A couple months ago, one of my professors told my class that for our final project, we were going to put together an “uncreative” exhibition for an art gallery.
Let me explain: I’m a second-year student in the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities program (or SASAH, which sounds far less pretentious), an interdisciplinary arts program where we do a lot of weird stuff, including this. As for what exactly “uncreative” means, I’m probably not the best person to ask; just like my degree, I’m still not quite sure what it is. The bit I do know goes something like this: you do something non-creative like collating text messages, or, in my case, transcribing conversations, and make it into something creative. Some people did paintings, others did photos, and some—like me—did text-based pieces. Our exhibition was called “How to Get Away with Plagiarism” in a cheeky pop-culture nod, and every single piece was incredible and unique.
My project was a series of poems created out of the conversations I overheard on the bus to and from school. Collecting the raw data—i.e. eavesdropping on random strangers’ conversations and feeling incredibly paranoid about everyone around me knowing what I was doing—was an interesting experience for me, albeit a little uncomfortable. I ended up using a lot of shorthand, and, once, trying to covertly record my bus ride because the people I was writing about were standing directly behind me.
Putting the poems together was a little more difficult, but at the same time, a lot easier than I thought it would be. The project came together a lot more effortlessly than I expected; without adding or changing anything, the lines blended into each other. Before I knew it, I was setting up my project in the gallery. Then, a couple nights later, we were holding the opening.
I knew from the beginning that displaying my project in a gallery meant people would look at it, and yet I was still wholly unprepared to see people looking at it and reading it. I’ve always been uncomfortable with others viewing my work, academic or creative. This project forced me to face that. I’m not sure I’ll ever be entirely at ease with people looking at my stuff, but this was a start.
I learned a few things about people while working on this project, too, some of which have helped me become a better creative writer. To an outsider, a lot of conversations don’t make sense—people leave out context when talking to someone who already knows it, and often use references that you may not understand. People say uh and yeah a lot. They talk in disjointed sentences. Almost no one speaks in perfect English.
All in all, this project opened my eyes to a lot of new things, and no matter how much work (and stress) it was, I’m glad I did it.