Perhaps it’s because of the homey atmosphere in Glasgow Women’s Library, that when the Library is used as a site for an art exhibition, it injects into the art scene in Glasgow an energy that is unavailable anywhere else. Mirroring the round table in GWL, Hannah Leighton-Boyce’s More Energy than Object, More Force than Form celebrates the power of women’s gathering around. The 100 salt-water batteries, placed in concentric circles, are essential to the work—together they power up the light at the centre, just like the way people working in and supporting GWL. The idea of this work came to Hannah one day when she was moved to tears while listening to a woman’s story about her journey to education. The salty tears encouraged the artist to explore in her works the relations between salt and our body—their energy and fragility, forms and formlessness.
What has left in me the strongest impression or surprised me the most during my internship is that when encouraged, all visitors, were very happy to contribute their thoughts and opinions about the artworks. I still remember some women visitors told me how Ruth Barker’s Speech resonated with their experience of motherhood, and a visually impaired woman shared her feelings about Ruth’s sound piece What Sound Should We Make from a perspective that I have never thought of. These moments have refreshed my view on the function of museums and galleries. So, for me, IT IS the organizations’ responsibility to reach the wider audience, and this enriches all of our experiences of art.
Our group has interpreted Charles Esche’s presentations on the demodern in varying and contradicting ways. One thing we loved was how he pointed out that “modern objects are no longer modern.” How we conventionally understand modern art is no longer associated with the contemporary. These objects have become enmeshed in a prior historical moment and no longer encapsulate the foreground of avant-garde practice (if there can even be a contemporary avant-garde practice). We also loved the list of potential solutions he provided as a way of navigating the process of demodernising . We interpret some of these solutions as providing spaces of care for the audience such as Apollonia Susterčič’s Light Therapy Room.
Charles Esche’s project to transform the museum into a parliamentary space is interesting because it raises the question: should we politicise the museum not just through art, but through actually transforming the space into a recognizably collaborative political arena? Does this imply that the museum needs to resemble a parliament in order to fuse/initiate these kinds of discussions? Or is this approach a way of encouraging people to have discussions in a ‘familiar’ (i.e. democratic/politically collaborative) space in order to make it feel more legitimate and also make the museum a place where political debates are more accessible to wider public?
Apart from what we discussed in the group, here are some of my random thoughts/questions:
Charles mentioned that dealing with modernity also means dealing with patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism. Is he going to address all three of them simultaneously? Given he focuses mainly on de-colonialism, does he suggest there is actually an order of tackling those problems? If so, how come this is not constructing another kind of bias/hierarchy? How should feminism and queer theory be situated in this context?
Our proposed exhibition title is ‘The Intimacy of a Memory.’ For thisexhibition we are particularly interested in the inherent contradictions —between memory and the material manifestations of memory as a type of indexical trace. Memory is not material, but it can leave these traces that are incredibly raw or provocative.
The guiding questions for this exhibition are: how does memory become material?what do these manifestations of memory look like? Do they have a color? How does the material manifestation of memory change our perceived relationship to our own memories or someone else’s memory?
We have gravitated towards the medium of photography because of its ability to harness an indexical trace of material reality. We are also interested in sculpture that privileges an emphasis on materiality that is not symbolic or referential. Material formations of memory are not always logical — the contradictions between these two mediums make them a conducive vehicle for exploring the materialization of memory.
We would like to use the work of contemporary young Scottish photographers such as Abbie Trayler-Smith (works from the series ‘The Big O’) or Sophie Gerrard (photographs from the series ‘Sweet Sixteen’) — both known for their documentary photography of Scottish youth culture. Tayler-Smith’s photographs are hyper-realist and dripping with a strange sense of nostalgia whilst Gerrard’s photographs, carrying a sense of fragility, introduce us to young people and give an insight into their thoughts and lives. These works will have to be acquired from beyond the museum. We would also like to commission an installation sculpture by Scottish artist, Karla Black. Her work privileges tactile materiality over language as a methodology for interrogating intimate moments. While Black’s sculpture is autonomous, the photographs will anchor the exhibition in a Scottish context.
We must remain conscious of not imposing our curatorial vision on the artists. In regard to the collaborative relationship with Karla Black we will have to acknowledge her wish to control the context her work is exhibited in.
We intend to utilise the space of the Pig Rock Bothy for additional events and engagement activities. Bothies form a network of intimate ‘home’ spaces across Scotland, and we want to use this symbol to widen our exhibition not only to Edinburgh and the SNG collection but across Scotland- forming a network. This would broaden accessibility, engagement, and relevance. We would have an artist residency project, enabling young Scottish artists to reflect on the exhibition, linking to SNG’s projects such as NOW and GENERATION. The project would span 3 months, and in that time we plan to have 2-3 residencies. Potential problems with the residency programme are that the work from the less well known artists would remain ‘outside’ the exhibition. To include these works in the main exhibition space;
We are interested in exhibiting the live production of the residencies within the exhibition through a camera/monitor within the gallery. But this could further reinforce structures of difference and even suggest a type of institutional elitism.
We would be looking to exhibit the artworks by the artists part of the residency project in Modern One together with the main exhibition. Problems we might encounter are the limited space in the chosen rooms and the unpredictability of artists response, as well as the limited time they have to make the works as opposed to Black. This way, the artist residency projects would become part of the overall exhibition, and would become part of the collection. This part of the exhibition (with all the works together inside) would span another 2/ 3 months.
Workshops: Reflecting the theme of private space and individual memories connected to each other, we propose a series of creative workshops, for example making zines.
As we understand that it is the institution’s responsibility to reach the audience, not the other way round, our curatorial project is based on following questions: does our exhibition suggest the idea of a default mode of human beings? Would the audience find they are represented in the exhibition? How are they represented? In this way, the engagement of a wider audience is internalized in the whole process of programming. In addition, we are committed to curating an exhibition that fosters multiple levels of engagement for a variety of audiences. While Black’s installations might be appealing to those who are more familiar with contemporary art, the photographs featuring ordinary individuals would be accessible for a broader audience. In fact, due to their very personal and subjective nature, the photographs would serve as an entrypoint to our show and encourage the audience to think, respond and react to the ‘intimidating’ contemporary artworks in the same room. Lastly, the audience members would be encouraged to provide feedback anonymously but, as we aim for a much more personal dialogue with our audience members, rather than just asking their opinion, we would like to ask: what does this exhibition remind you of? Or, what is the most precious memory for you?
A suggested checklist of artworks
Karla Black, Contact isn’t Lost (2008)
Karla Black, Pleaser (2009)
Abbie Trayler-Smith, works from the series ‘The Big O’
Sophie Gerrard, works from the series ‘Sweet Sixteen’
Commission works like these?
Works like these from the archives of NGS such as
Mark Neville, Boys at Devol, Port Glasgow (2005)
Margaret Mitchell, Leah in the Backcourt (2016/2017)
Although I do want to gain more insights into radical archives, I wasn’t able to attend the lecture on Thursday. All my understandings of this topic, therefore, will completely depend on the readings as well as my experience in the GWL archive.
What might a queer archive look like?
A queer archive might be an archive with their own queer categorizing method, as they collect things that are usually (and deliberately) not recorded in other places. The archivists and librarians in GWL, for example, have been developing their own categorizing system. They believe that the Dewey Decimal Classification, which was used by most of the libraries in the West, reflects the patriarchal ideology and thus could be biased. The most obvious evidence for this claim is that under such a system, books about feminism and homosexuality would be classified as “social problems” (according to our libarians). Rather than using the conventional way to organize their materials, queer archives should develop their own, as Cvetkovich demonstrates in her text: “a queer ethnography can adopt a queer perspective toward its subjects, rather than being about queers.”
What might a queer archive feel like?
It might be true that a queer archive, for it’s usually full of traumatic memories and objects, would lead to emotional pain. But I do believe that it is also important for archives as such to evoke the feeling of hope in their audience. When I was planning the public engaging activities at GWL, I suggested to show the audience our Suffragette collections where there are plenty of used postcards and posters featuring Suffragist being mocked and tortured. I wanted to show them because I thought gruesome images can leave people a strong impression. “Yeah, people always find those things interesting,” said our production coordinator, “but at the same time I don’t want that become the only thing they would remember from their trip to the library.” What I learned from this is that rather than emphasizing how terrible things were, perhaps we should also pay attention to how to render the materials in a way that would allow people to gain strength and belief from them.
“Castlefield Gallery is the centre to the periphery, which in my thinking is the best position to work from and where I want to be. Castlefield Gallery oozes with explorers and pioneers, and understands that the currency of a scene is its ability to import and export culture, not sit stagnant in its own melting pot.”Ryan Gander OBE, Castlefield Gallery Artist Patron
It is interesting to see that Castlefield Gallery distinguishes itself from other art institutions at the very beginning of this mission statement by positioning itself as an artist-centre institution. It starts with a quotation from Ryan Gander, an English contemporary artist and the gallery’s ‘artist patron’. We can tell from here that the gallery values their artists’ opinions and is willing to use their voice to represent themselves. Following the quotation, the body part begins with a non-finite clause whose past participle, ‘established by artist in 1984’, put at the beginning of the sentence, also emphasizes the essential role that artists’ have been playing in the gallery. In fact, this emphasis continues throughout the whole statement, as we can see from the gallery’s focus on ‘artistic and career development for artists’ (para1), their association of ‘200+ strong artist’ (para 4), as well as the claim about being ‘a proven leader and enabler in the development of visual artists’ (para 5).
It would be incorrect to say, however, that Castlefield is marginalized or isolated from the rest of the art world. The economics terms such as ‘import’ and ‘export’ in Gander’s quotation, together with the fact that Castlefield itself is a limited company, make explicit the institution’s connection with the field. Like most of the major art institutions, Castlefield regards art and culture as an industry and thus the physical representations of it, the cultural products, or, the artworks, are commodities that are available for sale and exchange. The gallery thus articulates here their acknowledgement of the commodification of art and culture, and, more importantly, their courage to live with such a status quo. It is therefore possible to read that rather than trying hard to reconstruct the whole system or ‘sit stagnant in its own melting pot’, Castlefield tries to deconstruct it by drawing on its own strength.
What seems to lack here in the statement is the concern for the gallery’s audiences. Despite they do claim at the beginning that Castlefield is a ‘public gallery’ and that their work also focuses on ‘deepening audiences’ relationship to contemporary art’ (para1), people, or visitors to the gallery are barely mentioned in the rest of the statement. The number of examples made to show their relationships with artists is in sharp contrast to that made to show their relationships with the audience. This seems to me that the gallery prioritizes artists’ personal growth over wider public engagement, which might be an aspect to improve, as their funders such as Arts Council England aim to use arts to enrich people’s lives.
As I would like to share my internship experience in my blog, the following is a sample email I wrote to invite groups to an upcoming exhibition in Glasgow Women’s Library. Please let me know how you feel about it and perhaps offer me some suggestions.
Hi there! My name is Tobey, a project intern at Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL). I recently had the pleasure to ______________(mention some connections with the group if I have). I’m writing to keep in touch with you and to invite your group to our upcoming contemporary art exhibition for a special tour! (Please let me know if you think there is another person I should talk to.)
Exhibition: Ruth Barker & Hannah Leighton-Boyce
Date: Friday 1st February to Saturday 23rd March, 2019
First held at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, the exhibition of Hannah Leighton-Boyce and Ruth Barker will finally tour to our library. I would love to arrange with you a time to welcome your group for a guided tour and some creative activities related to our experience of the exhibition. Together we will learn more about the works by Hannah and Ruth, write and share our understandings and feelings, or even create some artworks of our own! These tours will offer a great chance for everyone to explore contemporary art in an open and welcoming atmosphere.
The exhibition will present two new bodies of work by artists Hannah Leighton-Boyce and Ruth Barker. Each artist undertook residency in 2017, Hannah at GWL and Ruth at the University of Salford Art Collection, and each made works about their time there. Hannah has made sculptures inspired by and using salt, while Ruth has created works engaging spoken words and sounds. Both two artists have explored creatively in their works the many aspects of human body: its different forms and formlessness, health and illness, strength and fragility. Looking at these fascinating artworks, we will discuss what they say to us, how these relate to issues or debates of today, and, more importantly, what we think and feel about them.
Please let me know if your group are interested in this exhibition, and if so, it would be great if we can discuss further the date and time when the group will visit, as well as the kind of creative activities that we have planned. Please do let me know of any questions at this stage and of course if we aren’t able to arrange a tour the exhibition is open most days, unless there are events in the adjacent space.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon!
(Working pattern varies: usually one day per week)
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Hello everyone, my name is Tobey and this is my first blog post. Half a year ago, I was still a Linguistics student and almost had nothing to do with art except for my personal interest in the field. Now I’m a postgrad in MoCA and I’m also doing a student placement at Glasgow Women’s Library. It’s been such an amazing journey so far and I hope to share here some of the highlights and talk about what I aim to do next.
I quite enjoyed the process of writing my essay “the Meanings of the ‘Suitcase’ for Art” for Utopia Zone (a course I did last semester). By comparing two works, La Boîte-en-valise by Marcel Duchamp and the 1001 suitcases in Fairytale by Ai Weiwei, I argued in the essay that Ai’s work elevates the aesthetic of exile of Duchamp’s into a way of expression that deals with the refugee crises we face today (Please leave me a comment or send me a email if you are interested in my work. I am more than happy to share it). The more I researched into and wrote about the artists and their works, the more I was fascinated and amazed by the way they are engaged in the times they lived in. I hope that in the future I can sharpen my research skills so that I could develop my own interpretations of artworks to the fullest extent of their potential depth.
In addition, I’m happy with my intern role ‘Assisting with Exhibition outreach for a contemporary art exhibition’ at Glasgow Women’s Library, in which I am mainly responsible for inviting different local groups in Scotland to our upcoming exhibition Ruth Barker and Hannah Leighton-Boyce (to find out more, please check the second blog I post) and deliver tours to them. This role does not only allow me to talk to and learn from artists based in Glasgow and curatorial team from Manchester, but also offers me opportunities to communicate with people who are less likely to visit art and cultural institutions, which is important, for it shows one of the library’s missions: to make art accessible. I am motivated and eager to make positive contributions, making the tours a bridge between contemporary art and the public.
My internship has also allowed me to think more about the seemingly neutral ‘white cube’ of galleries and museums, as I noticed how the change of location and environment can impact on the works themselves (the exhibition I mentioned above was first held in a gallery in Manchester before they tour to GWL on February this year). My goal for the core course of this semester, therefore, would be gaining more insights into contemporary art institutions and its critiques. I hope that by the end of this course, I would be able to identify, analyse, and operate within the problems existing in some art and cultural institutions which I might work with in the future.