Exhibition planning

After our visit to Newham Archives and with a clearer idea of the Bow Porcelain artefacts that will be loaned for the exhibition Mathew, Lizzie, Felicity, Rosamond and myself returned to the Nunnery to look at the spaces and plan where the elements- artwork, artefacts and documentation- will be placed.

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Lizzie, Felicity and Rosamond, artwork © Ben Washington

We needed to think about how and where information is placed to enable visitors to understand and feel welcomed into the physical space, as well as the content and themes of the exhibition. We also want to create a ‘visual resonance’ between artwork and artefacts- so that visitors can see similarities between the aesthetic apearance or feel (emotions evoked) between the contemporary artwork and 250 year- old ceramics. We aim to plan the space so that visitors build up an overall and underlying ‘sense’ of how the artists and curator are inspired by Bow Porcelain.

As well as the obvious things like how artworks will attached to the walls, and what colour the plinths will be painted this means for instance thinking about how people are drawn into the space. It is important that the wall opposite the doorway (which is the first thing you see when entering through the cafe) is bold and exciting, and welcomes visitors into the exhibition.

Felicity is using the corridor space which you first enter, and is planning to include some research material alongside a tray of wasters from the factory site in her display. There are a few considerations in how these will be presented including whether they will be behind glass or uncovered (in terms of balancing security and visibility), and what kind of shelving they will be displayed on. In the same space there are shelves that the exhibition information leaflet is displayed on, which is for visitors to pick up and take away. If research materials and artefacts are similarly displayed visitors may well assume these items are also to take away, when in fact they are hugely valuable and irreplaceable.

It is really important to make sure we are looking after all the artworks on display, and in particular take care of antiquities which sometimes need to be in a controlled environment. This means for the Bow Porcelain artefacts we need to use archive lighting that will not fade them, or deteriorate their condition. We also need to use heavy metal- based cabinets with toughened glass to protect the objects from being touched (which would damage them) or stolen. The cabinet acts as a deterant through making the things it contains seem precious and valuable. It also helps differentiate visually between archive objects and artworks.

There are access issues to think about in the space. With the two large metal- based display cabinets coming on loan from the Newham Archive we not only need to think about the objects they contain being in proximity to the artworks they relate to, but whether they restrict the movement of people in and around the space- especially wheelchair users or people with buggies. This is particularly important as the objects they contain are so valuable we need to avoid any possible damage through the cabinets being knocked into.

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Mathew, Felicity, Lizzie and Rosamond, artwork © Ben Washington

As well as movement in the space we need to consider the pace of movement through the space and how the placement of information interrupts this. This will affect things like where the film is placed and whether the volume is up or headphones are used. Amongst artists and curators there is an ongoing debate about how much textual information visitors should be given, and whether this should be on the walls of an exhibition alongside artworks. We all have a tendency to give text information priority over their aesthetic intelligence and it is often this instinctive visual or emotional response artists aim to elicit. For Made in Bow the issue has been resolved through creating a leaflet which visitors will pick up detailing information on why objects were selected and how artworks were made.

We need to think about the visual effect of the height of different displays- Lizzie has three different levels of plinths for her sculptures, the cabinets from the archive are two differents sizes, shapes and heights and we will also show Mathew’s sculpture on a plinth which has much larger proportions than Lizzie’s. These elements need to be placed so that they work together without creating a visual jumble.

We also need to consider invigilators in the space as they have an important role in interacting with visitors and therefore make a huge difference to their experience of the space, and the safety of the exhibits. For the exhibition previous to Made in Bow the artist had created sculptural seating for the invigilators- so that they became part of the structure of the artwork. For Made in Bow we need to plan where the invigilators will be based and what furniture will be used. Would this furniture integrate into, or make itself distinct from the content of the exhibition?

So… these are just a few of the many consderations, and the beginning of a conversation which will be carried on over the course of the next week in preparation for the opening of the Made in Bow exhibition. If you want to see how these issues were resolved, and experience for yourself the overall effect the conversation between artwork and artefacts creates in the space then come along to the Nunnery on Thursday May 16 from 6pm. After this the exhibition will be open from Friday May 17 to Thursday July 25, 2013. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 5pm.

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