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  • Writer's pictureAnna Curston

27th January 2023

It has been far too long, but I'm back! The last two months have been a bit of a highly stressful whirlwind, but now the Midpoint Review has passed, things are very slightly settling down. I was writing up the report of the review and following mini exhibition, and thought it would work well as a blog post to explain where my work is at and give you an insight into how the course is going and how my work is being received.

I'd be lying if I said the assessment went as I'd hoped, but now the emotional turmoil has passed I have been left with a lot to very seriously think about. At the end of the day, all feedback is helpful even if you disagree. It forces you to think very critically about what you think and why, and whether any of your current though processes need to change.

The ‘staging’ of the work was the main point of scrutinization:

- Whether it was too busy

- Did it put up a barrier between the viewer and the work?

- Who is it trying to cater to and is it necessary?

- Do other artists who work in a similar area show their work like this?

- Would people actually read/interact with the work?

I am disappointed that the presentation of the work was seen as busy. I had felt that because all the additional parts of the work were white (matching the gallery wall) that it was visually clear that the painting was centre stage. I felt that the additional parts visually melted into the background if you focussed on the painting, and their colour being uniform with the wall made them feel like part of the gallery setting around the work (accompaniments) rather than directly part of the work itself. Clearly the work wasn’t read this way by everyone. I wonder, if the ‘poster’ to the right of the painting had been just text rather than text and diagrams, and typed, rather than hand written, would it still have been seen as busy, or would then have felt more like part of the gallery setting.

I understand the concept of the extra, blatantly scientific looking writing putting up a bit of a mental barrier for some viewers between them and the work. People often feel intimidated by science and so to be directly confronted by it in a gallery space may feel uncomfortable. But on the flip side, the gallery space itself can be intimidating to people from a non-art background and the additional writing may put them more at ease. People who like both art and science, like myself, may not think twice about the two being presented together. If I want to bridge the gap between the two, is it not okay to make people confront the mental barriers they put up for themselves? Is it okay that people may feel uncomfortable? I have my own mental barriers for both subjects, but presenting them together makes me personally feel more comfortable with both.

It could be argued that putting the writing alongside the painting to help the less artistically literate audience members feel more at ease is trying to cater to everyone, but firstly I think you could argue it the opposite way around: by keeping the painting just as itself with a title is just as much trying to make sure that certain people feel comfortable. Equally, why is the art audience more important? Why is their comfort a priority over other audience members? Who is my priority in terms of audience? I’m not sure that one is a priority over the other. I don’t think that is trying to cater to everyone, especially if both parties are made to feel a little uncomfortable; equally the discomfort reflects my own discomfort within both worlds quite well. It represents the self-made barriers we all struggle with in different parts of our lives.

The science-art artists I’ve looked at don’t include extra ‘stuff’ in their displays in the gallery setting, but within the more science museum setting it is very common. The museum is definitely a more education driven space, but there is no reason why a gallery space can’t also have an educational thread running through it. It isn’t arts job to educate, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t. The ‘staging’ of the painting was partly my attempt to take people out of the gallery space, I’m just not sure if this attempt was unsuccessful, or if people just didn’t feel comfortable being removed from it. Equally, just because other artists don’t choose to present their work in this, or similar ways, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong.

From the feedback I was concerned that people wouldn’t interact with the work (the interactive post-it element or read the booklet/ poster). However over the course of the evening I felt my work had a fairly consistent crowd, people looking at the painting, reading the poster, flicking through the accompanying booklet and taking up the invitation to write on the post-it notes. Plenty of people, none of whom I knew were also photographing the work. It seemed to have pretty good audience engagement. This also made me consider the difference in viewing it in a seminar space, when you must look at it in an allotted period of time, and viewing it in a gallery private view. The gallery view is a lot more informal and people could approach the work as and when they liked and come back to it more than once if they desired. I think this different viewing context also changes how the work is perceived.

The staging was just an experiment to attempt to conceptualise the painting in an environment that was very unrelated to the work. Were the artwork surrounded by more related work, I may have put less into the presentation. That being said, I am interested between this cross-over between the gallery and the museum/classroom. I had been planning on exploring this idea, of removing the viewer from the gallery with the staging of the painting, further, but I will definitely have to thoroughly consider the mixed feedback more before moving forwards.

I essentially need to figure out exactly what I want for my audience and whether it’s okay for certain groups to feel alienated (someone almost always will, so who is my priority?) Do I want my paintings to stand alone, or, in the specific setting of the course’s group exhibitions, do I think they need a bit more? What presentation of my work feels in line with my ideas and values as an artist?

Stay curious and creative, and I'll hopefully see you all soon.


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