Author Archives: GENERATIONS

That’s a Wrap – Reflecting on GENERATIONS

GENERATIONS: Connecting Across Time and Place is over. The vinyl lettering has been peeled off the walls, the artworks have been packed up and sent back, the gallery door has been locked. Pulling apart something we’ve worked so hard to create felt really strange, but I have to remember that an art exhibition is transient by its very nature. That’s showbiz, baby.

Goodbye wall text

But GENERATIONS hasn’t disappeared completely: we’ve still got the memories (and the spare exhibition leaflets). Over the last month, the eleven of us each spent more than 40 hours in the gallery, working as invigilators and visitor-experience assistants for our exhibition. This gave us the opportunity to observe how the public responded to the show (and to tell them not to touch the paintings, please). It also reminded us that an exhibition only really comes alive when people are in it. After all, everything we’d done over the preceding few months – writing wall labels, working out which work to hang next to which, even making sure there were enough benches – was intended to make every visitor’s experience accessible, enjoyable and maybe even enlightening.

One woman watched Helen Cammock’s There’s a Hole in the Sky Part I video several times over and clapped at the end; one little girl sat on the floor in front of Appau Jnr Boakye Yiadom’s Plantain Drop, transfixed by the falling fruit; one family spent a long time in front of Hurvin Anderson’s Is it okay to be black?, the parents talking to their children about the American civil rights movement. These are just a few examples of the audience engagement I witnessed; perhaps quite ordinary moments, but extraordinarily exciting for one of the exhibition’s curators.

This audience engagement took tangible form through the exhibition’s ‘feedback’ wall, which asked people to write their response to the question, ‘How do you connect to other generations?’ I think this is one of the aspects of GENERATIONS of which we’re proudest – and for which we’re most grateful. Our visitors wrote some profound, funny, heart-breaking and truly beautiful comments about their family relationships, regrets about the past and hopes for future generations (have a look at some in the Your Voice tab). Visitors didn’t just take something away from the exhibition; they also left behind their own contribution.

Transfixed

 

I think the last thing to say is thank you. Thank you to our course leader Martin, to our sponsor Christian, to so many members of the Courtauld staff, to the Arts Council Collection, to Somerset House and to everyone else who worked with us. Thank you to the visitors who made this a ‘real-life’ exhibition. And I’d also like to say thank you to my ten fellow students, who have shown themselves to be great curators and great friends.

Anna

Dream team

Work in Focus – Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled from the series Where We Belong, 2017

In the first room of our exhibition, above a (rather wonky) mantelpiece, hangs Alejandra Carles-Tolra’s beautiful photograph from the series Where We Belong.

Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled from Where we belong, 2017. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © the artist. Originally commissioned through the Jerwood/Photoworks Awards, supported by Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Photoworks.

Where We Belong is a photographic body of work that explores themes of belonging, femininity, and escapism. Over the course of three years, Alejandra Carles-Tolra documented the Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society, a group that recreate and celebrate Jane Austen’s novels.

Members of the Society dress up in Regency costume and come together at special events including dances, festivals, and house parties. The group call themselves ‘Janeites’ and share a strong passion for the author. Although Jane Austen is a figure that is in many ways bound to the past, for members of the society she is a living, breathing force of the present.

When Carles-Tolra first encountered the group, she was intrigued by the draw of the past. Where We Belong seeks to question what it is about Jane Austen’s world, with its old-fashioned concepts of femininity, that has captured the imagination of these 21st-century women.

We were immediately struck by the joyful sense of freedom captured in the photograph, and the blurring of boundaries between past and present, fantasy and reality. As a work that we came across early in the research process, it has played a crucial role in our conception of the exhibition’s themes, particularly in terms of how we can relate to historical figures and personal icons.

Many of the group identify with the strong female characters in Jane Austen’s novels. They also consider Austen herself to be a feminist icon; as an unmarried and independent woman who made a living from her books, she is a rare exception for her time period. In the same vein, while the group may seem anachronistic at first glance, they are a female-led society that fosters a sense of empowerment amongst members. While Alejandra Carles-Tolra also photographed the male members of the Society, as in our exhibition photograph, she always sought to place them in a secondary role to the female members.

We decided that this photograph was a fitting work for the back of our exhibition leaflet, which unfolds as an A3 poster. We hope it encourages the viewer to think about the figures and icons that they feel connected to across time.

It was a pleasure to have Alejandra Carles-Tolra give an Artist’s Talk in front of this photograph on Saturday 22 June. This event formed part of the exhibition’s public programme, co-ordinated by Debbie and I, and also took place in collaboration with Somerset House’s Generation Get Up! Weekend.

Alejandra shared fascinating details about her experience creating Where We Belong, and her practice more broadly. A particular highlight included a description of how the group painstakingly sew their own Regency-style costumes, which Alejandra also had the opportunity to wear!

You can find out more about Alejandra Carles-Tolra and her work here.

Amber

Work in Focus – Lubaina Himid, Cotton.com, 2002

Lubaina Himid’s Cotton.com (2002) is an absolute show stopper and captures your attention as soon as you enter the exhibition space of GENERATIONS. Made up of 84 individual patterned oil paintings and a brass strip, it is a mesmerizing work that deserves a closer look.

Installation Shot: Cotton.com in GENERATIONS: Connecting Across Time and Place

The creation of Cotton.com was inspired by an act of solidarity. In the nineteenth century, textile workers living in the northwest of England were affected by the American Civil War, as their livelihood was dependent on the provision of slave-grown cotton. Even though the British mill workers were themselves living and working under harsh conditions, they held rallies and wrote to President Lincoln, supporting his decision to end slavery in the United States.

Lubaina Himid decided to capture this historic moment of unity between the British working class and enslaved plantation workers across the Atlantic. She wanted to create an imagined conversation between both parties, but instead of using text or language, Himid turned towards patterns. Each of the 84 panels has a unique black and white pattern, creating a conversation that is open to interpretation and accessible to everyone.

The work is crowned by a long brass panel stating: ‘He said I looked like a painting by Murillo as I carried water for the gang just because I balanced the bucket on my head.’ This quote is adapted from a sentence that Himid found in a plantation inspector’s report. Himid felt that she needed to rectify this objectifying statement, and rephrased it so that it is now written from the woman’s perspective, giving her a voice and agency.

Cotton.com being unpacked and condition checked during installation period

The work addresses the impact of colonialism, transnational trade, slavery and misogyny. From the very beginning of our exhibition process, we knew that we wanted to show this powerful piece, and it has stuck with us ever since. Cotton.com was also the first work that was hung during our installation process. It took an entire day to unpack, condition report and hang all 85 components. Before all of this happened, our art handlers had to grid the wall meticulously so that the distance between each panel is exactly the same.

Now that the work is up on the walls, it has taken on a life on its own. Placed together with Helen Cammock’s There’s a Hole in the Sky Part II: Listening to James Baldwin (2016) and Lucy Skaer’s The Tyrant (2006), we hope that it sparks conversation about distribution of power, and how it is crucial for us to learn from the past in today’s world.

Anne

Our very own Debbie giving a tour in front of Cotton.com

Work in Focus – Donald Rodney, In the House of My Father, 1997

As part of the blog for our exhibition, we wanted to focus on a few works and discuss them in more detail. The first work in focus – which has featured as the main image for our poster, leaflet and postcards this year – is Donald Rodney’s In the House of My Father (1997).

This immensely personal and moving photograph was taken by Andra Nelki while Rodney was in Kings College Hospital, London undergoing treatment for sickle cell anaemia, a debilitating inherited disease. In Rodney’s hand sits a tiny sculpture of a house made from pieces of his own skin delicately pinned together. Interestingly, the ‘house’ itself actually exists as an independent work, entitled My Mother. My Father. My Sister. My Brother (1996-7).

In the House of My Father was first exhibited at Rodney’s last solo exhibition ‘Nine Nights in Eldorado’, which took place at South London Gallery in 1997 and was dedicated to his father, who had died a couple of years earlier. The title of the work certainly suggests the intimacy of familial lineage and the memory of home. It takes on further meaning, as Rodney sadly succumbed to his illness in 1998.

Donald Rodney, In the House of My Father, 1997.
Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the Estate of Donald G Rodney

Rodney’s use of photography is interesting in relation to his hospital experiences. Over the course of his illness, extensive medical data was accumulated, including photographs, x-ray scans and DNA sequencing. He incorporated discarded x-rays as a medium and used his experience with his illness as a metaphor for what he perceived as the ‘diseased nature’ of contemporary British society. This expressly autobiographical approach thus enabled Rodney to explore much wider questions and issues surrounding identity.

The idea of a personal documentation would lead Rodney to later assembling a comprehensive and multifaceted record of his body on an internet site, culminating in his posthumous project Autoicon, realised in 2000. The internet work simulates – and in a way, preserves – both Rodney’s physical presence and elements of his creative personality. Autoicon was developed by a close group of friends and artists, known as ‘Donald Rodney plc’.

When deducing meaning from In the House of My Father, I think the artist and curator Eddie Chambers made an important point with reference to Rodney’s relationship with his disease. He stated that Rodney ‘was always careful to maintain an intelligent and critical distance between himself and his illness. This work was not simply “about” Black people, or “about” sickle-cell [anaemia]. The work was about much wider constituencies and it broadly and specifically implicated all of its viewers, in a variety of ways.’

Helena

Exhibition Opening

Wow – what a truly great evening celebrating the opening of the exhibition with friends, family, and other (special) guests on Friday night.

We were so glad that Deborah Swallow, Appau Jnr Boakye-
Yiadom and Helen Cammock – and other special guests – could join us to inaugurate the exhibition,
giving us also a chance to discuss with them the exhibition more generally. The last few weeks
leading up to Friday evening – between installing, finalising texts, advertising the event, and
preparing to welcome our visitors – were certainly exciting for us, but also hard work! However, it
was amazing to see everything come together on Thursday and see it ready for the public on Friday.

We discussed the experience and gave tours to our guests, showing everyone how proud we were of
the final product. People were engaging with the works on display, eager to discuss them amongst
themselves and with us. The speeches given by Anne and Capucine on behalf of the group perfectly
summarised our individual experience co-curating the show with 10 other people. It was a moment
to look back and reflect on how challenging developing and bringing this project together was, but
also how much we had learnt during the last 5 months as a group. It was also a moment to
acknowledge and thank everyone for the overwhelming amount of support we received from
collaborators – the exhibition has also been made possible with their guidance and help throughout.
The incredibly positive feedback we received both at the opening and in the days following it, both
from collaborators and friends or family, made us even more proud of what we have presented to
the public. We are excited to see how the exhibition will be received and engaged with by the public,
and ready to show how passionate we are about our project with our tours.

Carlotta

_DSC3464
_DSC3620
_DSC3745
_DSC3993
_DSC3850
_DSC3662
_DSC3896

Photograph: Werner Vivier

Exhibition Process – Installation

GENERATIONS: Connecting Across Time and Place is now open – but how did it become the space you can visit today? Find out with a sneak peek of the installation process in this post.


That’s it: we did it. Our annual class exhibition  is now open. As part of the installation team, I could not  be prouder of what we have achieved, especially after spending almost two weeks in the space, watching it be filled with artworks, benches, labels and engaging feedback wall.  There’s a lot more to installing an exhibition than I originally thought: it begins the moment you get to know the works and can see relationships forming between them. Installation involves everything from perfectly visualizing the exhibition space, to exchanging a lot of emails with contractors and screwing tiny screws into the walls. Let’s break it down.

Snapshot of the exhibition in "Sketchup", 1st room
Snapshot of the exhibition in "Sketchup", 2nd room
Snapshot of the exhibition in "Sketchup", 3rd room

For the Installation team (Katie, Valeria and I), the hard work began a little later than for the other groups. While we were waiting for all the correct information on the artworks (media and sizes, mostly) as well as instructions from the two main institutions we were working with (Arts Council Collection for loans and Somerset House for exhibition site), we began to create a virtual model of the exhibition. I really enjoyed playing around in Sketchup, a modelling software where you can scale a space and design endless scenarios of the displays we came up with in a whole-group brainstorming sessions. Not only was it fun to be able to simulate in real time and space what we were thinking, but it also gave us at least a small sense of what our exhibition could look like. ‘But be cautious’, our course leader Martin warned, ‘and never trust a simulated space entirely. The reality is always quite different.’

And he was right. On May 28, it was go time. We contacted and planned all kinds of transportation and deliveries, construction, artwork hanging, audio-visual equipment,and so on – now that we were as prepared as we could be, we had to keep our fingers crossed that everything would go smoothly. Thanks to the help of the Arts Council Collection handlers and the Courtauld Gallery conservators and registrar, the overall installation went without a hitch – we were even ahead of schedule! It was very important to follow this schedule as each day was dedicated to a specific aspect of the installation process: one day was devoted condition checking the artwork (a necessary step for their protection), another to hanging them, another to taking delivery of gallery furniture, another to installing the A/V equipment, and yet another to adjusting the lights and placing wall texts and labels.

On another note, here’s a reason why Sketchup is not to be fully trusted: the ambient lighting in the first room of the exhibition space proved to be much too bright in the afternoon and could endanger some light sensitive artworks (particularly the photographs). This apparently small setback was actually major in the condition for opening the exhibition, and we had to think quick on how to fix and blind the windows.

We also had the chance to include one of the exhibiting artists in the installation process: Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom came to help install Plantain Drop, a multi-media work (a print and a video). It was very interesting for us to see the artist working with his own piece in relation to other artworks, the space and the light.

In the end, everything is surely not perfect, as all the requirements, short time-span and few setbacks were all new to us – but for our first exhibition, we are all very satisfied with how the space turned out : it is a beautifully crafted exhibition with compelling artworks. Alas! It is not over for us yet, after installation inevitably comes… the deinstallation!

Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom in front of his artwork Plantain Drop being installed

Guillaume

View of the first room
View of the second room
View of the third room

 

Exhibition Process – Interpretation

In the run up to the opening of GENERATIONS: Connecting Across Time and Place, we will be giving you a peek at what is going on behind the scenes. Today’s post is about interpretation!


Interpretation is basically everything that gives you information about the works and the exhibition, from the captions and leaflet to your tour guide. Taking on the challenge is our Interpretation Team, formed of Amber, Carlotta and me. It’s quite a major task, as it was up to us to formulate the main themes and ideas of the exhibition through words.

Carlotta, Debbie and Amber hard at work editing the object captions

A couple of weeks ago, the whole MA Curating group met with Sam McGuire, Interpretation Curator at Tate, and Rachael Minott, Curator at the Horniman Museum. They helped us go through our interpretation strategy and texts, giving us invaluable advice and making sure we were on the right track. Not writing too formally has been a bit of a challenge for us and although we couldn’t be persuaded to throw in any hashtags or witty retorts (sorry), we’ve now got something we’re pretty happy with.

For some of the works, it was more difficult to find information online or in the library. We took this opportunity to talk directly with some of exhibiting artists. We met with Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom to discuss his practice and specifically his 2014 work Plantain Drop. It was a great opportunity to hear more about his work which looks at the intersection of different cultures and the many cultural references we can read into everyday objects. For example, in Plantain Drop we might see a slapstick banana skin, a graphic screen print or a phallic symbol from Freudian psychology. Personally, it makes me think of one of the few really Nigerian things we ate as a family growing up and a trip to Lagos aged 8 when I refused to eat anything else!

Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom, Plantain Drop, 2014. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © the artist

We also met Alejandra Carles-Tolra and gave our first tour of the exhibition – albeit with no works yet in place. We are so used to seeing the exhibition plans on SketchUp, that I think it took us a while to realise that Alejandra couldn’t actually see any works on the walls we were pointing at. She assured us that although it was her first exclusively auditory tour, she had really enjoyed it.

We are very excited that both artists, along with Hardeep Pandhal, will be discussing their work as part of our programme of talks and events.

For the leaflet, and to be featured on this website, we have also been collecting quotes from interesting people about how they connect to other generations. We are really excited to have gathered some really insightful and personal quotes from poets, politicians, musicians and more, which we will share here over the coming weeks.

Leaflet progression – final version to come

After a couple of months hard craft for what is essentially a couple of hundred words, we are almost done! With nearly everything sent to print, we can sit back, relax and try not to have too many nightmares about typos…

Debbie