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Study Event: Contamination/Curation

Contamination/Curation was an online cross-discipline workshop over two Saturday mornings in October, part of the ongoing series of collaborative online events under the overall banner of Keeping Up Momentum organised by Level 3 photography student Helen Rosemier.

This edition supported by tutor Bryan Eccleshall, who asked us to collaborate in randomly assigned groups of five or six students to curate an (imaginary) exhibition. He gave us an introduction to concepts and examples of curation of group exhibitions. The ‘contamination’ in the workshop title refers to the effects of presenting disparate works alongside each other and how they interrelate, sometimes changing how the work can be ‘read’. A curated set of artworks is itself a kind of new artwork.

I was in the group ‘Kahlo’ with five others: two more photographers, one student combining photography with textiles, and another combining fine art with creative writing.

We were all asked to bring two examples of recent work. In the breakout session we shared our artworks, then spent a while working out what they had (or might have) in common, in order to come up with a theme for the curation. I don’t know whether we got lucky but I found it to be a surprisingly easy process.

After a bit of back-and-forth we agreed that most (not quite all) of the artworks had some element of a kind of ‘life cycle’ in them; some were about birth, childhood, growing up and others were about ageing, destruction, deterioration, waste. We eventually settled on the theme of Growth and Decay.

Our group met via Zoom to create our ‘exhibition pitch’ a few times before the second workshop. The division of tasks fell fairly naturally to the people with the skills and interest in particular aspects of the curation. For example, one person wrote a draft press release, another produced a mockup catalogue and I made a virtual 3D exhibition gallery using the ArtSpaces platform I’m already using for my SYP publication.

In laying out the virtual gallery I realised that my proposed images fit the Growth and Decay theme least well of all, so decided to swap them out for alternatives that worked better in the overall set. It was oddly liberating to make artistic decisions for the benefit of the wider group rather than just for my own work. As Bryan said, art comes from constraints not from total freedom.

Our final presentation was a video walkthrough of the virtual gallery accompanied by the catalogue and promotional plan. Other teams did amazing, imaginative presentations with gallery layouts, videos, printed materials and bags of creativity. It’s impressive how differently every group responded to the brief.

Collaborating with others is something I don’t do often enough, and I always get something out of it that I don’t expect. The random aspect of putting a bunch of participants together and saying “make a group show: GO!” made for an energetic and invigorating experience. I found it quite remarkable how quickly we saw the points of alignment in our otherwise eclectic work. It makes me wonder whether time pressure helps more than it hinders! If we’d had weeks rather than an hour to collaborate we might have argued more and achieved less…? Who knows.

Big thanks to my Kahlo teammates Alison, Zoe, Karen, Kevin and Baris, and of course to Helen and Bryan for making the whole thing happen.

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Posted by author: Rob Townsend
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