Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Open Project Gallery Crawl ~ Grand Union

The final stop on our self-proclaimed curation crawl was Grand Union, based within Minerva Works. There we met with Gallery Director and all-round-nice-lady Cheryl Jones to explore their current show A Small Hiccup. DEFINITELY is spelled wrong on the wall in huge type, grabbing my attention as my very own spelling nemesis. The exhibition approaches the idea that language could become diseased in some way and was curated by George Vasey. Cheryl explained that George, an MFA student from Goldsmiths, was picked for a guest curation slot, showing Grand Union's penchant for promoting fresh curatorial voices. The work in the show is a strange mix of stuff, possessing an intriguing quality yet feeling a little bit inaccessible in places, befitting the exhibition's theme. The show tips the audience into a linguistic meltdown of symbols and nonsensical digi-speak, suggesting words are mutating at an alarming rate to the point of being unrecognisable.

Cheryl also gives us a wee tour of Grand Union's studios, with holders including Stuart Whipps, Juneau Projects (designers of The Open Project gallery) & Matt Westbrook (see Berliningham above). There is an emphasis on playful art-making with a message here, as we hear about BAZ's colourful escapades such as Curate Me Out whilst standing in their very own bar. The spirit of the studios indicates hard work develops into good times.

One thing that continues to shine from Birmingham's Eastside is the bold printed matter, A Small Hiccup being accompanied by a newspaper designed by An Endless Supply. I feel this strong visual identity is key to drawing people from the mainstream public galleries of Birmingham City Centre into the more forward-thinking artist-led spaces of Digbeth. The strong stamp of typographic cool along with Grand Union's experimental programming gives the city some much-needed contemporary art credentials, creating an arena for anyone who finds themselves wondering what art is being made / shown in Birmingham and more importantly, why?

A huge thanks to everyone who took the time to show me and The Open Project team around today. It was fascinating to hear about what you do and, inevitably, compare you all for the good of accidentally aligning our own curatorial style somewhere along the way. Cheers.

The Open Project Gallery Crawl ~ Eastside Projects

After a morning finding out about the curation approaches of BMAG and IkonThe Open Project's young curators headed Digbeth-wards to visit some of Birmingham's artist-led spaces. Entering Eastside Projects is always a surprise as the gallery takes on a strong identity for every exhibition, and this time we were greeted by countless strings of ball bearings, suspended and gridded; stretching across the room.

This installation, Parallelareal Variable by Gunilla Klingberg, was the most physically interactive piece I have seen at ESP and it was liberating to be able to travel through its lines, disrupting the order of the strands and creating waves of momentum. In contrast to the Mike Nelson's M6 show, the concrete plynth invited visitors to explore the environment that had been created atop it, rather than being used to elevate objects for the audience to merely encircle. A regular visitor to the gallery, I find the accumulation and adaption of objects from past exhibitions to create a sense of cohesion between the time and space of each visit; a manifestation of memory of the shows gone by.

We were lucky enough to speak to both Maya, the current Operations Assistant at ESP, and Ruth Claxton, Associate Director. They described that the current exhibition was created through curators working with local contractors and the artist in order to develop conversations, and ultimately produce a new art piece specifically for the site. Ruth explained that ESP consider the space itself as an artwork and the act of curating as an art practice, hence the space accumulates elements which take on a new role in the shifting landscape of the gallery. One particularly functional feature that the space has adopted is Pleasure Island by Heather & Ivan Morrison, modified into ESP's unique office at the back of the gallery.

[Photograph by Stuart Whipps, courtesy of Eastside Projects ~ via this is tomorrow]

One thing that struck me with puzzlement was that this was many of the groups' first trip to Eastside, demonstrating the need for such new initiatives as the Birmingham Art Map [below] which Maya handed out at the end of the discussion. Well-executed print matter is a huge part of ESP's identity, sparking national and international attention. Ruth described that they had only recently started using other means circulation but that it was interesting where their printed objects had ended up.

As one of the most exciting art spaces to be operating in Birmingham at the moment, I am interested to see where ESP's uncompromisingly innovative selection of work takes them. Despite being a free, public space, Eastside Projects currently feels like one of Birmingham's best kept secrets.

The Open Project Gallery Crawl ~ Ikon

Next we paid a visit to Ikon Gallery to explore the two main exhibitions, Tapa - Backcloth paintings from the Pacific on the first floor and Franรงois Morellet on the second. Entering Tapa I was surprised to see traditional objects in a contemporary space such as Ikon. The light in the room was soft and the artifacts seemed fragile and raw within the safety of the gallery walls.

Simon Taylor, Head of Learning at Ikon, met with us to discuss what we thought to the show and answer our questions about its curation. He explained that the pieces had been selected from an extensive collection at the University of Cambridge, and that there were specifications for light intensity and room temperature that the gallery needed to adhere to in order to protect them. The group commented on the hanging of the pieces, enjoying that their unique shapes were treated individually; some hung loosely and others close to the wall. Simon revealed that magnets were used to attach the latter, protecting the material yet fastening it securely and also discretely.

Moving upstairs, smiles spread across the faces of the group as links were made between the geometric tapa designs and the repetitive abstraction of Morellet. Despite their geographical and historical differences the connection between the two exhibitions was startling and thrilling; traditional and contemporary art forms feeding off one another to the benefit of both. I think this was an incredibly smart piece of programming, giving us an insight into Morellet's influences as well as encouraging the viewer to create links in order to better understand that which is around us.

[Photograph by Daniel Whitehouse]

The gallery's architecture enhanced the minimal pieces rather than detracting away from them. There was a strong sense of effortless harmony that could only have come from careful planning, with Simon explaining that they adapt many aspects of the gallery drastically to suit different exhibitions, including a 'secret' extra room and the ability to completely fill in windows.

The final thing we discussed was the learning resources at Ikon, including the diverse Resources Room for families and researchers alike. Simon described the gallery's preference for having the interpretation on a sheet of paper for visitors to read in their own time, as well as staying away from the dreaded 'artspeak' to keep exhibitions as accessible to different visitors as possible.

It was a fascinating visit and exploring the shows in details means I will never look around a gallery in quite the same way again. Big thanks to Simon for his time and energy.

The Open Project Gallery Crawl ~ BMAG

This week marked the opening sessions of a new project I am involved with at mac birmingham.
The Open Project will produce a series of innovative exhibitions selected and devised by Young Curators. Drawing on the modernist idea that a house is a machine for living in, artist Trevor Pitt has developed The Open Project through the principle that the gallery is a machine for curating in, incorporating the act of curating into the space itself and sharing with the audience the processes that are usually kept behind the scenes.

After evaluating the role the curator, the space and the audience play within exhibition decisions in our first session, me and the other Young Curators descended on four of Birmingham's art institutions to find out more about their curation approaches first hand.

Grazia ToderiOrbite Rosse (Red Orbits), 2009
First we spoke to Katie Hall, Exhibitions Officer at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Having looked around the current Gas Hall exhibition Metropolis: reflections on the modern city, it was fascinating to hear the narrative behind curating the space - designed to feel like walking through a day in the life of a city, she explained. The artworks take us through the accelerating hustle and bustle of the day before plunging into the darker side of city life. I noticed that the show starts with the dream-like haze of Andreas Gefeller's over-exposed photographs and finishes with night-time satellite photographs of city lights (SV series, 2012) by the same artist, also indicating that the city's life is cyclic.

Andreas Gefeller | CS 02, 2010

As Katie opened up for Q&A, the group voiced concerns about the lighting used in the show, in particular of the areas for video work not being fully blacked out. Katie explained that when working in such a historical space that considerations have to be made to the building itself, such as not attaching anything to pillars. This means what's best for a specific piece and what's best for the building have to be balanced. We also ask if when selecting work she is more led by the aesthetic or the concept of the work, and she says simply that there cannot be one without the other.

Huang Xu | Fragment No. 10, 2007 [left] Hanni Bjartalia | Untitled, 2012 [right]

Aleksandra Mir | World Map of Social Networks, 2009

Despite having seen a lot of the work before as the collection is shared with New Art Gallery Walsall, I found the final room of the show very refreshing, the visitor being led around Hanni Bjartalia's amazing suspended sculpture to experience work chosen around the idea of future cities and, interestingly, the concept of 'cities' being formed online. A thought-provoking end note to a vibrant and diverse exhibition.

Friday, 14 June 2013

One Beat Saturday.

When asked to drum up some promotional materials for One Beat Saturday 2013, a one day music festival in Cannon Hill Park, I got some marker pens out and played around with type until the fumes seeped into my creative brain. Here is what I came up with ~ a slightly more digital finish than I'm used to but my prerogative was making this sucker as bold and bright as possible.
Hopefully the weather on the day will have the courtesy to reflect this.

The best part of this brief has to be listening to the line-up whilst designing away, so I would strongly and personally recommend going to the event too. Local Birmingham talent represent.