The porcelain room sits just about empty. The sharp grey, reflective floors shine under bright light to ensure no mess is left over from the last group that inhabited the room. A crochet maroon vine wraps around the room’s center column; it’s the only object that disobeys the monochromatic dress code.
The vine grows.
Days pass and the sterile room sees crochet rolls, pillows and mats (one zebra-print, of course) surround the center column like a shrine. Spider web strings reach out to the walls. The vine partially wraps itself in a teal plastic. Beautiful drawings of bored, naked women guard the walls; they lay out under the closest corner of the center column from their location, connected by string. An assortment of stools and chairs surround the center column, complementing the shrine-y feel.
On Feb. 20, artist Sheila Pepe brought her crochet installation and collaborative art mentality to Cal Poly’s Art Gallery. Since then, the exhibit has grown by the day.
— UniversityArtGallery (@CPArtGallery) February 25, 2015
The hope is that the trend continues.
The contributions so far have been from art, design and architecture classes. However, according to art & design sophomore Morgan Momsen, who monitors the gallery, anybody can contribute and make the exhibit their own.
“Anyone can come in,” Momsen said. “There’s crochet needles, so people can add. During the show people were sitting down and crocheting — adding. The only thing that was here when it started was the big piece and this red string.”
That’s the idea of collaborative art. It’s a shared experience that blurs the lines between artist and audience. Anybody can add their work to the exhibit — in a respectful manner of course.
This isn’t the first collaborative exhibit held at the University Art Gallery. Art & design professor Jeff Van Kleeck has overseen an inclusive lineup of works over the past year. To him, collaborative art, even if it has earlier origins, largely works cooperatively with the millennial generation.
“Your generation has much more awareness of everyone around them and their feelings,” he said. “It definitely resonates there, but the idea has been a response to making an object that has a value and then becoming part of commerce. These artists are looking for shared experience and collaboration.”
Kleeck went on to point out the popularity of physically participating and doing things in reaction to a culture that emphasizes looking at a screen.
“Our culture is changing from one that stands and views to one that participates,” Kleeck said. “Whether tweeting, or creating something, or having a live space for people to see your opinion, there’s a cultural shift with technology and people — a renewed desire for experiencing things.”
That’s what makes Pepe’s art so generous. Her original piece was a work of passion in its own right, with respective influences and purpose. However, she’s allowed it to expand beyond those confined dimensions. The exhibit doesn’t ask for attribution, it asks for engagement.
“She definitely has her own underlying principles and ideas of what she’s doing,” Kleeck said. “Once you make the space available, it’s up to the students to drive where they want that to go. That’s a different kind of thing, giving up your art: ‘I’ve made this and now you can make something with it.’ Thats a lot different than, ‘I made this painting. Look at it but don’t touch.’”
Art & design senior Kristen Johnson tried to decipher meaning from the conglomeration of ideas that filled the white space.
“You have these really good drawings and this weird string, these duct tape chairs,” Johnson said. “It’s interesting trying to connect them together as one whole thing. How does the gallery work together?”
Van Kleeck hopes collaborative art will continue to account for a considerable amount of art that passes through the gallery. The opportunity to present something that everyone can contribute to, art student or not, is too good to pass up.
“I hope the gallery uses collaborative art more — getting more art students engaged,” Kleeck said. “And maybe more students in general will engage with the artwork. I think it’s way more fun. The more the merrier.”