In the first of our Establish member blog posts for the 2020/21 WebinArt programme, our establish consultant Ruth Singer has asked four members to write their own questions to ask their partner, about their exhibition practice. The answers are fascinating, personal and insightful about the complexities of an exhibition work across different types of artist practice.
WebinArt is Creative Leicestershire's year-long professional development programme for creative businesses. Our Establish members are experienced in the industry and benefit from supportive peer mentoring alongside a whole host of live online events and resources.
Click here to find out more about the WebinArt Programme. WebinArt 2020/21 is generously + kindly subsidised by our funding partners - Leicestershire County Council, Arts Council England, Derbyshire County Council, Hinckley + Bosworth Borough Council, North West Leicestershire District Council, Blaby District Council + Rutland County Council.
Michaela McMillan interviewed by Christine Thomas
1. Which exhibition have you been most proud of and why?
I collaborated with ceramicist Kate McBride in 2017 to create a collection for a 10 year anniversary show of Design Factory (now Design Nation) called Synchronise II. We based it around the contents of National Trust property Calke Abbey, and created a 100 strong collection of falling apart animals fleeing from the owners’ taxidermy obsession through the underground tunnel into the Derbyshire countryside. The collection sold, and we ended up creating 4 new collections. I loved collaborating, working with Kate, the pieces themselves and the success of the collection.
2. Do you have a particular piece of artwork you have a deep emotional connection to, what is it and could you like to explain the context, why you chose the piece?
In 2018 I was selected for a commission to respond to 2 exhibitions, one was a social history display about music on my local town, and the other was a touring exhibition called What Do I Need To Do To Make It Ok? It was about damage and repair, disease and medicine, healing and restoration, to landscapes, bodies, minds and objects.
I created an installation called Hanging MixTape - which was a circle of hanging c(h)ords from the ceiling with hundreds of illustrated lyrics attached to them. The lyrics were all lines my younger sister and I would sing, or send to each other as mixtapes, or as text messages, when we were apart form each other. This all happened when she was in the final stages of lung cancer in Holland where she lived, and she died before the piece was finished. It helped me process a lot of grief, kept me busy when I didn't really know how to function, and she had helped me collate many of the lyrics.
3. If you could have an exhibition anywhere in the world and in any gallery/alternative of any size or kudos, where would it be and why chose this space?
There's loads of places I'd love to show - Places like - the V&A, The RA Summer Show, Flow Gallery, The Harley Gallery, COLLECT, etc that have showed work by people I admire, or am inspired by, so I would feel privileged to show in the same space. But I'd equally love to have an exhibition in a zoo, botanical gardens, or with a collection at a museum inspired by the environment and bringing a new perspective to the setting.
You can see more of Michaela's work here -
Stevie Davies interviewed by Lisa Timmerman
1. Have you had solo exhibitions and if so, when and where did the first one take place and how did it come about?
I tend to take part in group shows or organise exhibitions with numerous artists, so it can be quite daunting filling a whole space by yourself. Having said that, I do like a challenge and the idea of creating a large body of work. There is an exhibition space at Banks Mill in Derby, where my studio is currently based. I used the space for a solo exhibition in 2016 for an exhibition which saw the start of the Surface Details Project.
2. When you exhibit now, are you aware of visitor numbers? Is any part of your exhibition interactive so that you’re able to collect email addresses or get feedback from your visitors?
When sending work off to a gallery you are never sure of what the reaction to the works, you rely solely on the venue for any feedback. I enjoy the face to face interactions that short exhibitions, manned by myself, or Meet the Maker events during a show. The Surface Details Project is based on encouraging others to take time to appreciate the little things in our surroundings, with a focus on simple drawing techniques which promote wellbeing through the arts. The touring exhibition has a number of opportunities for visitors to get involved, onsite interventions and prompts to do a drawing and leave it on show as well as tagging and using the #SurfaceDetailsProject with any social media posts.
3. Which has been your favourite venue to exhibit in and why?
My all time favourite space to show my work is actually my studio, at the Derbyshire Open Arts in May and the Banks Mill Open Studios event in November. The familiar space, my happy place, along with the relaxed atmosphere and friendly visitors seems to lend itself to really nice conversations and making great connections.
You can see more of Stevie's work here -
Christine THOMAS interviewed by Stevie Davies
When showing your work to the public, do you have set display techniques or requirements?
I work with different materials and media so each project I work on is different. I’m moving towards more installation work with some moving image which incorporates my textiles, so each body of work has its own requirements. I'd like to work with a curator in the future to explore different ways of displaying my work.
As artists we know our work like the back of our hand but often we send it off to a gallery/curator and hope... have you had any interesting experiences that you can share along with any lessons learnt from it?
The main things I’ve learnt is to visit the space beforehand if you can to see how your work fits into the space. Ask lots of questions. Ensure you know who is installing and de-installing the work. I once turned up to collect my work and it had been unceremoniously dumped in the corner of the gallery, even though I had said I would be there to take it down.
Often as artists and makers, our exhibitions are mainly in white walled rooms, have you got any alternative ideas you'd like to share, even as a hypothetical?
I like to explore alternative settings, I was due to exhibit my work in a house in a very rural setting in North Wales just as lockdown hit us so this was postponed. I was really excited about this exhibition, as it was an opportunity to work with a group of artists to take over a whole house that is being renovated. It was also in an area that I grew up so had a lot of memories attached. I don’t feel I’m restricted to the white cube and am always interested in alternative settings and open to suggestions.
You can see more of Christine's work here -
Lisa Timmerman interviewed by Michaela McMillan
Past - What has been one of the biggest lessons you have learnt in your career as an artist?
My biggest lesson learnt so far is to pay attention to the detail and the small print.
There have been at least 2 occasions when I have happily gone along, trustingly, with other people’s ideas to exhibit because they persuaded me that they ‘loved’ my work, only to realise later that I was being used for their own agendas and they didn’t have my best interests at heart. Not a complete waste of time as I learnt lots but in retrospect I was too flattered by the attention to realise I was being used.
Present - How has lockdown affected the way you work, or what discoveries have you made about your work during lockdown?
I’ve worked harder than ever during lockdown, painting oil portraits for NHS key workers for free. It’s taken me 3 days to paint each one and I’ve done 10 over the last 8 weeks. It has been an incredibly moving experience that I’ll never forget.
Obviously, I normally seek publicity for my work but with this project I really didn’t, I was just overwhelmed by the stories from the amazing people I was painting. Ironically, I was contacted by the BBC who saw my work on Instagram, interviewed me over FaceTime in my studio & put me on East Midlands news, the radio & BBC website so it’s been a bizarre and surreal lockdown for me. Before lockdown I wasn’t bothered about doing portraits and had just had a large solo exhibition in Leicester of ‘nature’ & interior themed work. Since lockdown my work has changed direction and I have been given lots of portrait commissions.
Sales of my other work has picked up too through the artist support pledge. It’s been an extraordinary time which has allowed me to put all of my emotions into being really productive.
Future - What are you working towards - or what goals do you have for the next 3 years?
Before lockdown my goal was to be supplying my work to 5 UK well-established galleries to sell it for me so I could do lots of painting and not have to be doing the selling. I would still like to be in that position If the galleries make it through these turbulent times. I’ve worked with 5 galleries in the past but 3 have gone bust (2 of those were new galleries) , one I couldn’t get a good relationship with so I’m down to one and he’s fairly new to it. So I’m a way off achieving my goal but that is still what I’d like to achieve ultimately. Since lockdown though I have also started to consider other ways of achieving an income stream without using galleries if that’s not possible. Selling online courses has big potential as I was already teaching two days a week from my studio but at the moment creating the online content feels like a huge task which may take me away from what I’m really trying to achieve, so I’m still trying to work out the best way to move forward.
You can see more of Lisa's work here -