Do artists hibernate or migrate?
Despite the cold last Friday a flock of Somerset artists and creatives left the warmth of their studios to attend the private view of New Dimensions at The Museum of Somerset.
The exhibition is the culmination of a year long project spearheaded by artist Jenny Graham. Selected artists were invited to create work in response to the hidden collections and rarely visited archives that go unseen by the general public. What a delight it must have been to delve into the world of the museum’s curators and rummage through the vaults. Your imagination conjures up images of opening dark, squeaking cupboard doors, blowing dust from infinite cabinet drawers, unsure of what you may unearth, but of course today’s museum is a well classified, fine tuned and dust free environment. And yet to an outsider I am sure there is still a sense of wonder and excitement as to what exactly you will discover hidden within and then contemplating the task of choosing which items will dictate a year long creative dialogue.
The exhibition features the items that triggered that journey alongside the works they inspired. There is a diverse range of starting points and a fine mix of disciplines on show. As with any private view it is tricky to full appreciate the work on display – the film and sound works require an investment of one to one time to be truly appreciated but the buzz and chat in the room would suggest that those present were enjoying discovering what had sparked their fellow artists’ imaginations.
The show was curated and co-ordinated by Tim Martin in conversation with both the exhibiting artists and museum curators. The layout of the exhibition aims to evoke the atmosphere of the storerooms by incorporating industrial racking and storage boxes as display furniture for the exhibits. The balance and ratio of work displayed within the space works well, not too sparse, with areas of organised ‘clutter’ and areas of clarity.
Richard Tomlinson’s neat bank of box files echo this design element and viewers are able to peer inside, not by the laborious task of removing each lid in turn but via the 3d spectacles conveniently incorporated within the design. Some required standing on tip toe others bending down; which added to the sense of curious discovery.
Chris Dunseath’s intriguing sculptures also require the viewer to peer in close for the work to reveal its inner secrets and Ralph Hoyte’s poems explore the hidden and imagined unsaid truths between the sparse lines of the holiday postcard. Proclaiming himself as a ‘declamatory poet’ it seemed only fitting that Ralph read some of his poetic postcards to the assembled audience:
Jacy Wall sought inspiration within the textile collection, investigating the sense of restricted touch when handling artifacts, whilst Jenny Graham was drawn to an archive that I too would love to take a closer look at – the cabinets containing row upon row of iridescent butterflies and the domes full of beady glass eyed birds. Jenny describes her experience being allowed special access to Somerset Museum’s most prized collections of insects and working closely with its curators as ‘a real joy.’
As you can imagine an exhibition of this scale requires finance which in this instance was provided by Arts Council England. Somerset Art Works were also able to offer funding and the 2015 Creative Pathways Bursary supported emerging filmmaker and sound artist Laura Aish to research and develop a new body of work in response to the museum’s collection of geodes and flint tools. Laura also received mentoring from the other professional artists involved and there is no doubt the experience of working towards such a large scale exhibition will stand her in good stead for future projects.
If you would like to know more about how the individual artists approached the project you may read more here
The exhibition is open until 16th April 2016 so do go and take a look – be adventurous in your viewing, be curious, open doors or drawers and do not take everything at first glance; be prepared to spend some time looking, reading, listening and watching to fully engage with the artists’ interpretations.
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WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY by Davina Jelley
Published on January 18, 2016 // Davina Jelley