Project Puts Student Art and Poetry in Motion

November 02, 2006
Nov. 2, 2006 -- Beginning this month, University of Virginia students won’t have to travel far to admire contemporary student artwork and poetry — in fact, they won’t even have to get
off the bus. Using poetry and photos of artwork submitted by members of the student body, Sebastijan Jemec, a third-year studio art and architecture major, and Jocelyn Spaar, a second-year Echols scholar, are designing creative posters to display in the cornice panels on the University Transit System buses. The project, “Kinetics: UVArt & Poetry in Motion,” aims to create a new environment for showcasing student artistic talent while exposing the University community to a wider array of student art and poetry achievements.

Lisa Russ Spaar, director of the Program in Poetry Writing and faculty adviser for the project, developed the idea after observing successful art integration projects in the transportation systems of larger cities.

“In both London and New York, I spent a lot of time on the underground and subway,” Russ Spaar said. “There I grew to love the ‘Poems in Motion’ and ‘Poems from the Underground’ placards nestled among advertisements for vodka and best-selling musicals on the cornices of the trains. It was exciting to read a poem by Whitman or Patience Aghbabi while rocking along in subterranean tunnels. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be exciting to do something like this at U.Va.?’ All of this remained an idea, however, until my daughter Jocelyn and her friend Sebastijan got excited about making it happen and ran with the idea.”

There is a creative twist, however, that distinguishes the UVArt & Poetry in Transit project from other art in transportation efforts in other cities: Jemec and Jocelyn Spaar will be fusing poetry and art together on each poster instead of separating the creative mediums.

“We wanted the posters not to be a complete fusion where the poem is written about the image, but to show how a poem and a visual art piece can be juxtaposed — they can be very different yet still have certain connections,” Jemec said.

Through the use of computer imaging programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, the duo are able to formulate and edit poetry and art to make them graphically pleasing for the 11-by-17 poster space. Because of the flexibility of these programs, art submissions can range from paintings, drawings, photographs, scanned images of relief sculptures or graphic designs.

“We’re trying to pick art that will stand out, which draws people into the poetry,” Spaar said. “We want…to create a provocative or interesting conversation between the image and the words.”

Jemec and Spaar are generating excitement about their project through their faculty connections and courses in studio art, architecture and English, departments that are also helping to fund the initiative. “The project is an interesting experiment – it’s a little bit direct, a little bit in your face, because art is usually something you have to seek out,” studio art professor Dean Dass said. “Art and the people have been separated quite a bit. [The project’s] making a statement that a lot of arts departments have been working on.”

To increase their submission pool, Spaar and Jemec are creating postcards and fliers to encourage students to submit their work.

Every two months, Jemec and Spaar will create four posters to be distributed among the 29 UTS buses in circulation. Two posters will be displayed on each bus at any given time and rotated so that students have exposure to all of the pieces. Although the available display spaces on the buses are usually sold to advertisers, Parking and Transportation Director Rebecca White has authorized space for the project free of charge because of the initiative’s unique goal.

“The project will be beneficial by providing art and poetry to read and view while patrons are riding the bus,” White said. “I hope it will prompt appreciation for the art and talent on Grounds.”

One of the four initial posters will illustrate the joint creativity of the project’s two curators, pairing Spaar’s poetry with Jemec’s photography. The other three posters will display the work of six different artists, architects and poets. Even after each poster has outlived its bus shelf-life, Jemec and Spaar hope to give these works back to the students, potentially even organizing an art show of all the posters at the end of each year or displaying them in a designated public space. The two eventually hope to transform the project into an official student CIO, attracting more student talent and committee members to increase the project’s scope.

“We’ll be graduating soon, and we want to create something that’s lasting, that can be a legacy … for the U.Va. art community,” Jemec said. “This is one way of forcing art out into the public realm, and making it more accessible.”