When art gallery curators plan exhibitions, they carefully consider every angle of how the work will be viewed – the setting, the spacing, the lighting, the way artworks are grouped together – to give audiences the best possible experience.
All of that planning was underway for MacEwan’s annual Fine Art Grad Show when the coronavirus lockdown meant public gatherings weren’t safe – or allowed. With the original plan of holding the exhibition at the Mitchell Art Gallery no longer an option, the decision was made to capture the work of this year’s Fine Art graduating class in an online format, providing students the opportunity to still show their work to their peers, the university community and arts patrons.
Some of the artworks transitioned fairly seamlessly into an online format. “Students have been exploring time-based media such as video, audio, and photo-based work in the program, in addition to net art, so it’s a great opportunity to highlight student and program strengths in those areas,” says Carolyn Jervis, Mitchell Art Gallery director.
But for traditional media, such as painting, things got a little more complex, as artists had to use photographs to try to capture the detail and nuance of their work.
“There is a big difference between exhibiting material works of art in three-dimensional space and displaying documentation of artwork in virtual space,” says Carolyn. “Normally photographs of artwork do not take a central role, so it required an incredible coming together of faculty and students to find the best images of the artwork available.”
One student, Hilary Hlagy, faced a unique challenge with Project Me, a performance art piece that features a live reading accompanied by projected imagery. The performance will still go ahead, but from their home via Instagram Live. “I'm really lucky, because my partner is a big tech nerd, so he has a projector and some good mics,” says Hilary.
But it’s not just the technical delivery of the work that artists have to consider. For Hilary, the setting and the audience play a role in how the work is performed. “Part of performance is engaging the audience, so I have to rely on myself to try to pull the same emotional intensity from a performance from home,” they say.
Despite the disappointment of having to cancel the gallery exhibition, Carolyn hopes the lessons learned from this experience prove to be valuable. “I’ve been very impressed with the professionalism and adaptability with which our graduating artists have taken on this challenge,” she says. “Every career and artistic practice requires these skills. I hope when the students look back on this time, they can apply this life experience and find opportunity within whatever challenge that comes their way.”
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