What did you choose Poland for your Erasmus programme? Did you know anything about Łódź before coming here?
Since I am interested in art and fashion, I was always more fascinated by the eastern countries of Europe than the countries of the West. In particular, my wish was to get to know Polish culture. Once I visited an exhibition of student works of the ASP in Germany, near to the city of Chemnitz, so I decided to apply for an exchange year there because I was really impressed by their work. I also had the chance to meet a student from Łódź, who did her Erasmus year at my university in Germany. Besides that, the ASP of Łódź is a partner academy of our Erasmus programme in Germany.
In my opinion, sometimes not knowing cities or places so well offers amazing opportunities to improve your artistic skills and focus on your work. Besides that, Łódź is some kind of an unrecognised pearl, because the first impression of the city was a bit dreary, but it has a great creative atmosphere. And I love this city especially in the spring and summer time!
What were your expectations about studying at the Academy of Art Sciences? And how do you find it now after five months of being here? What has surprised you (positive or negative)?
I did not have certain expectations, except maybe to have the possibility to work on interesting projects and improve my skills in the field of fashion design and arts.
To sum it up, it was one of the best decisions of my life to do my exchange year at the ASP. I had the opportunity to work with kind and motivating professors and assistants. Everybody at my chosen studios helped me to integrate really well, so I never had the feeling of being in the wrong place.
The feedback of the professors was also constructive and helpful. Also, a lot of students were really kind and open-hearted.
After five months, I probably want to stay longer, but I also miss my university in Germany. And a longer stay would involve a convoluted bureaucratic effort because of the stricter rules in the German Erasmus programme. I would have to do a vacation semester, which means I would not be a real student for this time and so I wouldn’t be able to get financial support.
There were a lot of surprises during my stay. I could write a whole list about what surprised me!
For example, I was really surprised about the effort of the ASP to show and publish the work of their students. The ASP offers such great support during various exhibitions and participation in different competitions, or even “just” during weekly consultations under the eyes of professors and students. It pushes you and your work forward, so you are able to cross your own borders.
Besides that I am really impressed with the high level of work at the ASP. Students do amazing projects and work so artistically. I like this very much!
What was your final fashion project about? Where did the inspiration come from?
My final project was to design and create a whole collection. For me it was a great project because, at my home university, you have to design only one outfit per semester from the first to the fifth semesters. In the seventh semester you mostly do three outfits, and in your final bachelor work of the eighth semester you probably create five.
So generally, as a fashion design student, I try to give fashion a deeper meaning than only fulfilling the purpose of being beautiful or fashionable. When I arrived for my exchange year in Łódź I dealt with some parts of history that were extremely important for me as a German girl. I often feel guilty about what happened in the past, and especially when I realised that Germans brought a lot of pain, torture and murder to this city during the Second World War. The history of the Ghetto of Łódź simmered in my mind and so I took it as an initial point for designing a collection. I know there is no fitting excuse for what happened in the past, but with this collection I want to try to keep it in the minds of observers.
The collection consists of seven outfits. Constitutive criteria of the design were destruction and the focus on damaged or covered structures. The destruction is based on that which the Nazi Germans caused to the Polish and Jewish people. On the one hand, knitted garments are in part accidentally damaged during the knitting process. On the other hand, some knitted structures have an uncomfortable and unpleasant haptic quality. Woven garments are chosen according to supportive visual appearance and structure. Covered parts with gypsum also convey a glimpse of destruction. Besides that, only non-colours are used, in order to convey a sad and deadly impression.
How do the Polish educational and university systems differ from those in Germany?
In general, I think, I cannot answer this question accurately, but I can only compare my experiences at the ASP with my studies at my home university in Germany.
For me, the studying system at the ASP is really good because I got the impression that students have the possibility to choose their desired studios and subjects quite freely. At my university in Germany there is a strict schedule, and if you want to study fashion design everybody has to follow the same route. Of course you also have a lot of freedom within your given projects, but it is not as free and individual as at the ASP.
I also like the fact that nearly every day something interesting happens at the ASP. A lot of professors and artists from other countries come to show their work or present something. It is really inspiring. The best example was the Young Textile and Art Triennale. My home university in Germany is much smaller than the ASP, and it is also based in a smaller city, so sadly you rarely have time for such activities – also because of your strict schedule.
But on the other hand you have your own workspace at my home university – so a whole room for around four students. You have the possibility to work the whole day until 10 pm, and then leave all your stuff there because you are the owner of the room for one semester. The lack of this was one thing that was sometimes irritating at ASP. I also missed the social advantage of sharing my own room with three fellow students. When you are working side by side for a semester, you get a really close connection to each other. At the ASP I did my work mostly on my own. Sometimes I met really nice students at the different studios, but you could not such a deep relationship as in Germany.
Besides that we got all the main materials for the final fashion work from our university in Germany, but we also have to leave our work there. At the ASP you have to buy all materials yourself, but you can take your outfits with you.
The support of the exchange offices was also a huge difference. The exchange office at the ASP is so well organised compared to Germany. The Erasmus coordinators are so helpful and take their time to make sure that you understand everything, and they care about you. At my home university you are mostly totally on your own, and some of the people seem stressed if you ask something.
But I guess you have some pros and cons everywhere. For me it is important to try to make the best out of everything. (laughs)
Studying in another country is a great opportunity for travelling and learning about a new culture. Had you time to visit some places?
My plans are to visit the Polish country after my examinations, because I want my mind to be free for travelling. I went back to Germany just twice, because of the engagement and marriage of my older brother, and visited Amsterdam once because a fellow student of mine does her internship there. But I am really excited t the prospect of seeing the other cities of Poland.
Did you have any stereotypes about Poland that you have discovered are definitely true or false?
There are a lot of stereotypes about Poland in Germany. Sometimes it was really sad when I told people in Germany that I was going to do my exchange year in Poland. Poland is kind of underestimated in some German minds, but mostly among people have not visited the country for themselves, so you cannot take such opinions seriously.
But one stereotype was definitely true; because before I arrived here, I heard about the lovely and helpful Polish people, and I have met a lot of those people here.
What do you plan to do in the near future, in Poland and generally? Will you come back to Łódź?
I want to see Kraków and Gdańsk. But I would also like to see the countryside of Poland. And a German friend of mine and my family members will visit me during my last days in Łódź, so I will show them my favourite places here.
I definitely will come back to Łódź! At the latest, in three years time, for the next Young Textile and Art Triennale, or to a summer workshop at the ASP. I also thought about studying for my master’s degree here, but at the moment you have to do it in Polish, so it is not possible for me. But the exchange office is trying to create an offer for foreigners, in order to make the whole master’s programme available at the ASP. That would be amazing!
Ellen Judith Mueller – was born in a small city in the north of Bavaria. When she was 16 she decided to study fashion design after school, aiming at an apprenticeship in sewing and tailoring. For her it is important to connect the field of fashion with art. Knitted structures are Ellen’s passion.
For three years she has been studying in the small city of Schneeberg in Saxony. After spending one semester – her sixth – here in Poland, she will go abroad for the seventh, as an intern at a design office. Ellen will spend her eighth and final semester again at her home university to finish her bachelor studies.
Photos © Anna Karahan