Local Educators Bring Atmospheric Memory Into the Classroom

Carolina Performing Arts teamed up with two outstanding local educators to explore topics presented in Atmospheric Memory — including surveillance, climate change, public health, racial injustice and more — into syllabi across the Triangle
Wake Technical Community College students in the Technology and American Society class stand inside the Atmospheric Memory exhibit for a group photo.

The North American premiere of immersive art environment Atmospheric Memory, created by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, arrived at Carolina Performing Arts in December 2021 to rave reviews from critics and patrons alike.

The stunning installation, which focused on computer pioneer Charles Babbage’s 19th century theory that the atmosphere is a ‘vast library’ recording everything we say, featured larger-than-life projections, livestream video integration and interactive components — but a new program that happened behind the scenes of the colossal endeavor was just as impactful.

Led by Associate Director of Engagement Amanda Graham and Producing Coordinator Ellie Pate, CPA named two local educators — Howard Davis (Wake Technical Community College) and Jen Painter (Charles E. Jordan High School) Atmospheric Memory Teaching Fellows. They and their students were invited to integrate Atmospheric Memory into their curriculum and dig deeper into Babbage’s theory than a single visit to the installation would allow.

On December 1, Graham and Pate paid a virtual visit to Professor Davis’ Technology and American Society class at Wake Tech. They opened the floor to a lively discussion and overview of Atmospheric Memory before students visited the installation, being sure to encourage critical thinking about its focus on data privacy — or the lack thereof — as well as the many other aspects of Babbage’s theory.

“We’re cognizant that there are learners from every background imaginable in Chapel Hill,” said Pate, who is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna. “Having such a wide-ranging list of themes in Atmospheric Memory, it was a good chance for us to finally act on the partnerships we’ve wanted to develop and people we’ve wanted to with. It’s a seamless entry point into one of our most stunning events.”

“Your thoughts are your own, but your spoken words aren’t,” one student said. “Once they leave your mind, they’re for the world to interpret.”

During her lecture to Davis’s class, Graham posed the questions artist Lozano-Hemmer encouraged all visitors to consider during their experience: Do our words belong to us? If not, then who owns them? How does language change when it leaves our minds and manifests in our writings, actions or dialogues?

The students’ responses were equally thought-provoking: “Your thoughts are your own, but your spoken words aren’t,” one student said. “Once they leave your mind, they’re for the world to interpret.”

Jen Painter’s Civics class, which is open to Jordan High School students who speak English as their second language, was also introduced to important topics in Lozano-Hemmer’s work during both a class visit and a Learning Morning lecture at Memorial Hall on December 14.

After experiencing Atmospheric Memory, both classes were encouraged to continue reflecting on Babbage’s theory by creating original art and sharing  it on social media — further exploring the relation between art and technology — and sparking future collaborative ideas. 

“While working with CPA, I hope that the educators were able to imagine the versatile ways that art can inform their curriculum,” said Graham, who cam up with the concept of the Atmospheric Memory Teaching Fellows program. “Specifically, what kinds of questions can an artist and artwork prompt? How might those questions challenge or highlight disciplinary study? Art can be a way into social studies, science, philosophy, or all three.”

And the CPA team is already excited about the future possibilities of educational partnerships.

“I would love to do something like this again,” said Pate. “We want to continue to invest in these relationships with students that exist outside the university that will maybe, someday, be a part of the university. The more we work together, the more creative we can get.”

By Jess Abel

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