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Curating Young Voices New Visions 2021

12th July 2021

Pupils from Worcestershire schools have just had their work exhibited in the Young Voices, New Visions exhibition at Worcester Cathedral, an annual exhibition showcasing the artistic talent of young people. The artworks were created by local schools, individuals and community groups responding to the 2021 theme ‘Gratitude’.

The exhibition was curated by Richard Webb and Steve Thomas who have mentored a young artist/curator from our Creative Practitioner Network, Bobbie Whittaker, who has kindly written a blog post about her experience which you can read below.

The exhibition was organised by Severn Arts, working in partnership with Meadow Arts and with the support of Arts Society Worcester.

A woman and two men stand in a cathedral cloister, holding children's portraits over their faces 

Curation Diary – Young Voices New Visions 2021

By Bobbie Whittaker

 

Monday, 14 June

Today was spent getting familiar with the space in the cathedral and receipting in the artwork from schools. We oversaw the installation of the white display boards and plinths in the cathedral area. It was great to see the space that we would have to display the artwork and to start making considerations of what kind of work would look good where. We also looked at the logistics of hanging larger work or displaying some sculptural work that we had received on plinths. It was really interesting to see how the space dictated where artwork would be placed and how it could be used to showcase the artwork to its full potential, e.g. using some of the tissue paper pieces in the cathedral windows to allow light to pass through them.

It was so exciting to see each school bringing in their work, and what was going to come through the door next! We had a huge variety of work, from living trees to giant colourful 3D sculpture and tapestry, to smaller more detailed work. It was also interesting to see how different schools / age groups had taken the theme of gratitude and either worked as a group or as an individual to create something totally unique!

 

Tuesday, 15 June

Today we were getting our step count in (3.5miles at last count)! We started by moving all the artwork out into the Cathedral Cloisters, up a staircase and through a narrow door, look out for the last picture!

Once we could see all the artwork together, we started looking for themes and started grouping the artwork together. We wanted to mix the schools and display younger children’s work alongside that of older children to create a balanced exhibition. The main themes we identified were: Trees, NHS, Hearts, Fish, Portraits, Flowers and Water. Once the artwork was grouped together, we started to think about placement. This involved looking at all the boards and plinths we had available, the quantity of artwork and the logistics of placing and or hanging it. We looked at pieces that would be great in front of windows that would be enhanced by the light shining through them, and those that were flat that needed a double board space.

We thought about how the exhibition would be viewed by the public, and to create an initial statement at the entrance, as well as ensuring the pieces flowed well as a whole e.g. placing all the red/orange/pink on the boards all facing the same way.

Once all the artwork had been placed, we started picking out mount boards for the back of the work to bring the whiteboards to life and to enhance the artwork.

 

 

Wednesday 16 June

Today was the day of doing the fiddly things that take the most time. I spent my morning creating a hanging feature out of some stained-glass window pieces created out of tissue paper and my afternoon curating the fish-themed area. This was quite challenging as there was a lot of work, both flat pastel drawings, wire sculptures and flat stained-glass style fish.

To make the best of all of the work, I laid it all out so I could see everything together before deciding on the best way to display it. There were about 50 fish pastel drawings, so I decided to form them into a pattern so the display as a whole looked intended instead of just a uniform wall of pictures. I worked with head curator Richard to position some boards of colour behind the pictures to bring them to life, before deciding on a brick-like formation for their display. On the opposite side of the boards, I’ve started to create some hanging pieces out of a combination of the wire fish and the stained-glass fish, which we’re going to hang tomorrow morning.

It was really cool to see the exhibition coming together and how the curation of the work really brings it to life through the combination of work and the method of display.

 

Thursday 17 June

Today I finished creating my hanging fish display using artwork from multiple schools to create to hanging display. I made sure the stained-glass effect fish were next to the window so the light could show them off at full effect. I was surprised how much I enjoyed curating the 3D work and especially creating a larger scale piece out of multiple smaller ones. My own work is all 2D, so working with 3D work was an interesting challenge which I really enjoyed!

The exhibition was really starting to come together today, as such it was great to see all the boards in combination and make sure that the artwork and colour palette flowed through the cloisters as opposed to just being a series of individual boards. We also started placing multiple smaller works which really enhanced the larger works by having them together. In addition, we hung some large sculptural pieces, which was definitely a 3-person job, 2 up ladders and one person checking it was straight! I also had to use my maths skills to place 48 flower pieces, and learnt the hard way that you need to use the spirit level to make sure they’re all in a line!

I also got to curate my own section, I used symmetry to ensure the pieces were balanced on either side of the display but then took a more natural approach at placing a 3D floral piece in the centre. I made sure that my mount colours complemented those in the next display and that the colours ‘made sense’ when you walked through the Cloisters!

A busy day but we’re nearly there now!

A row of colourful children's collages hang in front of a mullioned cathedral window, with stained glass panels at the top.

 

Friday 18 June

Penultimate day! My step count was 2.6 miles today!

We were on a mission today, finishing all but one of the remaining boards, hanging loads of pieces and matching them with contrasting mount boards. We finished ¾ of the corridors, making sure there was continuity between each of the corridors and that the boards made sense next to each other in terms of colour. We enjoyed placing lots of stained-glass hearts on jaunty angles around the exhibition to bring more colour.

Again, I was on it with my maths skills and the 6ft spirit level to plan and fix a display of neon sea-themed pieces and kept sticking my fingers together with blue tack.

We placed a lot of the sculptural pieces and I enjoyed identifying which ones had been produced by my fellow creative practitioners @meadowarts.

My ongoing task for the day was replacing the post-its we had put on each piece to identify the school with more formal labelling. This felt a bit like a treasure hunt, both to find the labels themselves and to match them with the pieces. I think this is where I got my steps in, continually walking round and round the cloisters. To ensure continuity across the exhibition it was important to place the name badges in a similar place throughout (where possible) so people knew where to look for the school who had completed the work.

 

Saturday 19 June

Today was the day for tying up loose ends, making sure all the labels were in the right place, everything was stapled down properly and the exhibition looked great as a whole!

 

Evaluation

I wanted to thank my fellow curators Rich and Steve for all their help and advice and to @severnarts and @meadowarts for the opportunity!

Curation is not easy, yes it might look like just putting a few pictures up in a pretty display, but there’s so much more to it than this! I thought I’d note down a few key things that I have learned:

  • You need to consider the space you’re in, the work you’re displaying and what materials you have available.
  • The exhibition needs to work as a whole, not just individual displays.
  • Try to group artwork by theme and or colour scheme.
  • Consider lighting and methods of display, e.g. do hanging pieces work well against windows, do you need to elevate the work to eyeline, do you need lighting to enhance a piece?
  • Not every piece of work will have a place, or the work you want to fit a particular space will fit so you need to be adaptable in your ideas.
  • Having a team of curators is great because it’s great to bounce ideas off each other.
  • Think about the logistics of your ideas (don’t let something complicated stop you, it just might need a bit more thought).
  • You don’t have as much time as you think!
  • Fishing wire can hang almost anything!
  • The spirit level and the staple gun are your best friends.
  • Label all the work because it makes your life so much easier!

Overall, this was a fantastic experience which I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to apply next year. I learnt so much and had great fun and created an amazing exhibition, showcasing work from children across the county for cathedral visitors to enjoy.

My advice to next year’s Assistant Curator is:

  • Wear trainers, because there’s a lot of walking.
  • Wear clothes you can get dirty (there’s a lot of sitting on the floor and carrying artwork).
  • Brush up on your maths skills for arranging work.
  • Be open minded and ready to learn.
  • Steve likes vegan cake, preferably homemade.
  • Rich is alright really 😉

 

Images by Stefan Handy