This is indirectly rather than directly related to my SYP studies but very useful for my ongoing practice and a highly interesting diversion that got my creative mojo firing.

Contamination/Curation is a two-part workshop done as an online (Zoom video call) study event. It’s part of the ongoing series of cross-discipline online events under the overall banner of Keeping Up Momentum organised by Level 3 Photography buddy and all-round good egg Helen Rosemier. This time it was supported by (drawing / painting / fine art) tutor Bryan Eccleshall. The first session was on Saturday 3rd October; the follow-up is set for Saturday 24th October.

The theme is in the title but a little more context might help. Bryan wanted us to think about how we would collaborate in randomly assigned groups of five or six students to curate an (imaginary) exhibition. He gave us an introduction to ideas around, and examples of, curation of group exhibitions. The ‘contamination’ in the workshop title refers to the effects of presenting disparate works alongside each other and how they interrelate, sometimes changing how the work can be ‘read’. A curated set of artworks is itself a kind of new artwork.

We were all asked to bring two examples of recent work. Rather than working with my Level 3 body of work (which in my head was completed in 2019) I picked two examples from my ongoing personal work, specifically two September images from my Daily Abstract 365 Instagram project.

I was in the group ‘Kahlo’ with five others: two other photographers, one student combining photography with textiles, and another combining fine art with creative writing.

In the breakout session we briefly demonstrated our sample artworks, then spent a while working out what they had (or might have) in common, in order to come up with a theme for the curation. I don’t know whether we got lucky but I found it to be a surprisingly easy process. After a bit of back-and-forth we agreed that most (not quite all) of the artworks had some element of a kind of ‘life cycle’ in them; some were about birth, childhood, growing up and others were about ageing, destruction, deterioration, waste. We eventually settled on the theme of Growth and Decay. We set up a Padlet and added content during and after the breakout session.

After the workshop

We agreed to catch up again as a group the following weekend.

I volunteered to mock up a virtual exhibition gallery for the group show, as I had just signed up to the ArtSpaces platform for my SYP publication. The subscription allows me up to 50 artworks in up to five exhibitions, so I have plenty of spare capacity. I used the group show as practice before I got to grips with using the software for my own show, so it was very useful in that regard.

I won’t post the work-in-progress here as I want to save the big reveal for the follow-up workshop :-) but I will say that in laying out the artworks in the show I realised that the two images I originally chose weren’t strong enough for the theme.

I decided that if I was going to swap them out for alternatives then I would think more consciously about which images fit the Growth/Decay theme best. In the end I decided that I had recent images that could ‘bookend’ the theme: one that has symbolism around conception, and one that has symbolism around death:

Most of the other participants kept their original images but one other student swapped out his original submission for a series of flower still life photos that suited the middle portion of the sequence.

The follow-up call was very productive. We agreed to use the virtual gallery format to present the work back to the wider workshop group. One of our will also produce a dummy catalogue in the form of a zine, which we will film and include in the digital presentation.

What I learned

Collaborating with others is something I don’t do often enough, and I always get something out of it that I don’t expect. The random aspect of putting a bunch of participants together and saying “make a group show: GO!” made for an energetic and invigorating experience. I found it quite remarkable how quickly we saw the points of alignment in our otherwise eclectic work. It makes me wonder whether time pressure helps more than it hinders! If we’d had weeks rather than an hour to collaborate we might have argued more and achieved less…? Who knows.

In an interesting coincidence of timing, between the first workshop and the follow-up call I attended the study visit version of the East Meets West online take about collaborating on a group show / publication. This gave me a (limited) insight into how a real-world group collaboration can take place, over a longer period of time and with a more close-knit and cohesive group. I like to think our temporary collective hit the ground running without any awkwardness or need to spend much time storming and norming – we want straight from form to perform :-)

I will post the final outcome of the group show after the second and final workshop.