As our lives were disrupted by lockdown many adapted how they work, create and engage with others. Degard FRSA and an artist-painter shares her experience of becoming an online curator during lockdown.
As we all remember, the pandemonium of lockdown in the UK began in late March with the ubiquitous message from the government that we must all Stay Home, at which point we realised that our plans at least for the next three months of 2020 would need rapid revision. For me, this included an exhibition, to be called Quintessence of Consciousness, which I was about to hang in the Royal College of Art (RCA) Galleries in Kensington Gore. That clearly would not be happening.
The show had been planned for nearly a year and art works were about to be transported from Mexico, France, US and around the UK. The exhibition was set to launch a new genre of contemporary visionary art and the aim was to collaborate with other like-minded artists.
However, the Prime Minister’s lockdown instruction changed all of that. Innovative thinking and technology were required to ensure the show could go on in the virtual world at least. I quickly decided the show should exist as a virtual reality event. And by sheer magical chance on the day after lockdown was announced, I alighted late at night on a company, VRPM, which specialised in creating virtual shows, which meant we could ‘virtualise’ the Quintessence of Consciousness show.
Whilst total lockdown loomed the company photographed in exquisite detail every centimetre of the RCA Galleries using a Matterport 360-degree camera and 3D modelling software, and editing.
But I still had to curate the entire show in my mind before I could brief them properly. This is a very different experience. The ‘real’ world has its own constrictions: size, effort, money, people power and of course environmental considerations. With an exhibition, size, logistics, improvement of an exhibition space, invites, parties, attendance all have a huge impact on the planet. Art fairs are seriously being scrutinised for their environmental impact as thousands of art lovers fly from Basel to Hong Kong, over to Miami and then back to Europe every year. The transportation of often very expensive and fragile art, as well as exhibition materials, is not only very expensive for all involved but comes with a massive carbon load on the planet.
By contrast, my emerging virtual exhibition had none of these problems and lifted the lid on some otherwise impossible viewing experiences. Banners can be sized into ceiling recesses. Small, easily portable paintings can be made the size of the entire room and sunlight, which would have gently flowed in, could be engineered to take metres of space on super fancy screens (well beyond my ‘real’ budget). Fragile items, which would have been nightmarish to handle, become an image easily placed and moved. Not a frame, drill or fixing to be seen anywhere even for the work we mounted on the virtual ceiling.
Obviously one misses out on the real touch and look of the event. Some felt they could not get close enough to the work and analysing the brush strokes may have been a little trickier without viewing the show on a sophisticated monitor. The show is affected by such things as which browser and gadget you choose to see the show on. I even had one person trying to view the show on an eReader; surely not the best device for viewing paintings?
In terms of financial support, the show provided a way for all the artists showing to have their price lists on display and to even complete online sales of their work directly from viewing the work.
An idea which arrived after Quintessence of Consciousness began is called Artist’s Pledge. The idea is that each artist signed up to the pledge who has sold £1000 worth of work then purchases another artist’s work. All works are priced at £200. This was another great adaptation to the usually expensive prices of art, making pieces more affordable for all, all showable and sellable online.
The show was a huge success. People really loved it. It provided a great relief to the constant haranguing of news stories. I had multiple emails with congratulations and even a few Zoom sessions confirming people had fun in the virtual talks as well as bombing around the virtual space. I would like to think we brought both hope and fun into people’s anxious lives during the first weeks of lockdown.
The other benefit of an online show is that it remains live for as long as we choose it to stay online. As a result, I have been able to show it to a number of people to gain further credence. Quintessence of Consciousness has also assisted me in securing a place to study for a PhD starting at the end of this summer.
There has been a lot of innovation in the gallery sector with many galleries going digital. Without boasting, I think we were the first out of the blocks to use virtual reality to show art in lockdown. However, the approach was quickly replicated (with much larger digital budgets) by some of the major galleries.
It is certainly true that in lockdown the entrepreneurial spirit has come to the fore, including concerts on balconies. As Michael McIntyre describes in one of his sketches “every meeting starts with ‘Can you hear me…I can’t see you…the button is down in the bottom left…yes there…’’’. Meanwhile, manufacturers have retooled whole factories to make ventilators instead of vacuum cleaners or car parts. If nothing else, these times have shown how resourceful we can be; mental agility is the key.
You can see the show, which will be available forever from around the globe. Degard is a graduate of the Royal College of Art. She has become an online curator and in the real world, writes and has been hosting the well attended, ‘Art with…‘ series of talks at Rawthmells at the RSA House over the past year. She is working with other Fellows to bring art more centre stage at the RSA.