Turner Prize 2017

As Hull’s year as UK City of Culture comes to an end, I finally visited the Turner Prize exhibition at the Ferens Gallery. How good to see this in Hull, where the large galleries provided the space needed for all artists’ large works, whether two or three dimensional.

Each artist was given their own gallery, so there was no confusing the different prize nominees.

There were loads of visitors, even on a freezing Monday.

Andrea Buttner’s work, accompanied by the display about the life and work of Simone Weil, reminded me about The Tetley’s practice of linking contemporary artists’ work with archives or collections.


Liberating Culture / State Fair

Liberating CultureJust been reading Liberating Culture: Cross-cultural perspectives on museums, curation and heritage preservation by Christine Kreps (2003). It is excellent in showing that curation is not the preserve of Western museums but is an activity that indigenous communities carry out. In a number of examples Kreps shows how different indigenous populations collect, store, preserve and display objects. She makes a case for transforming professional museum practice, recognising that this is already happening with positive results for everyone involved.

I was interested in the idea of heirloom-type property, such as the pusaka of the Dayak people in Indonesia (Kreps, 2003, p.36, pp.50-56) as this was so recognisable in the heirlooms, which might or might not have high monetary value, handed down through families in many other cultures. I wondered what heirlooms I had of my own? Not many: grandma’s wedding ring (worn all the time); dad’s watch (doesn’t work); some old photos.  None of these are particularly well cared for, perhaps I’m not so good at curating after all!

Kreps writes about the importance of communities being in control of their cultural heritage in non-Western countries, but perhaps this could be broadened to include a range of communities, taking a bottom-up approach to keeping their culture alive.

“Of critical concern is how people in varying national and cultural contexts are gaining greater control over the protection and management of their cultural heritage.” (Kreps, 2003, p. 144)

I was reminded of other (albeit Western) examples of communities curating their culture and heritage, while keeping it relevant to the community and updating practices to reflect contemporary interests. State Fairs in the United States, as well as being a showcase of the best livestock and crops, have extensive art and craft displays. Prizes are given in many categories, taking in quilting and other needlecrafts, wood- and metalwork, fine arts and photography by all age groups and more specialised activities. Digital expertise, contemporary music and dance and other modern arts are recognised and celebrated. On the other hand, heirlooms and other personal mementoes, such as vintage toys, garments handed down through generations and old photographs, are also on display and in competition. These displays of personal items form a temporary museum during the life of the fair, and was a popular area of Kentucky’s State fair in august 2017 when I visited.

Texas State fair
Needlework entries at Texas State Fair
The Kentucky State Fair says that you can

“learn about the unique story each county has to tell through exhibits and items ranging from historic objects and crafts to local treasures” (Kentucky State Fair, 2017).

The Minnesota State Fair, in common with many other of these huge scale events, has the support of professional curators (Legge, 2017). This could be an example of what Kreps calls “hybridisation”! (2003, p. 153).

Of course I say this tongue in cheek, as I think it would be wrong to say that State Fairs have been marginalised or undervalued in the same ways as many indigenous people’s cultures. Of course, they stand in stark contrast to expressions of Native American culture.  But these examples show how diverse communities across the globe have similar aspirations for keeping their traditions and cultures alive and face similar challenges.  As Kreps argues, we must not think that indigenous peoples are any different in these respects.



Kentucky State Fair (2017) Pride of the Counties. Available at  http://www.kystatefair.org/prideOfTheCounties.html (Accessed: 10 October 2017)

Kreps, C. (2003) Liberating Culture: Cross-cultural perspectives on museums, curation, and heritage preservation. London: Routledge.

Legge, L. (2017) ‘Piles of pickles, quilts, woodcarvings are shown at the Fair. This guy wrangles it all.’  Twin Cities.com Pioneer Press, 26 August 2017. Available at  http://www.twincities.com/2017/08/26/minnesota-state-fair-creative-activities-quilts-building-who-wrangles-it/ (Accessed: 10 October 2017).

Out of fashion

I’m having second thoughts about focusing my first essay on curating fashion or garments. I’d need more time to do an important part of the research (and the part that possibly interests me most) which would involve surveying / interviewing people who have donated or lent items of clothing.

Also, the field has probably been done to death, with specific courses on fashion curation, including an MA at the London College of Fashion (University of the Arts London, 2017), and associations and societies galore e.g. The Costume Society, divisions of regional and national Museum Associations.

The brief for the essay includes having a local slant as well as showing an understanding of historical contexts of curation. Fashion curating is interesting as it is a relatively recent discipline:

“For many years garments were only acquired if they were made of significant textiles, as fashion had a low status within the decorative arts.”

“The history of dress figured nowhere in the hierarchy of arts when the Museum was founded. It was not until well into the 20th century that the discipline of dress studies became firmly established and not until 1957 that the first curator for fashion was appointed.”  (Victoria & Albert Museum, 2017)

“The Gallery of Costume was founded in 1947 when Manchester acquired the large private collection of costume which Drs Willet and Phillis Cunnington had amassed during the 1930s, and which concentrate d on middling and ordinary dress.” Manchester Art Gallery 2017).

“Lotherton Hall has been displaying fashion since its early days of being a museum in 1968, showing fine examples of both historic and more contemporary fashions. In the late 1960s it was decided to build on the collection by acquiring more contemporary British designs and fashions.” (Leeds City Council, 2014).

As well as Lotherton Hall, there are several costume archives / collections and museums in Yorkshire e.g.

York Museums Trust https://www.yorkmuseumstrust.org.uk/collections/search/?CL[0]=Costume%20and%20Textiles

M&S Company Archive https://marksintime.marksandspencer.com/home

Yorkshire Fashion Archive, University of Leeds http://www.yorkshirefashionarchive.org/

While the subject speaks to my textiles background and interest, I don’t feel I’ve got enough time to put my own stamp on it. No worries, I’ll work on other ideas…



Leeds City Council (2014) Lotherton Hall set to become home of new Fashion Galleries. Available at http://www.leeds.gov.uk/news/Pages/Lotherton-Hall-set-to-become-home-of-new-Fashion-Galleries-.aspx (Accessed: 9 October 2017).

Manchester Art Gallery (2017) Costume. Available at  http://manchesterartgallery.org/collections/our-collections/costume/ (Accessed: 9 October 2017).

University of the Arts London (2017) MA Fashion Curation. Available at http://www.arts.ac.uk/fashion/courses/postgraduate/ma-fashion-curation/ (Accessed: 9 October 2017).

Victoria & Albert Museum (2017) Furniture, Textiles and Fashion Department. Available at http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/furniture,-textiles-and-fashion/ (Accessed: 9 October 2017).

New North and South

The last couple of weeks we’ve been learning about the origins of curating, collecting and museums. I’m interested in how modern museums, galleries and other arts organisations are critically questioning or rejecting their eurocentric legacy and focus.  Many are committed to presenting a diverse range of work that challenges or casts new light on collections, and to showing new work created from a range of experiences and perspectives.

The New North and South is a network of 11 arts organisations in the North of England and South Asia (Whitworth Art Gallery, 2017). The Tetley in Leeds is part of the network.

There are some wonderful exhibitions over in Manchester too, as the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery are members of the network. I had time to pop into the latter after protesting outside the Tory party conference last week with Disabled People Against Cuts! How handy that the gallery was so close, it was great to be inspired by many of the works. Some highlights for me:

Waqas Khan

Beautiful, immersive, mind-boggling drawings made up of millions of tiny dots and pen strokes. In a dimly-lit room you have to get up close to see the patterns created, particularly in smaller works (Waqas Khan, 2017). Then I found myself drawn in even closer, wanting to see every separate mark and to really appreciate Khan’s dedication and technique. For the artist there is a meditative and spiritual foundation to his work. I certainly thought that these drawings reflected the wonder of nature and science, evoking microscopic forms as well as the vastness of the universe. Phew!


South Asian Design

Some of the best of contemporary design and craft, alongside objects from Manchester Art Gallery’s collection spanning the last three centuries, were shown in South Asian Design (2017). The screens by Adeela Suleman pictured at the top of this post, entitled After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies (2010), being a good example.

The bright shining steel and flocks of sparrows look so attractive and innocent, but the birds serve as symbols for the countless victims of gangland and politically motivated killings in Karachi, where Suleman is based.

I found this powerful message was underscored by the delicacy of the design and indeed by other items in this gallery, which included several gorgeous garments.



Hetain Patel

I enjoyed both moving image works by Patel that were on show in Manchester (Hetain Patel, 2017), but Don’t Look At The Finger (still image above) was so complex and unexpected, it made a strong impression. Hard to categorise, it’s a mash up of cultural references, styles and unspoken languages that adds up to something highly intriguing. It invites a myriad of questions: Where and when is this set? Who are these people? How has this ritual developed? It grabbed my attention at first with some effective use of sign language, but the staging, choreography and particularly the costumes had me hooked. I was even more impressed after I’d watched the series of behind-the-scenes interviews with Patel and the main collaborators.



Thinking about the curation of these exhibits:

  • Individual artists were assigned different exhibition or installation titles and listings. They were part of an overall project, the New North and South, but were not grouped as one exhibition. Each therefore was given space and attention and, I feel, made more of an impact.
  • Old and contemporary items were shown together in the design exhibition. This showed the vibrancy of all designs and clearly illustrated design traditions, whether these were upheld or subverted by contemporary designers.
  • It was really helpful to be able to view behind-the-scenes filmed interviews – they added to my understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the work.
  • The installations and exhibitions were in different parts of the gallery. So it felt like a takeover was going on and it was great that these works filled much of the gallery. However, it was easy to lose track of where everything was and perhaps not see it all.



Hetain Patel (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 30 September 2017 – 4 February 2018.

South Asian Design (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 19 May 2017 – 27 May 2018.

Suleman, A. (2010) After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies [Installation]. In South Asian Design (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 19 May 2017 – 27 May 2018.

Waqas Khan (2017) [Exhibition]. Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester. 30 September 2017 – 25 February 2018.

Whitworth Art Gallery (2017) New North and South. Available at  http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/whats-on/events/newnorthandsouth/about-the-programme/ (Accessed: 8 October 2017).


Encounters with sound art

One of our first briefs on the MA is a collaborative curatorial project, with a broad theme of Sound.

If you’d have asked me a couple of years ago, I’d have said I didn’t “get” sound art. More recently I’ve seen / heard more sound artworks and gained a greater appreciation. I’ve found many to be evocative, moving or amusing! But particularly moving. Sound is immediate in engaging emotions and memories. Many pieces also have a strong visual element, often with film. I’m including audio-visual artworks, where the work sound is a (or the) prominent element.

I’m interested in work that presents visual representations of sound and in ways of making audio work accessible to deaf and hearing impaired people, whether via transcripts or more creative means.

Sound art I’ve experienced recently



12 Sound Artists Changing Your Perception of Art on ArtsNet

With a possible trip to Berlin on the horizon, we find that the city is at the forefront of sound art experimentation.