is something very positive.

JLC: In the context of Learning from Las Cuencas three workshops for school students have been organised: Sound Workshop for Infant School, Shadow Theatre for Primary Education and Stop Motion Workshop for Secondary Education. Were the three workshops designed by the LABoral Team? What goal or goals do they pursue?

Lucía Arias: These three workshops, which will take place from the end of September straight after the opening of the exhibition “Learning from Las Cuencas”, are designed and coordinated by Elena Álvarez of LABoral. On the one hand, the workshops meet two basic common objectives of bringing art and the context of the exhibition closer to the school public, and also, that the students gain tools for their personal development from the teaching of art. But beyond this, the workshops reach the third objective of teaching how to play and use tools, in this case, sound-based, in a direct and productive way.

JLC: What more can you tell us about each one of them?

Lucía Arias: The Sound Workshop is aimed at primary school education and is a closed workshop. That is to say, the school groups are created after contact with schools in Asturias. They are groups of no more than 20 students and in them half of the total time (90 minutes) is dedicated to visiting the exhibition and the other half is spent on identifying natural, rural, urban and industrial sounds.  The workshop for primary schools consists of a Shadow Theatre, in which sound is combined with image and movement, as a kind of antecedent and cinema-related technique, in the same way as the third workshop, Stop Motion for Secondary education, which teaches animation techniques to the students through the use of photography. Anyone interested can ask for information or book a place by emailing

JLC: Perhaps one of your recent activities concerned with restoring value to the mining landscape – although, in this case, sound-based - is “Architecture and Schools”, also intended for 14 to 17 year old students, if I understand correctly.  Tell us a little more about your expectations of this activity. Would you like that the ideas contributed by the idealism characteristic of these teenagers have continuity at LABoral?

Lucía Arias: “Architecture and Schools” actually came out of the project Learning from the Cuencas, outside of the sound context, aiming to highlight the importance of the architectural uses of the abandoned buildings within the mining landscape. The objective of this initiative is therefore centred on architecture, precisely because the curators of Learning from the Cuencas are two architects, Nacho Ruiz and Sara López. In the first place, it is aimed at a less formalistic or conventional approach to architecture (in the traditional “History of Architecture” way), and focuses more at the uses and utility of buildings nearby or related to the environment of teenagers. Additionally, we consider that this approach could also be useful for teachers and students in other subjects in the school. With respect to your comment on “continuity”, this line of research taking architecture as the subject matter certainly does interest us because of the good relations between LABoral and the community and the College of Architects.

Image: LABoral and Lucía Arias

JLC: Is there anything else you would like to add about the educational goals you are working towards in these projects?

Lucía Arias: In general, we consider the active presence of the public to be very important, not only as spectators, but also as an integral part of the exhibition and production process. We aspire to make LABoral not only a centre for the exhibition and diffusion of art, but also for production, and in this sense, we see it as very important that the public are involved in this process.

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