Students set to curate contemporary arts experience across the city of Exeter

Detangling hairstory (history) in nursing 2022 by Beatrice Ogbekhiulu

Arts venues, public spaces and an empty shop in the city of Exeter will host a multi-site contemporary art project this month curated by students.

Bare Life: Art Despite Everything will reflect upon the challenging cultural climate facing a post-pandemic Britain today, including a cost-of-living crisis, war in Ukraine, an NHS in turmoil, and the social disengagement of swathes of young people.

Orchestrated by students on the University of Exeter’s MA Curation postgraduate degree, Bare Life will showcase the work of different artists and artforms. They include a video installation exploring the experience of immigrants from the Commonwealth, artwork created by nursing students reflecting their experience of learning in the health sector, and a vending machine that will dispense packet-sized pieces created by different artists.

The programme represents a partnership between the University and partners MakeTank, Positive Lights Project, Princesshay Shopping Centre and Exeter Phoenix.

“The collective title chosen for these projects, Bare Life, reflects a shared concern about the difficult cultural climate we find ourselves in today,” says Professor Tom Trevor, Programme Director for MA Curation, in the Department of Languages, Cultures and Visual Studies. “By curating a series of exhibitions and participatory events in Exeter city centre, in the heart of the community, the aim is to create an open and engaging platform for artists and local people, resolutely focused on the better future ahead and a strong belief in ‘Art Despite Everything’.”

The one-year MA Curation degree, which was launched in 2021 to support and nurture talent in the creative industries, demands that students become familiar with the major centres of arts production around the world, and the exhibition venues, biennials and events where contemporary art is shown.

This year’s cohort attended exhibitions, arts fairs, artists’ studios, and auction houses, worked with Camden Art Centre in London, and undertook internships with institutions such as The Box in Plymouth, and the Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates.

“The culmination of this intensive one-year course is the opportunity for the students to realise their own curatorial projects, or to write a dissertation,” Professor Trevor adds. “Each of the five curatorial projects in Bare Life engages with a different aspect of this contemporary moment in a spirit of optimism and solidarity, placing an emphasis on giving a voice to artists and engaging with the community.”

Two of the projects will take place inside a vacant store in the Princesshay Shopping Centre. The first, Transient Lives, curated by Eleanor Lionel, is a video installation of the film Promised Land by Damilola Lemomu, which looks at the experience of immigrants from the Commonwealth. Supporting this, Damilola – whose work has won multiple awards – will take part in an ‘in conversation’ event at Bookbag on Friday 16 June at 6.30pm.

Do Nothing 2023 by Guolin Qin

The second event, Do Nothing, is curated by Guolin Qin, and explores the Japanese phenomenon of the ‘low desire society’ where young people are turning away from workplace culture. Performances will take place on Thursday 15 June, 6-7pm, and on Saturday 17 and 24 June from 2-3pm.

The Positive Lights Project will be the host for The Art of Nursing, curated by Binjie Wang, which brings together the artwork of ten student nurses from the University’s Academy of Nursing programme. Each student has created an artwork reflecting on their experiences through their professional studies and exploring how the creative arts might offer an outlet to express emotions and experiences which might otherwise be hard to understand or verbalise.

The fourth project – Imogen Patel: Sense of Belonging, curated by Karine Kachatryan – showcases the works of Imogen, whose poetry and mixed media paintings evoke the complexities and tensions surrounding her South Asian identity within the dynamic landscape of contemporary, post-colonial Britain.

You must wear the most beautiful Saris 2021 by Imogen Patel

The fifth and final project – Art Vending Machine – organised by Art Work Exeter and curated by Guolin Qin, will see a vending machine stocked with small works of art, including micro-ceramics, carvings and digital media. The machine will be located in the Exeter Phoenix café bar.

Bare Life: Art Despite Everything will take place from 16 – 25 June, opening daily from 12-5pm. For more information, please visit the website.