This article follows up an earlier Q&A also based on the NRG's current exhibition, "Keep Gazing". As Vice-Director, Jess Jenkinson took a key role in its curation. It is my hope that this article will provide a further and alternative insight into the exhibition, which is on show until the 12th March.
"Keep Gazing": Q&A with Jess
*Photograph taken by Nafsika Hadjichristou (@nostalgim)*
Q: Why the theme of “gender” for the 2018/2019 NRG Committee’s final show?
A: An exhibition exploring gender and its many understandings was one we hoped would engage, impassion and connect with our viewers on a personal basis. The YUSU restrictions on displaying nude images deeply affected our all committee, we were disappointed that a subject as universal as ‘the body’ would be deemed offensive in a gallery space. As students with a strong interest in visual culture and spaces for displaying art, we are aware of the damage censorship and regulation of art has on society, especially in preventing the individual to form their own set of thoughts on what they see. With a topic as discussed and debated as gender, we felt it was important not to create a a lens through which the viewer gains an understanding, instead we wanted them to experience the theme through the various different ideas raised from the diverse range of pieces in the exhibition.
Also, at a moment when freedom of expression is being taken very seriously, especially amongst younger generations and in places of education, we felt an exhibition on gender, ignoring regulations and censorship would be an important way to use the space in the Norman Rea Galley’s context as a University student run gallery space. We wanted the art we displayed to be enjoyed, respected and educational and we wanted our viewers to feel inspired by what they had seen, just as we as a committee felt inspired to finish their year working in the gallery with this show.
Q: What does the exhibition title mean to you?
A: “Keep Gazing” a play on the idea of the male gaze, is a title which was intended to be empowering. It accepts the inevitability of bodily objectification and subject to observation the body experiences. However, the title also embraces what the body undergoes and has undergone throughout history. It is saying “Keep Gazing” because our bodies don’t care!
Q: What pieces interest you most?
A: “Fannies on soap” by Sonia Moran (2016), (carved bars of soap) was my favourite piece from the exhibition. It is quite a visually deceiving piece, from the distance it resembled a scene from a vintage bathroom as the two bars of white soap rested on a crochet patch. On a closer look, however, I saw the soaps had been carved with the shapes of two vaginas. The artist Sonia Moran comments on how she appropriates domestic fabric she encountered as a child to regenerate memories by disrupting the original materiality and appearance of the fabric. For me, the repurposing of childhood objects, or to see them in a new context, can create nostalgia and unease simultaneously. “Fannies on soap” exemplify this as they are both a familiar scene from the childhood bathroom but also as cleaning, and more specifically OCD relating to bodily cleaning, has roots in the experiences and memories of the individual, the piece is both personal and general, making it accessible to all in different ways depending on where it takes the viewer.
Juliet Fleming’s short video “I’m Just a Love Machine,” (2018) was piece from the exhibition which I also really loved. The repeated use of the citreous symbol Juliet had designed and made certainly had a powerful effect in brining to surface ideas around the hushed side to the female anatomy and sexuality. Juilet’s dancing to “I’m Just a Love Machine” was fun and liberating, I loved her confidence as performer in a video that had important messages.
Q: Your thoughts on the curation?
I may be biased, but a lot of debating, trialling and erroring went into the curation of this exhibition and I felt the final result was professional and visually exciting. As an exhibition exploring the theme we wanted the curatorial narrative to join sculpture with video and photography with painting. The pieces we exhibited had such diverse meanings that we wanted to use the space in a way that would make the viewer think about how the artists have approached the theme through such a variation of materials. Unlike previous shows there was no set place for viewers to start from, with two rooms full of pieces, we wanted our viewers to start a whatever interested them most, an appropriate way to connect people to this diverse theme on an individual basis. If we had to add something else to curating the space, we would probably have looked into showing pieces of one off performance art live in the gallery. This is something that hasn’t been done before but I think would add another visual dimension to the space in the future.
Q: How was the exhibition received by visitors?
From talking to many of the exhibition attendees the exhibition was received with shining reviews! While this may be due to theme’s interest at this moment in society: at a time when typical conventions of gender are being challenged, it was great to hear visitors speaking specifically about pieces they connected with or felt did something for them. We wanted people to feel personally connected with this inclusive topic rather than view works with detachment and distance.
Q: Why is social media important to the “gender” conversation?
Social Media is crucial to the gender conversation in that it provides a platform for people to discuss gender, an often challenging and personal topic, with the distance that technology provides, and even anonymously an option that may be comforting to many. Platforms like Instagram and personal blogs are used as creative outlets for people to explore and show their interests and to share their work with others. Artists who are interested in visually exploring gender may receive support, commentary, and contact people doing similar things, perhaps the opportunity for collaboration too. Social media is also a great place to be inspired, we may come across interesting artists who are doing things and having conversations we want to join with, with this is mind, social media promotes gender conversations at an instant and far-reaching basis which is certainly positive to retaining open mindedness about the subject.
However, I think caution must be taken as social media platforms are also very influential on people, especially young people. Regarding forming opinions on gender identity and depictions of gender in art, distance from social media, a place so deeply rooted in the thoughts and experiences of others, can be healthy for helping individuals answer their own questions and develop their own views.