Spike Island, Bloomberg Contemporaries:
Spike Island is a contemporary arts centre of gallery, studio and research space located on the banks of the River Avon in Bristol.
Currently, the gallery space is being used to host the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2013. The New Contemporaries is a yearly, touring arts event, which presents work by final year fine art students and/or newly graduated artists. The work is selected following an open call and this year’s event consists of 46 artworks, chosen by British artists Chantal Joffe, Nathaniel Mellors and Ryan Gander.
Prior to viewing the exhibition, Plymouth College of Art students were introduced to Spike Island’s Curator Marie-Anne McQuay, who gave a brief overview of how the Bloomberg New Contemporaries was curated.
McQuay explained that there was a usually high number of work selected this year (46 as opposed to 29 in 2012) and this proved to be challenging in terms of curating the work. Also there was no specific theme for the open call and therefore, there was no intentional correlation between pieces and this perhaps, unfortunately, appears evident in the gallery space.
Furthermore, no descriptions of the works were submitted – only thumbnails of the pieces and these were used to plan how the exhibition would be arranged. McQuay advised the students that works were displayed according to how they looked next to each other.
However, when the pieces arrived at Spike Island, some of the works were bigger than foreseen and the plan had to be rearranged again. This explanation seemed a little confusing because surely, to make a well organised and thought out exhibition – dimensions and perhaps even descriptions of the works would be needed prior to the delivery of the work, so that an accurate plan could be prepared, with no major last minute alterations.
On entering the gallery space, students were greeted with an overwhelming smell of incense – used in one of the pieces by Dante Rendle Traynor, Me & David, 2012. This, from a personal viewpoint, was distracting and was slightly overwhelming which tainted the experience of the other works slightly. Interesting, along with this installation piece, Traynor also had a video piece called Show, 2012 which also overwhelmed some of the other work around it. With this particularly work, (again from a personal perspective,) there was a certain amount of cynicism toward the artist and piece i.e. it was difficult to take the work seriously as it came across as a bit of a charade – masquerading as ‘fine art’. Subjectively, this perhaps de-value and have a negative impact on the other works on display.
Another distracting element was the gallery tags, which were unusually peach in colour. Some of the tags were placed near to the corresponding work and others further afield. Unfortunately, there were no descriptions about the works – only names, titles and dates on the tags. There were also no descriptions in the brochure/guide or exhibition book. Having no insight into each piece, made the somewhat challenging work, even more difficult for audience members to connect with.
With some of the works, it was difficult to tell whether the pieces had been curated as how the artist would have intended the work to be displayed i.e. some video pieces, looked more like installations i.e. Josephine Sowden The Lilies of the Field, 2012 – speakers etc were noticeably present – was this intentional? Again, if descriptions had been available, perhaps the answer to this would be clearer.
Overall, the general consensus of the Fine Art, Critical and Curatorial final year students (of Plymouth College of Art), the New Contemporaries work curated and exhibited at Spike Island felt confusing, challenging but also reassuring because the standard of some of the work was surprisingly low.
The Works Projects is a commercial gallery space located close to Spike Island’s gallery.
This space felt a far more intimate and welcoming space compared to the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibitions. Although the gallery space was small, the area did not seem claustrophobic or uncomfortable – perhaps this was because of the high ceiling and dimmed lighting, as opposed to the somewhat intrusive bright lighting of Spike Island.
The curation seemed of a higher standard compared to Spike Island but perhaps this is an unfair judgement because the pieces displayed at the Works Projects are vastly fewer and correlate well, whereas there were 46 pieces which were completely unrelated for Spike Island to curate.
Also, from a personal perspective, is there more pressure for a curator of a commercial gallery to have the work perfectly displayed because a) the pieces are for sale and b) the gallery will receive commission from the sold pieces and therefore it would be in both the artist and curator’s best interests to have an aesthetically pleasing exhibit to get the best possible price.
Having said that, a curator’s responsibility should be take into consideration the artist’s intentions and display the work accordingly, in such a way that the public can access, perhaps relate and find meaning within the piece, without unnecessary distractions. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to give serious consideration to the exhibiting of art – regardless of whether it’s a commercial gallery or not.
Motorcade Flashparade, BV Studios:
Motorcade Flashparade is an artist-led studio and gallery space – providing a spring-board for new talent in the South-West.
It was clear that Motorcade Flashparade was a working space, with a number of studios available to rent out to artists, through an application process. However, from the outside of the building it was difficult to imagine what lied behind the corrogated rolling garage doors which made it difficult to visualise the building as a hive of artistic practice.
Steven Paige, Lecturer at the Plymouth College of Art & Design was the artist in residence during the time of our visit.
On entering Paige’s exhibition room, we were greeted by a large darkened space and immediately were aware of the projected film – a re-creation of a 1960s dialogue Milgram Experiment – a social psychology experiment which questioned individuals willingness to obey persons in authoritive positions. The film was presented in a contemporary format, with a slightly amateurish feel. There was no seating for the audience to sit and watch the film, however, this could have been intentional, perhaps to encourage the audience to walk around the space, where other pieces were displayed.
One such piece, is a table, set up similarly to a study space, with books turned open at certain pages, to lead the narrative of the work. However, Paige explained that sometimes, members of the audience would change the page and he would have to turn it back to the original page, so that the narrative was not lost. With this in mind, there are questions of how much freedom the audience has to change the work and how much control the artist has.
Apart from some small distractions i.e. the overhead windows were not completely blacked out and created dots of light, and there were some odd cork boards leaning in corners of the room – the overall experience of the exhibition resulted in what Paige had intended.
Paige has suceeded in his intention to create an educational environment and the attention to detail is evident i.e. the plywood assembled stands for the projector and televisions are reminiscent of standard school furniture, and the lamp focusing on the books evoke images of antiquated study or library rooms.
The Arnolfini is a well established contemporary arts centre and it is clear that this is a professional, high standard environment where the budget appears to be on a higher level to the previous galleries. It comes as no surprise that the Arnolfini is a partner of Tate, as the asthetics are of a similar nature.
The exhibitions viewed during our student trip were Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Maintenance Art Works 1969–1980 and Michael Dean, The Introduction of Muscle, 2013.
Ukeles exhibition consisted of photographic imagery, film and text based pieces – all relating to her everyday routines i.e. maintenance of daily life. The work comes across as very archival in nature and with photograph after photograph – all of a similar format, it personally felt difficult to concerntrate on one singular image which led to a blasé attitude toward the work. However, every so often, along a line of horizontal frames, there would be one vertical frame. As expressed by the curator, this was an intentional request from the artist, and one wonders whether this was to distract the viewer and make them take notice, instead of generally surveying the images without much thought. Similarly, some of the images were displayed symmetrically together, while others were quite asymmetrical in there display.
A negatively distracting element however, was that in one of the gallery rooms, photographs were displayed directly opposite large windows which shone onto the glass frames holding the images, which distorted the the images slightly – making them difficult to view.
In stark contrast to Ukeles image after image, archive-like exhibition, Michael Dean’s exhibition was quite minimal. Dean is interested in the tactility of objects and particularly the ambiguity of concrete. This came across in the materials used in the exhibition – including the soft black carpet throughout the room juxtaposed with concrete sculptures. The materials as well as the colour palette of grey, black and white (walls) complimented each other well and created a striking exhibition.
The space was not filled with object after object and this allowed the viewer, time to comtemplate each piece without becoming overwhlemed. However, the large, almost ’empty’ space with high ceiling, could be considered intidating by some people – with the bright artificial lighting creating a perhaps, impersonal feel to the exhibition.
These two exhibitions were very different but linked by ideas of touch i.e. Ukeles – with her ‘hands-on’ maintenance art and Dean – with his interest in surface and tactility.