Emily and Jade review recent exhibitions located at opposite ends of the UK.
A review by Emily
Sage Gateshead, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and the Great North Museum.
Before meeting my Geordie other half Chris 8 years ago, the North East of England was an area unknown to me. My associations were limited to Byker Grove, Ant n Dec, the voice of Big Brother and cool kid Lauren Laverne. I am now thankful to have many friends and family in that area, north of the wall. We regularly exchange ‘north/south’ banter, revel in comparisons and laugh about the divide. But what I especially admire is their sense of community and passion for their history, heritage and cultural landscape. So I was very excited in August to visit the Great Exhibition of the North to find out more.
From my work with our client The Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, I fully understand the challenge of limited funding and the need to achieve so much with it, as well as ensuring inclusivity so everyone has the opportunity to engage with art and culture. I was especially keen to see how this exhibition overcame these challenges.
Great Exhibition of the North was free to all and billed as a ‘celebration of the North of England’s pioneering spirit’, and it certainly lived up to this claim. There were three main hubs throughout the city, enabling visitors to have a start point and follow a trail if they wanted. I was impressed by the signposting and accompanying literature – it was bright and informative, without being overwhelming.
With only a day to explore, we focussed our efforts on the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, but this only scratched the surface. The exhibition was truly great and included events, performances, installations and art collections – celebrating the area’s established artists as well as promoting up-and-coming talent.
We had a great day and I found it surprisingly moving. The exhibits successfully conveyed stories and feelings that resonated with all its audiences, especially with the members of my group that were local to the area. I felt a whole host of emotions, frustrated at my ignorance on some things and enlightened by new perspectives, but I always have found the collective experience of art emotional. All walks of life grounded to neutral as subjectivity and personal perceptions are embraced.
There was so much to take away, but here are a few things that resonated with me from an audience experience perspective:
Don’t fear interpretation
While individual perceptions and imaginative leaps are an important part of the experience, having context of the artist and their interpretation of the work really helps to heighten the experience. It feels inclusive and welcoming. You will always have your own perceptions, but I felt excited and encouraged by the invitation to push myself further and think differently, to consider the exhibition from different angles, both physically and mentally.
Make funding part of the story
Inevitably it can be a difficult balance to strike. You want to be accessible to a wide spectrum of the audience and feel inclusive, regardless of income. The visit to the Baltic is free for the period of this exhibition, there is an entry fee for other times of the year and watching the breadth of people I encountered on my visit, it made me wonder if this would have been a different scenario had it been a paid for event.
At the end of the exhibition, there was a simple infographic spanning over two walls, it communicated the range of areas where funding helps the Baltic continue its work. I liked that it didn’t focus on just one aspect – it covered conservation, outreach programmes, and education. Being at the end of my visit was a particularly savvy move as I was able to contextualise the value having just experienced the exhibition and it left me reflecting on how all these small aspects add up to successfully achieving the bigger picture.
All the way around the exhibition there was free water and clear directions to the toilets and the cafe. Walking an exhibition can be an endurance test for some. You are mentally and physically engaged all day – water at regular intervals encourages you to take a break, keep hydrated and enjoy your experience. Don’t get me started on the importance of good coffee and cake – extending the welcome for people to relax and enjoy their experience, and getting hospitality right, will be reason enough in itself to keep people coming back for more.
A review by Jade
V&A Museum, London
Any opportunity I get to visit a new exhibition anywhere in the country I grab it. I love exploring a carefully curated space where my imagination can soar and I’m free to wander, learning about something new.
On a recent visit to London, I did some research and there were so many exciting new exhibitions to explore. One that caught my eye was ‘The Future Starts Here’ at the V&A. A collection of 100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow, covering everything from artificial intelligence to internet culture.
The exhibition posed several questions about the future ‘We are all connected, but are we still lonely?’, ‘Should the planet be a design project?’, and ‘Who wants to live forever?’ to name a few. It made me realise that the pace of everyday life means that I don’t often think in great detail about what the future holds, but this exhibition gave me the inspiration to think about what it could be like.
The thought-provoking exhibition ended with the perfect summary, an opportunity to share what you thought the future is. Is it scary? Exciting? Intriguing? Or something else? It was really interesting to take part in the survey to find out if you’re an ‘all-round optimist’ or a ‘well-informed worrier’. Looking at the live results it seems most people feel positive about what the future holds.
There were so many elements that I thought stood out, but here are some of the main things I took from this exhibition:
Encourage interaction at as many touch points as possible. Not everyone will join in, we all like to learn and explore in different ways, but it’s always great to see people getting involved. Whether it’s lying on the floor watching a film on the ceiling, posing for a photo, getting inside a driverless car – most people enjoy taking part in one way or another.
Experience for the senses
The background music and lighting in this exhibition were key to the atmosphere. Sometimes it’s these small things that really influence how immersive the experience is.
Reinforce key messages
On the way out of the exhibition, all of the key questions were printed on the stairs. Just a really small thing, but I think it was a great way to reinforce key messages covered.
If you’re in London I’d really recommend a visit, it’s on until the 4th November.