“Who would try to put together an art and poetry exhibition in 2020?!”
Written by Lisa Johnston (About Face Curator)
The Brilliant ‘About Face’ Exhibition came to the Orangery in November 2020…. In their own words, read all about how the experience went !
Who would try to put together an art and poetry exhibition in 2020?! Especially as this was the first time I had thought of putting an exhibition together. When I first started to think about the idea of About Face I had no idea that Covid would make this such a challenging project. I soon learned to take the opportunity when it presented itself and to be prepared for changes to happen at the last minute. And what a rollercoaster ride it turned out to be.
This whole project started from an online discussion group to explore the topic of the human face. It was a place for poets and artists to share thoughts and ideas. The human face was used as a starting point as it is something we are all familiar with but could be interpreted in many different ways. During lockdown it was something we could all access and connected us through its exploration.
The About Face group members were free to interpret the theme however they wished and through discussion the topics within the theme were extended beyond emotions and facial expressions to debating conditions that might cause trouble processing or displaying emotions. Further topics were suggested such as; facial surgery, age, gender and identity. Questions were posed such as “Does your face link you to your heritage? Do you not know your history and wonder who you look like? Does a face conjure up a memory, a feeling or a story?”
The About Face exhibition was then put together to explore the topic of the human face through these multidisciplinary responses. Each response was completely unique and explored the theme from a different perspective offering its own individual story. It was not a static exhibition but asked the visitor to interact with it through written, visual and auditory stimuli.
From the group of 120 members, 20 pieces of artwork and 25 pieces of poetry were chosen to be exhibited along with a short film put together by Jonathon Watkiss from video and audio submissions. With everything framed and ready to install the next day I sat and watched a special news briefing with the prime minister saying that Staffordshire would be
put into lockdown the day after the exhibition opened.
It was at the time just the worst possible news. But we had one day so we decided to take it and what a great decision that was. So from the depths of despair to we’re going to do this anyway the exhibition was installed over the weekend with help from Kathleen Fabre. As The Orangery is a listed building we were unable to attach anything directly to the walls, so not only did we have an impending lockdown we weren’t allowed to hang anything from a wall fixing. Luckily I had Kathleen by my side who is experienced with difficult installations and just smiled and said it wouldn’t be a problem.
The Orangery has its original fixings that would have been used to attach plants to the wall and we were fortunate that a high level hanging wire had been installed from these for a previous exhibition. The original fixings do pose a problem with the spacing of artwork as they determine where you are able to hang and of course the walls are not level. But this amazing building rewards you with light and space and idyllic surroundings. So with just a pair of scissors, spool of fishing wire and a set of step ladders Kathleen, the human spirit level, installed the exhibition. It was amazing to see it come to life and it just looked fantastic.
The variety of 3D and 2D artwork, the many different mediums used and the inclusion of audio and video made it a complete sensory experience. We felt happy that we had given the poets and artists involved the very best outcome for their work.
Opening day was an amazing day. We had a great turn out from local people, those involved in the project and others that were intrigued by the project. It was great to be able to talk to all the people that came to view the exhibition and hear their thoughts. We explained how it was a completely hung exhibition and people were amazed to be shown the technique used.
The positive feedback from all the visitors dulled the blow that is was only open for that one day.
Check out the Exhibitions Facebook page below!