An accessible exhibition  | The Open College of the Arts
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An accessible exhibition 

I was lucky enough to recently be invited to attend an exhibition by OCA photography student Leonard Scott. It is not often I can attend all the exhibitions I have been invited to, for a variety of reasons, so, attending this virtual reality exhibition was a memorable experience. 

Leonard recently photographed ‘Jacobean Doocots of East Lothian’ and knowing that he intended to exhibit this as part of Photography 2: Landscape, I asked him to send me an invite. I live in Yorkshire so I wasn’t entirely sure how I would manage to attend, however, when the pandemic hit, I knew it was going to be impossible. How wrong I was. 

Attending the exhibition, looking at the work and speaking with the artist is something that Leonard wanted to ensure all the people that he invited could do. You see, Leonard is visually impaired, and mobility-impaired disabled, so making the exhibition accessible to all was something that he was conscious of achieving and he has done that in bucket-loads. There has been just as much work which has gone into the planning of this exhibition, as there would be at a bricks and mortar exhibition including writing an artist statement, embedding Braille into the photographs, editing down the images and virtually hanging them in the gallery space. Okay, so there’s no glass of wine and a vol-au-vent (you can still have these at home if you want to). There are many advantages to having an exhibition on-line, firstly it fits perfectly with the distance learning course within which it evolved, it is accessible to anyone and everyone, at a time to suit them and it is environmentally friendly as nothing has to be printed or framed until someone requests to purchase the work. The exhibition can be viewed at your own pace and there is an opportunity to email or speak to the artist. There’s a statement to read and you can also hear the artist talk about his work at the click of a button. 

Leonard says: “The work came out of an investigation into lost history in East Lothian. Amongst other source material and documents I was using to research my topic, I found a survey of Jacobean Doocots of the county. This document was published in 1937, following its completion by volunteers after the death of Mr Whitaker who had been invited to undertake the survey. It was during the working up of ideas for my self-directed project that the survey popped back into my consciousness.

During the Landscape course, I encountered and investigated the work of the New Topographics group and was very taken with the work of Bernd and Hilda Becher, especially the works ‘Water Towers’ (1972-2009) and ‘Pitheads’ (1965-2009). I particularly liked the idea of being able to deconstruct the formal view of the landscape and instead turn the focus of the viewer to lesser-seen objects, which are part of the day to day landscape that we “see” but do not register. The intertwined concepts of lost history and viewing the “ignored” part of the landscape were the keystones in bringing together the project to capture the doocots in the New Topographics concept.

I began by obtaining the survey document again and then matching the locations against modern OS maps, maps from the 1950s and guesswork. Once I had a ballpark location, I then had to visit each location and find the doocot in question. Some were easily accessible, either at the side of the road or in well-maintained areas, making disabled access easy. Others required a little more leg work, including discussions with landowners to gain access through private roads and gardens. Others were problematic. After finding the exact location, I had to wait until I had a good day so that I could make my way to the doocot. In these cases it was my health that was restricting access. In most cases, I had to make my way over ground which for the most part was very difficult. As a disabled person I struggled with ploughed fields, overgrown fields, animal trails and gates. In some cases, all I could do was get as close as possible and capture what I could see. I also had to face angry and unhelpful landowners who wanted to restrict access completely and who would not respond to requests for access. Overall as a disabled person, I found access to most of the sites to be very restrictive even under the Scottish Right to Roam law. 

Being restricted to the house, I have found the OCA courses both difficult and easy. Distance learning fits in well with my abilities and it allows me to study when and where I can and my health allows. It lets me pull in other subjects which interest me and include them in my work. The difficult side of things comes from some of the restrictions placed upon me by my disability where I cannot meet the requirements of a course. At that point, I have to find an alternative way of completing the assignments. Having a tutor who is supportive and understanding of the difficulties I face is key to being able to complete the coursework and meet the assignment requirements.”

So, if you would like to have an exhibition of your work, consider holding it on-line as the possibilities are endless; marketing it on social media, email or via word-of-mouth and to even have the facilities to sell your work at the exhibition, perhaps even adding little red dots. 

I found this virtual exhibition very inspiring and could see endless possibilities in doing exhibitions this way in the future, so get a comfy seat, grab a drink (doesn’t have to be wine, a cup of tea and a biscuit will do), sit back and listen to the cooing doves in a place and time to suit you. Please just click on the link below: https://artspaces.kunstmatrix.com/en/exhibition/970151/jacobean-doocots-of-east-lothian 

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Posted by author: Katrina Whitehead
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