First Impressions of ASP Łódź / A Lesson in Formality

October 20, 2009

Today I checked out the Paper-making Studio (Pracownia Papieru) at the the Władysław Strzemiński Academy of Fine Arts, Łódź (Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w im. Władysława Strzemińskiego w Łodzi) with the ERASMUS students (two girls from Romania and a British girl). We got there a little late — but not to fret. The professor (prof. Ewa Latkowska-Żychska) and her assistant (mgr Magdalena Soboń) leisurely strolled in with their teas, immediately introducing the laid-back atmosphere with which I have come to associate the studio. That day was was a turning point in my Polish art school experience thus far: it was the first time I actually DID something(!) Hard to believe coming from RISD.

Upon entering the studio and chatting up some of the older students whom she recognized (as well as myself — I met her the previous week on a tour around the school), the professor immediately whipped out some wooden frames, rolled up her sleeves, and began demostrating (in English) the paper-making process. I was helpful here — whenever she couldn’t think of a word in English, I helped to translate it from its Polish counterpart. At any rate, within five minutes, we were all equipped with our own frames, a basic intro into the process, and a healthy attitude towards experimentation. Coming from a silk-screening/weaving background, I found the paper-making process an interesting mixture of the two, and truly, very liberating. Ironically, the professor has an EXTENSIVE textile/weaving background, herself (check out the link on her name). It was only after a Fulbrighter (go figure) introduced paper-making to her 20 years ago, that she made the switch. However, she finds the two completely related and continues to exhibit her handmade papers at textile exhibitions. I like this lady a lot.

I also headed over to the Carpet and Gobelin Studio (Pracownia dywanu i gobelinu) to attend a presentation by Professor Jolanta Rudzka-Habisiak — the professor in whose studio I will be working this year. I didn’t know what to expect, but it ended up being a presentation about trends in carpet and textile design. It was about an hour and a half long… and I didn’t find it very interesting. To be honest, I left a little discouraged. This was Week 2, and I hadn’t really done anything yet! Yes — the professor gave me an assignment she gives to all her students (to pick 4 different materials and create relief patterns/overall textures with them, using each material in 4 different ways), but there’s no deadline for it! And, you have to bring in samples of your ideas, and they are then either approved or denied. So far, two of mine have been approved. I’ve also noticed this CLEAR separation between student and professor… I’ve actually been working more with the professor’s assistant, mgr Izabela Walczak, than the professor herself. This might have something to do with formality…

(Cultural difference: in Poland, you have to pay great attention to the way you refer to or address other people depending on your level of familiarity, their social/academic stature, and customary politeness. You can really offend/astound someone by slipping up… trust me. For example, I would NEVER refer to my professor by her first name. Instead, I have to use her title: ‘Pani profesor.’ Furthermore, I have to use the third person singular form (rather than second person singular) when referring to/speaking with her. In other words, I can’t talk to her in the “you” form. (‘Do YOU know what time it is?’ should be ‘Does Pani profesor know what time it is?’) Weird, huh. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to get used to here. Having primarily talked to family members in Polish my whole life–and therefore having used the second person singular, “you” form–I really have to pay attention not to slip up… the most common mistake I make is in saying, “You know?” In English, it’s a force of habit, you know? But I have to catch myself and change it to “Does Pani profesor know?” Very frustrating… Another fun fact: the act of changing to the friendly “you” form should be acknowledged by both parties. For example, the professor’s assistant almost immediately asked me to call her Iza rather than ‘Pani Iza’… I think it was mostly because I kept messing up the formal-informal forms, but also, because we’re so close in age/she’s super friendly).

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