This Monday in the University Union, a modest exhibit was set up featuring works of fiber art both from students here at Slippery Rock University and from the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk, Poland. Titled ‘Student to Student,’ the intercultural exhibition was the result of supplying students from differing backgrounds and cultures with the same exact assignment and observing the wildly different pieces that came as a result.
“This is the fifth edition of this fiber art international collaborative project; we started five years ago,” explained associate professor of art Barbara Westman. “This collaboration is quite unique, as it’s the only one like that international collaboration in our department.”
The assignment that Westman provided was, in theory, rather simple. Students were tasked with creating artwork focusing on a concept of layers of textiles, paper and other flexible materials.
“So, two fiber art studios, and we work on the same assignment which is worded the same way, but the results are always different because we are from different environments, different backgrounds, different cultures and speak different languages,” Westman continued. “It’s a pretty interesting thing to bring these two groups of works together as one exhibition.”
From bright yellows and dormant greys layered on top of a concrete-black, evoking the image of a nighttime city, to a sea of overlapping fabric and newspaper clippings creating an alphabetical ocean with waves of words, each student was able to take the basic prompt and create something artistically distinct with it.
“It’s about seeing how people interpret the same assignment in a different way — or maybe in similar ways — but again, it’s who we are that really determines how we approach it and how we interpret the assignment.”
Westman described the process that went into creating such an exhibition, how the best works of each group are selected and flown to Poland with her for their first proper public showing. Careful consideration is taken in choosing which pieces are showcased to create a diverse image of the blended cultures at play with one another. After their first exhibit in the summer at Poland, the whole gallery is then packed back up and sent back here to SRU to once again go on display.
“I was born and raised in Poland and lived in the U.K., so I’m always interested in intercultural interactions on different levels and, of course, when it comes to art I think it’s very important to expose my students to art from different parts of the world!” said Westman. “These are their peers; it’s just that they live on a different continent.”
Traditionally, the exhibition occurs sometime in September of the fall semester, but Westman explained that she had been on sabbatical for a semester, and thus, the artworks were presented in the spring semester.
Though students never directly interact with one another during the artistic process, Westman described their separately shared assignment as a way of communication in its own right. They may not speak face-to-face with one another, but each piece of art tells a different story that transcends the traditional barriers of language and distance.
“I think it’s very beneficial to … be able to analyze: ‘Okay, so this is what I produced, but this is how the other person responded to the same assignment. Oh, look at these interesting materials that the person used! I didn’t think about using this, I used that!'” Westman excitedly remarked. “It’s that for me that becomes the main value for this kind of art: collaboration.”