Respect Festival is an event organized to celebrate the diversity of multi-cultural communities and was held in Plymouth on the 12th and 13th October 2013 at Plymouth University.
I was personally in attendance on the Saturday of the festival, interning for Peninsula Arts Gallery. During this time, I was approached by a member of the public, who wished to make a complaint about a sculpture by local art teacher Jeff Stratton, Hope is Not Enough, 2013 based on the story of Pandora’s Box.
The sculpture includes a large open box with a bird – a kite perched on the open lid – representing hope. The exterior of the box is intricately inscribed with symbols from different cultures, while the inside is covered with images of hatred and atrocities against persons of different ethnicities.
Images of Jeff Stratton’s Hope is Not Enough, 2013
The gentleman who complained was concerned that children were able to see the images on the interior of the box, which he considered too graphic. I courteously listened to the complaint, as he is entitled to his opinion, but I neither agreed nor disagreed with his point.
Following this incident, I considered this further, as I have children of my own of 10yrs and 3yrs old. I personally feel that my 3yr old would not understand the context of the piece, so would have no particular reaction to it – apart from being interested in the colourful bird. However, I feel that my 10yr old would not necessarily be upset by what she was viewing, but would question what was happening in the images and why it was happening.
In this respect, I feel that this would create a good educational dialogue and a conversation which would unlikely have taken place spontaneously. Afterall, the artist Stratton had suggested in his description of the piece, that it would hopefully initiate discussion and debate on the subject.
In light of it also being Black History month, it is important to remember the African diaspora past and to educate people – regardless of their age.
Therefore, I personally feel the sculpture could serve as a powerful educational tool and any discussions resulting from it, would hopefully serve as a reminder that the world must continue to move forward in a harmonious acceptance of different races, cultures and nationalities and never go back.
She starting by explaining that proposals for potential exhibitions were put forward to the advisory board of the University and that four shows as well as the degree and MA shows were exhibited each year at the Peninsula Gallery. At present, the programme is booked up until March 2015, which highlights the degree of forward planning which goes into organising an exhibition.
Nadia also explained that the gallery was not indemnified – which basically means that they do not have sufficient security and standards to display highly valuable art or works by extremely well known artists i.e. of a higher status in the artworld. Therefore, the gallery is limited is what it can display, however it can exhibit very current contemporary work of emerging artists but not necessarily historic contemporary work.
There are many different logistics to consider when dealing with artwork – particularly work from overseas including insurance, delivery and timescale etc. Furthermore, Nadia’s experience in conservation and preservation (from working in a museum environment previously) has proven invaluable because she knows how to handle the work and understands the importance of how differing environmental conditions can affect the work i.e. temperature, humidity and lighting etc. By showing this degree of respect and devotion to caring for the artwork, curators gain the trust of the artists and show that they value the artist and their work.
Nadia also explained various processes in which to keep track of the environmental conditions including an electronic graph which records the humidity of the gallery. This is a helpful device because for example if there was a forthcoming exhibition which had specific environmental requirements, the graph could be checked from the prior year over the same period of months to give an idea of what the humidity conditions were like.
With the Peninsula Gallery, there is an issue with the large glass windows at the front of gallery which are not fully UV protected and filtered against damaging rays. However, the artists are always made aware of this and can decide whether they are happy to have their work exhibited in close proximity to the windows or not. Nadia also explained that she works out how much sunlight exposure the pieces may potentially be exposed to and advises the artist of such (e.g. in James Smith instance, work was placed in front of the windows which he was agreeable to).
The current exhibition called Document was the first slot Nadia had fill when she arrived at Peninsula Arts. Although she is interested in European art, she particularly enjoys going further afield and has travelled to Asia and Australia. It was in Singapore where she first came into contact with one of the artists of the Document exhibition Vandy Rattana.
Rattana’s work Bomb Ponds, 2009 documents the bomb ponds of Cambodia, created by the USA’s B52s during the Vietnam War. The pieces include photographs of the ponds and a video of the testimonies of the people affected.
Nadia explained how this documenting of contemporary history had made an impact on her and felt it would be refreshing to bring this overseas work to a UK gallery. However, the logistics of getting the work to Plymouth were challenging. Rattana was exhibiting at the Guiggenheim in New York at the time of contact and new prints had to be made at the expense of the Peninsula. However, the prints had to be printed in New York so that Rattana could check that the colours etc were right and then these had to be sent to Plymouth. Although the Peninsula paid for the prints, they are still the property of the artist, however in this instance the artist was not paid a fee.
Another artist from the Document exhibition who Nadia had previous contact with when she worked at the Hayward Gallery was James Smith. Smith’s work Temporal Dislocation, 2011 is of the new-brutalist genre – documenting a form of architectural art – predominantly large, angular concrete constructions resonating in politically dominant environments.
Smith’s photographic landscape images, like most gallery pieces were given gallery tags. However, at the artist’s request they do not give the specific location of the photograph because Smith wished the works to be seen as a whole that the landscapes could be of anywhere in Britain and not necessarily one specific place.
The third artist in the exhibition is The Atlas Group – a fictional group born from the imagination of Walid Raad. The work entitled We Can Make Rain But No One Came To Ask, 2005, documents the Lebanese Civil War. However, much like the Atlas Group, the archive of footage and documentation presented in a video piece is a result of Raad’s imagination – a fictional record of an actual occurrence.
Although the three pieces have never been exhibited together, the fluidity of the exhibition is evident – with each artist’s use of documenting and archiving different environments. The works fit well together and there is a natural flow between pieces with no obvious change in dynamic.
However, there were a few small distractions for the viewer in terms of the curation of the work. In The Atlas Group’s work, the video was screened in a boxed off, blacked out room with a black curtain placed in the entrance. On entering the room, because the viewer immediately entered the space from the curtained doorway, a stream of light was evident every time the curtain was opened. The light shining through could have perhaps been limited by creating an L-shaped small corridor at the entrance of the room or having two curtained entrances in succession.
This was further highlighted to myself the following Saturday (12 October 2013) during my internship at the Peninsula Arts, when a member of the public asked me when the exhibition would be finished – as in finish being installed. He felt the installation of The Atlas Group’s piece was “shoddy” because of the curtained entrance allowing light into the room.
Also, the speaker equipment etc was obvious because of the green and red power lights which also created a distraction to the viewer and gave the impression of an unpolished piece.
I personally enjoyed the exhibition and although I noticed some elements which perhaps could have been presented better, I feel that the gentleman who commented on the exhibition’s curation was a little harsh and patronising in his criticism. However, if this affected his experience of the exhibition, then as an audience member, his point is valid and should be considered.
BA (Hon) Fine Art, Critical & Curatorial Practices