A curatorial reflection on The Norman Rea Gallery’s upcoming exhibition, FOR SALE.

As the first exhibition for the newly elected 2018/2019 Norman Rea Gallery Committee, FOR SALE intends to introduce a new focus of direction for the gallery, and redefine the way that exhibitions are presented. By directly juxtaposing traditionalism and modernism through the medium of a postcard, the exhibition seeks to reflect on a history of personal exchanges and define modes of contemporary communication. It was the committee’s decision, and subsequent brief to our chosen artists that the direction of the exhibition should focus around daily scenes, in order to explore different perceptions of life and people’s unique experiences.

During a meeting with the Director, Grace Frazer, we discussed her curatorial vision for the exhibition, and what the medium postcard meant to her. The Royal College of Art  and it’s 2017 exhibition ‘RCA Secret’ was cited as a main inspiration, with its display of hundreds of postcards each created by artists that were only revealed to the public after their purchase. FOR SALE draws on this idea, and presents a contemporary reworking of the exhibition that engages its student audience. Each of the works are intensely personal, characterising for example the ups, downs, linearity and de-linearity of everyday life.

In this age of social media, with our constant reflections on our movements and social life, we are constantly sharing with others parts of us. Traditionally, the postcard was intended for just that; a chance to let friends and family know where you were and what you had seen. A snapshot of a single moment in time and life, so to speak. The postcard is also most readily associated, at least in my mind, with holidays and being separated from home. It seems rather apt, as I write this from New York. As my family are rather disconnected from social media, I intend to send them a postcard that I picked up near Central Park, as a reminder of where I am. In this way, the postcard could be seen to act as a marketing tool to promote the American tourism industry. I, however, prefer how it allows me to contact those I love from afar, so that they can hold a piece of memory and feel like they are here too. It unites two countries, and promotes international links.

In the exhibition, the postcards are presented in a suitably intimate manner. As they are small in size, the viewer is encouraged to walk up close to them to clearly observe their intricate details. In a contrast to the ‘RCA Secret’ exhibition, Grace wanted to have inscriptions alongside the works that featured the artists own interpretation of their works, and how they created them. Adding to the theme of daily scenes, the writings act as another layer of personal meaning that defines the work of art as a permanent representation of a communication between the artists and the viewer, the insider and the outsider. As the gallery space is open to the public, but placed within a student environment, the postcards allow for multiple interpretations that transcend their base observation. By having, on the opposite back wall, a selection of digitally enlarged postcards this will act to distort the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, essentially challenging our initial perceptions.

As the blank postcards have been decorated, no longer are they passive objects. They have transformed to become activated works of art which engage our senses and encourage us to situate our lives and experiences within the exhibition space; our simple presence within the gallery adds to the theme of daily life, as we have independently chosen to attend, to observe, to participate. The conscious, therefore, is a central tenet to the exhibition. The bright and vibrant colours of the walls, especially directed by Grace, adds to an overwhelming of our senses which becomes particularly powerful given the traditional gallery space has white-washed walls that allow the space to be un-defined and passive. The works of art placed upon that wall do not have to fight for position, for validity, for being; they are confirmed by their presence on a blank wall. This is what allows the art to exist. To contrast, the brightly coloured walls act to detract the viewer’s attention. The postcards, especially because they are so small, now have to fight for what the art in the blank gallery walls do not. In my conversation with Grace, she noted to me that the vibrant colours were important to her as they mark a new way of exhibiting art; the walls now add to the interesting narrative of the postcards, to produce a visual platform which is modern, bold and present within time.

Crucial to the exhibition, the gallery space, artistic community and wider national effort, is found in its charitable nature. The independent organisation MIND was chosen as our fundraiser, with proceeds of the postcards sales being donated to help support those who in their everyday lives suffer from mental health problems. During committee discussions, it was agreed that this was a particularly poignant in light of the exhibition and its themes, as during many people’s lives mental health is often considered taboo and overlooked. By supporting MIND, we hope to contribute to breaking down those barriers, and help those in need.

On behalf of the Norman Rea Gallery, I would like to thank all the artists for their meaningful contributions, those who have and will support our exhibition by donating and/or attending.

We hope that our exhibition, FOR SALE, provides a thoughtful insight into our busy daily lives, helping to generate wider and deeper thoughts about the everyday to which we are so accustomed.

Matilda Bentley

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