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An unexpected gallery: Right to Recognition

From a small spontaneous art project to a full-blown exhibit, a new show centers on the declaration of the human body and the rights we have as humans

The title of the exhibit Right to Recognition is spelled out on a wall with 270 handmade tiles in the B Gallery at Western Washington University’s Fine Arts Building. Each tile was made by transferring the photos students took of one other onto the ceramic and glass tiles with hand sanitizer. // Photo by Desiree Erdmann

When a Western Washington University dance instructor invited her student-turned-friend to teach a fun end-of-quarter art project on the last day of the fall quarter, they did not expect to be co-creating an exhibit that would show two quarters later. 

In the fall, Western Dance Instructor Pam Kuntz was talking with Linda Ost about wanting to bring something new and hands-on to her dance history class about human rights. Because the last two years have been remote due the COVID-19 pandemic, she wanted to celebrate completing their first in-person quarter back. 

The exhibit of student work ran from April 25 through May 13 in B Gallery, consisting of two divided areas. There were human figure tiles made out of plastics and printed out images and text. 

An interactive wall had the Universal Declaration of Human Rights printed out along a large board with long nails sporadically nailed halfway in. On the space left on the nails hung photos that the students took of each other that had been transferred onto pieces of plexiglass. These photos could be rearranged by the viewer. 

The name of the exhibit, “Right to Recognition” was spelled out in 270 small tiles that the students made fall quarter, and a video played on a loop of a contemporary dance inspired by the artwork that Kuntz and 13 students collaborated on.

This exhibit was the first collaboration between Kuntz and Ost, and they both said they felt it was a success. 

Kuntz said she credits the idea for the small photo project to Ost. 

When she was brainstorming alternative photographic processes that would be fun for the students, Ost, who is a retired teacher with a master’s in analog photography, thought of the idea of a photo transfer process using hand sanitizer. 

“I wanted people to feel good and take something home that they are proud of that they can do in an hour and a half,” Ost said. 

The process had students in the dance history class take photos of each other that they then would print out using hand sanitizer. The photo would then be transferred onto a small ceramic or glass tile, large paper bag or canvas. 

Second-year Morgan Mitchell said even though she found the transfer process difficult, she had fun working on it with her classmates and seeing others' images succeed. 

“Mine wasn't really transferring and that was frustrating, [but] seeing other peoples’ was really cool,” said Mitchell. 

After the class, some of the students left behind their tiles. Kuntz brought up the idea of showing the tiles on campus to Ost. However, Ost had other plans upon hearing this.

When looking around for possible spaces, she came across the B Gallery in the Fine Arts Building on campus. The B Gallery is open to the community, faculty and students to show their work. 

Ost thought it would be the perfect space, but there was one issue, they needed more art to fill it.

Over the span of winter quarter, Kuntz and Ost worked with students across Kuntz's classes to curate more tiles, different mediums for the transferring process, human figures made out of plastic and a dance. 

The students involved came to campus in their free time to work on the project. One of the students that volunteered their time to create more art was Mitchell, a student in the dance history class where it all started. 

Mitchell said she showed up with no idea what to expect and during one of the tile-making meetings found herself, along with others, having fun warping different plastics, printed images and text into human figures. 

“The plastic wrapping was fun to get to use a different creative process, getting to manipulate the different plastics we had with the different wording or pictures,” Mitchell said. 

She said she agreed to volunteer her time because thinks the topic of the exhibit is important.

“With human rights right now, with everything going on – I found it very inspirational,” Mitchell said. 

She said that by working with materials she was not familiar with, she gained new perspectives on art and the topics the exhibit covers. She hopes that the show will also have a similar impact on whoever visits the gallery. 

As for what they hope people take away from the art, Kuntz said, “There isn't really anything I want for what people will take away. I just hope that they take something away and that it sparks some kind of curiosity.”

Desiree Erdmann

Desiree Erdmann (She/Her) is a reporter for the campus life beat at The Front this quarter. She is a 4th year transfer student new to Western looking to graduate with a bachelors  in Visual Journalism. In her free time Desiree enjoys taking care of her many houseplants, watching the sunset, trying new coffee shops, and exploring her new home of Bellingham. 

Her instagram is @desiarai 

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