MA Curatorial Practice student, Rachel Jones met with milk to discuss her work as a curator, using it as an artistic way of promoting sustainability and how she intends to make her mark within the field.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little more about yourself and what course you are studying.
I am a mature student with a career background in management and business, and an academic background in art. I am a mother to two boys; seven and ten, I live near Cardiff and I am currently on the Curatorial Practice MA full time at BSU.
Why did you choose to do an MA in Curatorial Practice?
I already have an MA in Fine Art, so I didn’t need this course for qualifications, but I did need it to understand the role of the curator and the full scope of what the job entails. I chose BSU because of the course content and the professional experience of the tutors.
What is a typical day like for an MA Curatorial Practice student?
It’s never typical! The course is heavy on theory, but it is all directly applicable to the real-time, real-world applications of the job. It is necessary to be constantly engaging with exhibitions, groups, communities, artists etc. which means we try to attend as many events and venues as possible. We all have our own areas of interest, and the course allows us to pursue those, so in order to get the most out of the course it is necessary to keep our own research up to date and relevant.
Even the most structured lectures include time for discussion, debate and discourse. There is also a requirement to engage with those already working in the industry, and opportunity to curate live projects and program events.
We all have our own areas of interest, and the course allows us to pursue those…
You’ve just curated an exhibition called Eco Week at Walcot, could you please explain the inspiration behind the exhibition and why the subject?
As a course group we are committed to making sure that everything we do is consciously aware of the climate crisis. In this case we programmed a week of events that were thematically linked to the eco-challenges of our time. The first of those events, that I have just finished, was a Sustainable Fashion Event which, over the course of two days tried to educate, engage and enlighten visitors with the complex and multiple narratives that define ethical fashion. It is a good example of how curators do much more than put stuff on walls!
We set out to program events that would be interesting for visitors but also that would create a network of people that bridges disciplines, courses, schools, locations etc. In the case of the Fashion Event we ran an open competition, engaged with local businesses, had an artist in residence, offered exhibition opportunities, reached out to other departments within BSU, connected to other higher education institutions and finally opened to the public. By highlighting issues such as poor working conditions, water and carbon pollution, enormous waste, the western acceptance of materialism and consumerism, and the role we all play in these issues – we can reach out to those with an interest in fashion and textiles, ecology, environmental humanities, activism, arts and crafts and so on. Through these audiences we can increase the exposure of the artists and makers involved, create networks for future opportunities and hopefully, instigate real change.
What processes did you go through whilst putting the exhibition together?
Being part of the academic process meant the timescales were tight, so that was always a consideration that meant a hectic few weeks! A site visit is always a good start then the concept came out of group discussion, and it became clear which members of our MACP team wanted to be involved, in this case it was me and Ellice Thomas-Bishop, whose background is Fashion and Costume.
We collated ideas for activities and exhibitions and then put out call-outs for participants. The greater your inner-audience the more connections you make and the further the reach. We then marketed the event via local press, relevant BSU departments, other institutions, personal contacts, posters, visiting businesses in the locality, contacting relevant practitioners in the area, email-outs etc. Once everything was in place it is time to sort out logistics – transport, timings, heating, signage, furniture, devices of display, toilets, refreshments, audio-visual kit and the like. Once all that is done then you have to set up the actual space in such a way that you maximise the visitors experience. The marketing continues during and after the event, as each contact becomes part of your curator’s portfolio – people who we can connect with for future events and hopefully people who you will benefit from connecting with us. Curating is all about exchange and bi-lateral reciprocation.
Is there anything in particular you look for when curating?
Curating is a creative process, so for me it is essential that I can engage with the contents of the event. It’s always great to work with artists who understand the role of a curator and realise how it benefits their work. I personally believe that a good curator acknowledges the artist’s agency and has an informed understanding of the work they are curating, but also has a solid, researched vision on how to maximise the work’s potential and the artist’s exposure.
What have you gained from curating this exhibition?
The event was a success in terms of forming connections that we will build on for future events. I am not from Bath, and so I was operating without the safety net of personal connections, I learnt a lot about the effectiveness of different marketing techniques, within different demographics. I also discovered a great deal about ethical fashion – I think it is important to constantly challenge your personal lifestyle choices, and this exhibition did that for me, so hopefully it was the same for our audience.
Is there anything you’d do differently if you were to curate the exhibition, or another exhibition next time?
Always! That’s why live projects are an important part of the course – the theory can only teach you so much. I underestimated how hard it was to reach the student body at BSU. Next time I will engage with individual students, will ask for opportunity to present directly to students rather than relying on communications within the university. It was a little disheartening to meet students at the event that would have loved to have been involved but didn’t ‘get the memo’, but I’m confident we can combat that next time.
Many people think curators just hang paintings on walls – but that’s like assuming all artist’s produce oil painted landscapes!
What further opportunities has your course given you?
The course has been invaluable in giving me a real insight into what curating can look like. I doubt my future lies in being employed by a traditional gallery or museum, but I am confident that curating is my career choice. I think many people think curators hang paintings on walls and take them down again for cleaning – but that’s like assuming all artist’s produce oil painted landscapes! It’s a diverse, dynamic and exciting field to work in and it has opportunities to make your mark. This MA has opened my eyes to that – for which I am grateful.
Finally, what are your aspirations for when you finish your MA?
As I am facing the task of producing two module reports, before embarking on my final MA project it is difficult to imagine life past the Summer! I have learnt that opportunities not plans shape your future, so I’m trying to embrace that. However, I may investigate the PhD option, and as I tend to be quite entrepreneurial in my thinking, I have a few ideas for events that may become larger, ongoing projects. I shall keep you informed!
I have learnt that opportunities, not plans, shape your future.
On a final note, Rachel explains that Curatorial Practice students are always happy to engage with individuals or groups, either to collaborate or just connect. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to contact Rachel directly at email@example.com.
Photo Credit: Emma Curtis