Newtown Mountain – curating an Exhibition

Exhibition theme: I first started researching the abandoned squatters’ village on Ruabon Mountain in the second year of my BA Fine Art at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design (www.biad.bcu.ac.uk), taking photographs and printmaking. I continued to visit the site, and its  ruins of tiny houses built by economic migrants and ‘marginalised’ people, home now only to quail and buzzards, sleeping out there in the Summer and so on. I made a video (which sits alongside my previous themes, eg ‘Reading Agatha Christie’ 2007 , made with Iraqi Kurds), about ‘difference’, migration and our feelings about the ‘natural’ environment (see video ‘Lle y dan ni, Artur? 2008 below in this blog). I invited three local artists (see below in blog) to visit the site and make work in response to it and to the available gallery space. When I had a sense of all the final pieces, I made a sound piece (‘I live Here’ 2008 see below in this blog) which played throughout the space, hoping it would push viewers towards reflecting on the common theme of the show; not just a response to ‘place’ but to the ideas of ‘place’, belonging, difference, home, migration.

The Venue: In May 2008 I started work at Glyndwr University School of Art in Wrexham, North Wales (http://www.newi.ac.uk/en/Academicschools/ArtandDesign/). I looked for the opportunity to curate an exhibition, which I had only done before with help (from ‘Colony’ artist Mona Casey (see Colony (art gallery) Wikepedia) as coordinating artist for a community arts show ‘Inside/Outside’ at Bantock House, Wolverhampton Art Gallery (http://www.theasiantoday.com/article.aspx?articleID=65). Exhibitions officer Jonathon Gammond of Wrexham Museum (see below in this blog) agreed to support an art show (for the first time) with generous ‘in kind’ support and a small room containing three immoveable , lit glazed plinths, a TV monitor and stand, chairs and white wall space. The quid pro quo was that the show might attract ‘new audiences’ to the museum. Therefore the work produced by myself and three local artists was partly in response to the theme, and partly site specific to this room. I chose this small, local museum because the exhibition theme worked with it; and because part of the artwork was an invite to visitors to add their own ‘collections’ to the show – echoing the provenance of donated museum exhibits.

Curation: I wanted to make a show that was accessible to the museum-going public (ie met their initial expectations) but also challenged their expectations and provoked thought. I expected that most visitors would be local, so the issue of local history and current migration would be live to them. It was important that the voices heard on the sound piece from the door of the gallery were familiar – traditionally local (Welsh and English) – as well as ‘foreign’ – and the names of well-known local places, housing estates, hills etc could be heard.

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