Learning to Learn: Acoustic Anvil

Arts Education - Any Grade

This unit of inquiry is not a recipe book but rather a launchpad to inspire new BIG IDEAS. We encourage you to use and/or modify one, or several of the BIG IDEAS below. Adapt it to the grade/ ability level of your students.

Learning to Learn: Curriculum No. 3 for 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale Exhibition
Title: Acoustic Anvil: A Small Weight to Forge the Sea
Maskull Lasserre (b. 1978, Calgary, Alberta)
Medium: Steel, sound components (solar panels, electronics), paint

Art Inquiry

Show a digital schematic of Acoustic Anvil, to be produced in 3-D shortly. Encourage students to explore the idea of industry, False Creek, and urban change during your field trip. Art enquiry, in this instance, should encourage physical interaction with the sculpture. re-IMAGE-n what it means to create a narrative in a public place such as False Creek and discuss the erasure of its history during Expo ’86 (The 1986 World Fair). It seems like a “silent site”, yet now the installation invites a sonorous element that speaks loudly. Use the Art Inquiry Worksheet (PDF) to guide and capture their ideas and impressions. Customize or create your own Art Inquiry Worksheet as appropriate for your project and class needs.


Shared Insights

  • Share the Art Enquiry ExperienceAsk students how they respond to the Acoustic Anvil and what its shape using a musical element like an “f-hole” means to them. Do any of them take music lessons? Play the students Bach’s Crab Canon and discuss the idea of combining music with an artistic form that has two sides | goes back and forth. Is the material form of a nautilus shell identical to the curves of the sound hole? Encourage the students to not only approach and discuss how the air translates into sound through the void of the anvil, but also ask them what geometry, industry, and history mean. How have housing communities and residences in this area of Vancouver become models internationally?

Grades 5-12: Music is a metric based on tenets similar to our biology and the structures that help us understand the fragility of life. Students can absorb the mathematics behind industry while gaining sensorial appreciation for the texture and scale of the anvil. This conversation can extend to Socials as well as the core competencies encouraged in Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies classes. What kind of an engineering metric would have had to be designed (footing, a survey of the water table, requests from local strata to co-ordinate with by-laws/coding).

For Grades 11-12: French Language Arts—Interpréter les effets du son, de la musique, et des images dans les médias pour en dégager les messages implicites et explicites. Saisir l’influence et l’importance des contextes sociaux, historiques et culturels
sur la façon de traiter les texte.

For those K-4, mythologies about the conch and the sea will lend to each student pressing their ear to the f-hole. Encourage your students to walk around the anvil and tell them for what it was originally used. Give them a chance to share what they wrote on the Art Inquiry Worksheet and to read it aloud as a part of circle sharing. This is also an opportunity to assign students an exercise in making—a anvil out of whatever material inspires them. Simple items like paper, play-doh, or clay will encourage the children’s dexterity.


Here are exercises: Both in digital format (Robotics or CAD classes and 5-12 targeted) or physical (K-12) formats like this origami project | this welding project for older students. Minecraft might also be interesting for more advanced students. Use these in coordination with your artist collaborator.


Research: Artist Theme

In small groups students rotate between information stations detailing the artist’s life and work. Start with priming the students with an interactive activity such as How do you make an anvil? Station topics can include: (1) the shapes, forms, and motifs worked into the structure; (2) the artist’s history of making artwork and why music is important to him; (3) materials and the processes the artist went to build the structure; (4) beliefs and values, both cultural and/or historical. At each station, students should answer 1-2 questions and complete a tangible task. For example, at the station “the shapes, forms, and motifs worked into the structure”, students might attempt to draught a small architectural version of a space that unites us all using the origami project. Further, older students could create out of cardstock a 1:30 scale model or an exploded axonometric draught of the installation.

  • Artist Themes – History, Naval | Natural History, Construction, and Music:Observe images of Acoustic Anvil: A Small Weight to Forge the Sea online and ask students to identify the harmonies they see between industry and the musical instrument. Ask them to make a stencil of f-hole in addition to any other experiments with shape, form, or sound.


Inquiry Challenges

  • Patterns Investigation:In small groups, challenge students to create a weight using whatever material they choose. Let them re-IMAGE-n what the purpose of industry was during the time that Leg-In-Boot Square was developed. The distinct geometry of the shell, the Fibonacci sequence, and the physics of sound (waves, nodes) can be explored.


Student Creation and Taking Action

Secure a malleable material—Sintra, Soapstone, or Styrofoam—that can be carved into an anvil. For those who have shop class, wood can be employed.



  • Teacher and students can reflect on their entire learning process by revisiting the Enduring Understanding and relevant Guiding Questions.
  • How did the unit of study open inquiry, create cross–curricular learning opportunities and/or apply learning to real life situations? Has this unit of inquiry changed your opinions, values and world view? In what ways, if any, has it helped you grow as a learner?


Ideas for Cross-Curricular Access

  • Mathematics – Ask each student to draw the Fibonacci sequence using trace paper or chalk. Here is an example. Explain the meaning of it in comparison to the harmony of music with science, geometry, and art.
  • Physical Education– Request students to participate in a shop class wherein their dexterity is developed. It will encourage physical literacy.
    • Social Studies – Human and Physical Environment: Ask students to review the evolution of the anvil and the violin. Why are either of these relevant to the naval and construction histories native to Leg-In-Boot Square?


Written by: Rachel Anne Farquharson, 2018, Director of BIG IDEAS 2017/2018

©2018 Vancouver Biennale