November exhibition

Reflections on Osmosis


Following on from last year’s exhibition “Work in progress”, held in Wellington, Somerset, where the feedback was that the venue was out of the way & that the only people who visited were OCA students, tutors and their relatives or friends,  we therefore had to find a venue with a greater footfall. 

Sharon and Claire volunteered to find a gallery space for us.  They gave us 4 alternatives in Bristol and, based on the location, size and cost, we settled on The Island in Bristol for our November exhibition: it was between two very busy shopping malls, although cavernous, it had enough wall space for all our work; it cost less than the other galleries.  When, at the beginning of October we went to see it, some of us had reservation about the state of the building but we liked the gallery space.

The responsibilities for publicity and the design of the poster and brochure were taken up by Sue who had done a great job of it last year.  Sue used the same template as last year’s brochure for this year’s – it is a very simple but effective design &, as someone wrote in the visitors book “The brochure is a work of art in itself”.  We had a straw poll on our Facebook page regarding the name of the exhibition and we settled on Osmosis as it had played a significant role in our manifesto when Steve Monger had lead our meeting in August.

Having received the floor plan and layout of the gallery, I started work on the maquette and waited for details of the work and number of pieces to come in from each person who had shown an interest in participating.  Unlike last year, this year it was a lot more difficult to get people’s forms in.  Perhaps it was because, unlike last year when all the details and forms came to me, the exhibitors had to send Sue an image of one of their pieces and a short bio for the brochure, and then had to send me the information regarding size, titles and images of all their work.  So it may have seemed like a duplication from their standpoint.

Gallery maquette with the ‘cinema’ in the D space right.

Everyone who wanted to exhibit exhibited – nobody was turned away.  Every piece which students and tutors wanted to exhibit were exhibited.  The size of the pieces were not restricted so people could exhibit anything from a 16 cm bark strip to a 2m projection.  

Looking from above the ‘cinema’

Everyone who wanted to be involved in the hanging was involved.  Everyone who expressed an interest in curating was also involved and Liz and I had Skype calls to sort out various issues / problems / queries as they arose.

Looking towards the wall opposite the entrance with a ‘sculpture’ of a person made to scale to give a sense of proportion.  All the pieces were photographed and presented here to a scale of 1:20. On the right there is also a voile screen to scale jutting out from the wall.

Once I had received all the information, I set about populating the gallery.  My first principle was colour : how would the work hang together?  then came the space allocation – has each piece got enough air around it so that visitors can access it without being distracted by the neighbours?  Does each piece have its own breathing space?  

Looking back towards the entrance.

Then I wondered what audience we were hoping to get.  I guessed it would be an adult audience mainly with a few visiting children.   This influenced where we would put the delicate objects, the ‘untouchables’ and other inter-active elements.  I knew we would have a poetry book so we needed a lectern.  Last year I had created 2 reading corners where visitors could read the work without feeling that someone would be reading over their shoulder & that worked so I decided to try that again.

Having seen most of the work developing during the year, I knew we would need a few plinths.  On enquiry, I discovered that the gallery had 7 = 3 upright pillars and 3 low-level ones.  Anne B had said she would provide her own table to hold her mirrors and Jane had said she would provide her image holders.  We had a set which required a shelf so we had to buy one.  On reflection, we should have stipulated that exhibitors provided their own exhibit supports – next time.  

We could do nothing about the lighting – it consisted of 8 fluorescent tubes very high up so we could not dim any or use accent lights anywhere.  Fortunately, our exhibits did not really need any specialised lighting.  Sue’s film had its own space which did have a light switch so that was suitable.

I then thought that I needed to reflect Osmosis, the title of the exhibition somewhere / somehow.  Several weeks before the exhibition I had been to see the Anni Albers exhibition at Tate Modern & had seen how the spaces were subdivided by hessian screens so that the story had links from one period to another and you could see what was going on in other areas.  This, I thought, was our perfect membrane so necessary for osmosis: the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc. to happen! 

That’s when I thought of putting up screens which picked up 2 of the colours in our brochure.  the screens would be made up of a rectangular structure made of lightweight plumbing tubes with a voile ‘membrane’ filling the rectangular space created by the tubes.  Either side of the voile would be exhibits from 2 different learning pathways.  This would represent the idea that in our meetings, ideas and inspiration flow from one student to another.

In this screen, the pink voile simultaneously separates and unites the origami ball sculptures made out of landscape photos by Liz Nunn, and a painting reflecting the suffragette movement by Di Goring.  There is also a link between Liz’s sculptures and her chemilumens through the voile. 

We had to change the order of the exhibits when I made a mistake in screwing the blue voile to the wall too close to Sarah’s paintings which meant that the lectern would have to go on the other side of the screen:

This meant that my “Three Graces” came infant which was not the idea at all.

Perhaps the membrane idea was too facile or literal but it broke up that vast floor space and allowed us to show more work too as well as adding a bit of interest and colour.

My main piece was taken from my ‘Fault lines’ work and was projected on to a wall as Michele Whiting had suggested at our last OCA SW meeting.  The projector was deliberately put in such a place as to cast a shadow on the wall as visitors walked by as well as projecting the fault lines onto them.    In that way they became part of the exhibit.  One of the steward’s commented on this and said that people felt they got in the way – which is part of the message.

It was great seeing a toddler get involved with the piece just as I had hoped being present in the piece:  

You never know when or how a seed of self expression will flourish.
The viewer becomes part of the work.

I gave a little speech to highlight some coincidences (Jean-Luc Goddard’s film exhibition being chaosmotic; what Diderot thought an exhibition should be ; and living an exhibition, all taken from Hans Ulrich Obrist’s “Ways of curating” recommended by tutor Michele Whiting:

“Between 1759 and 1781, Denis Diderot had published a set of newsletters reviewing each of the salon exhibitions.  These writings marked the beginning of the understanding of exhibitions as publicly received events whose contents could be assessed in terms of newness, originality and vitality.” 

P. 32: “The very idea of an exhibition is that we live in a world with each other, in which it is possible to make arrangements, associations, connections and wordless gestures, and, through this mise en scène, to speak.”   This speaks to me of our OCA SW Osmosis exhibition greatly because we have come together as a group and our work develops as a direct result of the communication between us and it speaks to me of the bond that we have created amongst us.  Yet it is all different in terms of expression, subject, background and origins.  

P. 34 – 5: In describing the seemingly farcical situation in 2006 when Jean-Luc Goddard curated a show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.  The exhibition broke all the rules: it sent out a disclaimer saying that it was not suitable for all audiences; the title of the exhibition kept changing; he fired the curator working with him; he refused to allow a press release; the final show was never final as it kept changing throughout its duration: there were cables lying around and other installation elements kept changing so that the show always looked unfinished; visitors entered through pleated & heavy plastic curtains. “It was chaosmotic” to use Felix Guattari’s word for an experience of osmosis in an environment of constant change “


Not all the exhibition reviews are in but there is a trend  already forming to the questionnaire I sent out to all exhibitors:

2018 OCA SW exhibition review
In order to inform future exhibitions, please could you circle a
numerical value from 1 – 5 where 1 is the best score and 5 is the
worst, as your answer to the following aspects of the exhibition:
A. Were you happy with the information you were given about the
1 2 3 4 5
B. Were you happy with the location of the venue?
1 2 3 4 5
C. Were you happy with the venue and exhibition space?you hap with the information you received about access to the
venue and gallery?
1 2 3 4 5
E. If you stewarded at the event, were you happy with the information
you were given about your responsibilities?
1 2 3 4 5 NA
F. Were you happy with the arrangements circulated to all exhibitors for
collecting work at the end of the exhibition?
1 2 3 4 5
G. Were you happy with the way your work was curated?
1 2 3 4 5

Is there any other aspect of the exhibition that you feel would help inform
future exhibitions?

The highest marks, and therefore what we need to address for the next exhibition if there is one, are tending to gather around the location and the venue (B&C),  as well as the information about collecting the work (F).  Although I had addressed the collection of work after the exhibition procedure in an email, I had not made it obvious enough.  

Did our exhibition show newness, originality and vitality?  Judging by the variety there was certainly newness and originality.  The vitality or ‘life’ in the exhibition was shown in the voile screens linking and separating disparate leaning pathways.

Was the exhibition visually engaging? Yes.

Was it time relevant? yes because we had many elements referring to time: the celebration of the 100 years of the suffragette movement; the chemilumen which was changing as the week progressed as it had not been fixed; the rock fault line marking times of stress in the earth’s crust; Sue’s film project and poem reference the “Time is here,

                                                                      Time is now

                                                  layered with fingerprints of the past

                                                             And those yet to come.” 

                            (Sue Parr. A meditation (Waves, Ripples & Diffractions) 2018.

Did the exhibition provide different levels of audience participation?  Yes because people from the age of 2 to 93 interacted with the work in one form or another.

Based on those 3 criteria, I think that the exhibition was successful.

One of the reasons for having the exhibition was to allow students who had attended meetings during the year to exhibit work they had done .  Exhibiting work would be a form of introduction to a life as an artist even if they had no intention of doing so.  So many people and their spouses became involved in one way or another.

Twenty-three students and tutors chose to exhibit their work and 61 pieces were shown.  The ice was certainly broken for many.

How does this affect my plans for my exhibition in July 2019?

  1. I am going to start sending out info on it in January.
  2. I am going to investigate the possibilities of changing the lighting.  Sue Parr wrote this in a recent email to me:  “Reading about Foucault’s poststructuralism and his thoughts around prisons and then thinking about your exhibition I had an idea – (just ignore it if it’s not helpful) I was thinking that maybe you are shining a light on aspects of life in prison which are often hidden / left behind closed doors- and perhaps you could use physical lighting within a dark space to highlight those particular pieces – like your blanket etc. If they could be in a separate darkened space which was set against a normally lit room with your other more traditional – photographs of prisons there might be a sense of cohesion between the two? In terms of confinement / enclosed spaces etc. Hope this makes sense! It does in my own head but I’m not sure I am articulating it particularly well! I’ve no idea if it’s even practical for you but thought I’d mention it just in case.”
  3. I shall keep the principles outlined in Bradford : is the work visually engaging? Is it of its time? Does it engage diverse audiences?  This last one is perhaps the weakest & I will have to analyse what I can do about it.
  4. The brochure / booklet and poster need to be ‘a work of art in themselves.’
  5. The ‘Interpretation’ has to be minimal.