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Exhibition - my first

My MA cohort have been able to put on an exhibition! This has been a very exciting week... my first exhibition, hanging (or rather propping) it, hosting private views, and taking it all down again. The exhibition which was at The Coningsby Gallery in London was the culmination of the Studio and Practice module that the two full-time members of our group were completing this semester. For the rest of us it was an opportunity to exhibit some work-in-progress, although I took the opportunity to develop something that was quite specific to the location of the gallery and which I described making in my previous Life's a Drag post. I described in that post a lot of the context of the work, but one part I omitted was that the final push to make the work came from my first place of work being less that 5 minutes away from The Coningsby Gallery.

My plan for how I would exhibit did not really coalesce until I'd discussed the recorded walk, some video and stills with my tutor. She interpreted one of the slides I presented with images of a case, a map and me walking as a triptych. I could not quite see that working, but certainly saw the opportunity for a diptych, or dual screen video installation. A visit to the gallery in early June confirmed for me exactly what I wanted to present as I had identified a good place to install a couple of monitors.


The Coningsby Gallery is quite small and geared to presenting paintings, prints and small 3D objects, There is a hanging system in place for this and it is not possible to attach heavy items like monitors to the walls. There is a very small below ground floor gallery with a bench running round the walls and a small staircase leading to it from the gallery above. From the top of that staircase and for some distance into the upper gallery there is a very clear view of the wall opposite the staircase. This was the position for my monitors... leaning slightly against the wall and visible (and audible) beyond the space in which they were installed. While laying claim to this space, I was aware that others may have wanted to use it, but there did not seem to be any objection. I felt there was an undercurrent from my tutors that the space was not ideal'd, but the biggest concern from them was how I was going to secure two large monitors standing on their ends so that they would not slip or fall over, and without damaging the walls. To be honest I felt a bit disheartened about the whole thing when this was all that the curator who was supporting us commented upon when reviewing our works to go into the show.


I sought help from the others in the department and one of the lecturers suggested building a standalone frame that would secure the monitors in a leaning position, but in the end it was the gallery owner who proposed the simple and workable solution of having a wooden lip secured to the bench with velcro and some command strip preventing the monitor form tilting forward. Alex at the university stores was able to provide me with what I needed all cut to size. All I had to do was paint the wood gallery-white.

I had decided that one half of my diptych would be the path of my walk being traced out on an old A to Z map in synchrony with the recording of the trundling luggage. This was achieved with a lot on painstaking trial and error and in the end I managed to match up key points on the route with specific sound (or silence) events, e.g. dragging a stick along the railings at Fitzroy square, or waiting to cross Tottenham Court Road, or Euston Road. For the other half I had the choice of using some stills, or a montage of video footage recorded by my partner. Quite fortuitously, we had a seminar with Alice Maude-Roxby a few weeks ago where she spoke about her exhibition and book Live Art on Camera: Performance and Photography on the work of photographers who had documented performance of other artists. From this I made the decision to work with stills.


Hanging day was a long day. I knew what I wanted to do with my monitors and having tested everything out in the studio (which I finally got into - surely the subject of a blog in its own right), I was fairly sure how things were going to work. However, we had curatorial support for the hanging from Jon Bird and it was important to get his opinion before finalising anything. I was also trying to show my Fissures video and a my First and Last camera obscura images which I had managed to get printed on on good quality paper. I spent much more time on these than I did on my diptych video installation. By the time we finished I was happy with how everything looked.


We had two private views which were the main opportunities for us to talk about our work with visitors. I had expected my installation to be viewed mainly from the gallery above, especially as we were using the below ground gallery as a drinks preparation area. However, people were drawn in by the map and wanted to get closer. Also the sound, while generally not loud enough, was just audible at the top of the stairs and may have encouraged folks to descend. In spending time with the work in the presence of other people I came to understand a number of things:

  • People like maps and locations. Once people have oriented themselves to a location they bring to it their own memories and association and that is enough to start a dialogue with the work and the artist.

  • I enjoy talking about my work with my work present. It goes against my natural instinct to admit this, but the feedback I received suggests that I'm okay at it. (I also enjoyed talking about the work of my colleagues, or being able to get visitors to talk to the artist.)

  • I had made the right choice installing the work where I had. It drew people into a space where they were focused on this work and they could spend time with it. This was further confirmed as the exhibition was due to close when I found a visitor sitting on the stairs in front of the work, seemingly engrossed.

  • I had failed to credit my partner Charlie Dunn as the provider of the documentary material for my performance. There were quite a few questions about the photographs and who had taken them. Charlie was undoubtedly a collaborator in this work.

One question I was asked was what's next, and I did not have a clear answer. I'm hoping to develop the camera obscura print series further and I'm starting to think about how I go bigger with that. But I need to reflect more on the performative, sound, presentational and associative aspects of the main work I was exhibiting. I'm entering into fields of practice where I have little knowledge of what has gone before, and what is happening now. So more reading, more research and I particularly need to study the work of Carey Young.






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