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Exhibition Feature and Curator interview ://
Altered Environments
14.10.17 - 19.11.17
@ Firstsite
Posted January 2018

In this unique group exhibition, curators JMC Anderson, Charlie Bryan and Laurie Taylor Straiton brought together artists who question the complexities of narrative, environment and gender. Focusing on their own areas of research, We: You, Me investigated ideas about the construction of identity in today’s society.

Drawing comparisons between the natural and manmade, Altered Environments explores these two extreme states. The installation offered an alternative insight into our surroundings by displaying work from a range of creative practitioners. This questions how these two types of environments  are represented and how they occur alongside one another, often with a level of human intervention. Altered Environments presents a visual essay, placing artworks in conversation with one another and challenging our preconceptions of how we interpret the planet we live on.
Featuring artists :// Charlie Bryan, Aaron Collins, Lissie Cowley, Redwan El-Harrak, Sam Elstub, Stefan Jovanović, Frazer Merrick, Chris Schramm, Jon Thomas, Emma Walsh, Tom Westbury

Curator interview :// Charlie Bryan
Q. As a curator who is coming from an artist perspective and who is strongly interested in galleries, how do you feel this helped influence your decision-making?

I visit as many galleries and exhibitions as time allows, this means that I have a user, although personal, experience of how exhibitions can and/or could work. Through my photography I focus on space as a whole, with a key interest often found within gallery and museum walls, focusing not on the artwork itself but the space in which it sits. I particularly enjoy when an architect of space has strongly considered how you can manipulate somebodies understanding of a room, how placement, light and compositional techniques can guide a viewer subconsciously. Through Altered Environments I was particularly interested in manipulating the space I worked, playing with low lighting so the visitors weren’t quite sure where the walls ended, and the artwork began. Once the exhibition opened, I had comments from visitors that the configuration of the space allowed time for escapism, I’m really pleased about that.

‘Gr series’ by Redwan El-Harrak, 2017. Commissioned for Altered Environments.

Q. What was the creative process and thinking behind your theme for Altered Environments? What made it a success?

I was very aware of the theme I wanted to cover from the start; I think that was a huge strength in my process and outcome. Being knowledgeable within my chosen field meant that I was able to push the boundaries of content and display, focusing on quality and further exploring the manipulation of space for the audience. I created an extensive exhibition proposal very early on in the role, including mood boards, quotations from books I’ve read over the years and room layout plans, all of which I referred back to as a reminder of my aims. The confidence in my ideas meant that my execution, including importantly admin with Firstsite and my chosen Artists could be focused on meticulously; organisation was (and is) everything, and trust between myself and the gallery was there from the get go. I have to of course also thank the incredible range of artists I worked with, from photographers to graphic designers to fine artists to landscape architects, their work as a collective made the show a seccessful alternative insight into what we understand the language of environment to be. I hope that they equally enjoyed exploring their work from that perspective. 

‘Eclipse’, ‘No. 03’, ‘No. 04’ by Jon Thomas, 2016, 2017.

Q. You mentioned an extensive exhibition proposal. In one sentence, what was the initial aim for Altered Environments?

Taken directly from my proposal: “The artworks will act as structures for communication, an unpredictable balancing act between the two sides (of natural and manmade) will work in unison, offering an insight into alternative ways we can view our environments”.

‘Planted Grid 20’ and ‘Via Manno 500’ by Sam Elstub, 2017.

You have collaborated with many creative practitioners. Tell us about your exhibition poster, how did it take shape?

Collaboration is a huge part of my practice as a photographer and videographer, it forces me to question my approach and explore other peoples ideas, allowing input. The exhibition poster for Altered Environments was designed by Redwan El-Harrak, a graphic designer who often works, but is not limited to, publications, web designs etc. I have a long working history with Redwan; it’s these relationships that really shape ones style and gives you confidence in what it is you do. I asked Redwan to create the GR series for one of the walls in Altered Environments as i was aware of his previous projects and in particular his research on grids. When working with individuals it’s great to know their other disciplinary strengths incase they may be useful in other avenues. As I love his clear and consistent way of working, it would have been silly not to ask him to design the poster for my exhibition which I think clearly reflects the aesthetics of the show.

Poster design for Altered Environments by Redwan El-Harrak, 2017

Q. I know you are a multi-disciplinary creative, working in photography, film and other digital formats such as website design and digital marketing, and you are now in an educator role. So with all of these skills under your belt, what would be your ideal job, why, and how do you intend to get there?

You know those ‘portfolio careers’ that are often mentioned in the media recently, referring to individuals with multiple jobs or job experiences? I’ve got one of those. All of the opportunities and work experiences that I’ve had add together to give me a flexible insight into varying types of working, what works for me, and what works for others.

A career goal is to work on partnership programmes with galleries, museums and other art institutions. My work at the moment is within a secondary school of a highly deprived area in the East of England. I’m working with kids who live in estates where across the road you have juxtaposing houses with an average value of half a million pounds. The problem with typical art language is that it can quickly define your opinion on whether something is for you or not, and it is a huge problem across the art world. Due to that language, often people feel that these buildings that hold art are only for those living in these half a mill’ homes. I’m gaining a huge understanding through my time at the school of the importance of ownership, familiarities and how best it is to show individuals how art can benefit your education, health and social wellbeing. I’m excited for my future, and to test and create some of my ideas into a working reality. In the long term, I hope to run my own gallery with a studio attached, encouraging collaboration and giving opportunities to all. Maybe it’ll be Float.

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