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UCL Culture Blog


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Unlocking the Museum’s Vaults

By Martine Rouleau, on 27 September 2016

Unlocking the Museum’s Vaults


Image: Kara Chin

After 6 years of curating a collaborative group exhibition with the Slade School of Art, UCL Art Museum has launched its first artists’ residency. This summer, we invited 4 Slade artists to delve into the collections, to mine the staff for information and to produce new work in response to their experience. The resulting exhibition and series of public programmes, entitled Vault, is now on show at the museum until December 2016.

The artists who have taken residency in the museum in the run up to the autumn term are Kara Chin, BA Painting; Naomi Fitzsimmons, MA Fine Art; David Blackmore, MA Fine Art and Harriet Midson, BA Media. We are delighted that our artists in residence are at very different stages of their education and have varied artistic practices. Working with the medium of performance, Naomi is revisiting Wyndham Lewis’s BLAST manifesto via her interest in corporate aesthetic and political rhetoric. Kara has produced paintings with kinetic elements calling attention to the unseen, as embodied by the very nature of the museum’s stored collection. David’s research on Countess Constance Markievicz, a former Slade student who was an influential figure of the Irish revolution and Irish suffrage, also engages with the unseen by making her conspicuous absence from UCL visible with sculptures and archival material that will inhabit the library, the art museum and the Slade’s Materials Museum. During her residency, Harriet’s focus was on the suffering body in performance as depicted by Cranach the Elder’s prints of tortured saints.

Of the past collaborations, we’ve kept the focus on giving the artists unparalleled opportunities to develop their practice, to contribute to an exhibition and to work with a museum collection and with experienced museum staff in the process. The participants can learn a lot about working in the institutional context by getting involved with all aspects of creating an exhibition, from selecting a title to engaging with visitors. So many fascinating discoveries were made during the residency that the exhibition includes a special display box dedicated to rarely seen material From the Vault. It will feature a bi-weekly rotation of displays selected by guest curators. Here you will have a chance to see the remarkable works that inspired our current Slade artists in residence, plus rare objects curated by the wider UCL community. Also on display will be some of the treasures discovered by UCL Museum Studies students requiring research and conservation. Some objects will be out as proposals for further research, as still requiring detective work to establish a broad range of missing information, from authenticity to basic purpose.

The number of artists we worked with changed drastically this year. In the past, we have had up 18 artists contributing to a single exhibition, with up to 60 participating in the initial research phase. So far, more 300 Slade students and graduates have engaged with the collaboration. This year, we initially worked with 4 artists in residence with 3 of them contributing to the final exhibitions and public programmes. This change in the nature of our collaboration with the Slade has given us a chance to work more closely with the artists over a longer period of time. We have been lucky to get to know them better and we hope that the artists have developed a sense of ownership of the collection and of the museum itself that will last beyond the duration of the exhibition.

Over the past 5 months, the artists have benefited from extended use of studio space in the Slade. They contributed talks and studio visits in the context of the Slade Summer School supported by lecturer Sandra Smith. This was an invaluable chance for them to present work in progress and to exchange with artists at different stages of their training. They were supported throughout the whole process by their tutors Jon Thomson and Kate Bright who have been an integral part of the collaboration for many years.

On top of working with their tutors and the museum’s staff, the artists have established links with academics and staff from other UCL departments and other universities. Kara will be introduce a screening of the Japanese animé Magnetic Rose in conversation with Dr Martin Austwick from the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis on the evening of the 4th of October . Naomi will discuss the first ever performance of Wyndham Lewis’s Enemy to the Stars with Dr Nicholas Johnson, Assistant Professor of Drama at Trinity College Dublin, on the 10th of November at 1pm. David will be talk about art and militancy with Dr Martin Lang from the University of Lincoln on the 11th of November at 1pm.

We encourage you to return to the exhibition and to participate in this changing discovery of what may be found in a locked vault when you go looking.

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