PSU and WSU team up to make art flat

“Relatively Flat” is a collaborative exhibit from Master of Fine Arts students from Washington State University and Portland State. The exhibit, which utilizes paper, fabric and other flat surfaces, aims to foster cross-border exchanges while engaging with pedagogy and with traditional and contemporary art practices. “Relatively Flat” runs from Feb. 21 to April 15 at the WSU Vancouver campus.

The project was conceived by Avantika Bawa, assistant professor of fine arts at WSU Vancouver. Bawa is also an artist, curator and part of the team that launched Drain, a biannually-published online journal that promotes theory and praxis debates and discussions. Bawa has also visited PSU on many occasions, either to give a talk or do critiques with MFA students.

The idea for the exhibit started with an informal conversation with Pat Boas, assistant professor and MFA chair at PSU.

“There is interesting work coming out of the PSU program, and the exhibition is a good way for them to see what we do at WSU and us to see what they do,” Bawa said.

“Getting to know PSU students and WSU students, I always have been interested in connecting people and communities.”

With little gallery space, the idea for the exhibit was originally planned as “Works On Paper” to keep the exhibition relatively small. Bawa found this to be limiting to students who were working on flat projects, but not on paper.

“So the name changed and what we started examining got more interesting. Looking at how students work and how artists would respond to this idea of flatness,” Bawa said.

“Relatively Flat” derives from the consideration of two dimensional.

“Some students have work that is four inches thick. Is that 2D? And when does it become a 3D object? A lot of people responded to that in interesting ways,” Bawa said.

There was an open call in the MFA programs at WSU and PSU to submit work. The pieces displayed in the exhibit were chosen by Bawa, Boas and Harrison Higgs, associate professor of fine arts at WSU. Dale Strouse, fine arts tech at WSU, focused on the technical aspects of physically making the exhibit come to life.

Isaac Weiss, an MFA student at PSU, is one of several artists contributing to the exhibit.

“My interest to participate is mostly that of building a community with our neighbors across the state line. They are so close, yet we never communicate,” Weiss said.

The exhibition will showcase two pieces interpreting flatness from Weiss, who draws strictly from observation. One of the pieces is “Dungeon Masters,” a six-hourdrawing done with gesso and charcoal.

“Dungeon Masters was a result of an evening I negotiated with my roommate and friends as they played Dungeons & Dragons. I was curious to watch one of these games, as they will play for as long as 10 hours straight,” Weiss said.
“Drawing afforded me the perfect opportunity without actually playing. It’s a sensitive subject I think, being that the typical response to such an event can be ridicule, and drawing somehow navigates this tension with a level of devotion that speaks to theirs.”

Jea Alford, a first-year MFA student at PSU, will have three pieces of work in the exhibit. Her work consists of drawings on paper, on top of notes received from serving tables at a restaurant.

“It brings together different worlds of work: my work in the restaurant and artwork. My practice is mainly interest in different forms of labor and the way they go with my values,” Alford said.

Both artists encourage everyone to venture to Washington to see the exhibition with their own eyes.

“It is a cultural experience which opens and exposes the audience to creative interpretations of the world,”
Alford said.

“Sometimes we are a forgotten asset at PSU and it is a good reminder not only for students but for the community as to what we are up to,” Weiss said.

“What you will take home with you from the exhibition—the possibilities are endless.”

More information on “Relatively Flat” can be found at