A steady stream of students and other visitors toured an immersive interdisciplinary narrative installation, created by SUNY Fredonia students enrolled in writing and art classes, at The Art Market, a Main Street showcase in Fredonia , on an unusually warm December afternoon.
The collaborative effort of students in WRTG 365 Form and Theory of Writing and ARTS 340/440 3D Methods and Materials has spawned loosely related narratives that combine writing and sculpting. The students developed the scenarios and created sculptures and other visual illustrations.
Various stations including a small tent were spread throughout the downtown gallery to convey the stories. The Art Market is part of Main Street Studios, a downtown visual and performing arts center owned and operated by theater and dance teacher Ted Sharon.
“Anyone, upon arrival, goes through a series of stories,” said assistant professor of the English department Michael Sheehan. Along the way, they encounter creatures – like a unicorn in the front window and a beautifully crafted papier-mâché witch – tied to one of the stories. “It’s kind of like a narrative flowing through space,” Sheehan noted, through the use of words and objects.
There were basically three stories: that of a woman, Lilly, who lives in a mythical wood surrounded by strange creatures; two brothers who get sucked into a video game, which causes great distress to their mother; and the character Juniper, who has some sort of telekinetic ability to connect with the brothers inside the video game and is able to bridge the two storylines.
Students in their respective classes worked in groups that took ownership of a narrative and also came together in both classes to share ideas, Sheehan noted. For example, one student wrote a diary of one of the characters, while another student created accompanying illustrations.
“The collaboration was really fun as the students went back and forth,” said Peter Tucker, associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts and New Media. Students in Sheehan’s class came up with prompts, and it got Mr. Tucker’s students thinking about what they might create in response. And it worked the other way too.
“Writing students came up with the original prompts, my students developed ideas for sculptural forms loosely based on those prompts, and then Mike’s students modified their narratives based on what my students were doing,” Tucker said. “There were trips back and forth, which was super fun!”
Visitors could dive deep into the stories, paying close attention to solving some of the mysteries presented to them – read the stories, scan the evidence, look at the carvings and put it all together, Sheehan explained, or simply take an approach relaxed and see what’s on display. They could also take a story with them via a QR code so the story can continue to develop, Sheehan added.
It was the first time – and hopefully not the last time, say Sheehan and Tucker – that their students will collaborate on a variation of an installation that involves art and writing.