Interview with Belen De Bacco, exhibition curator and secretary of Glasgow University Art Appreciation Society.
After having to be cancelled last year, Glasgow University Art Appreciation Society’s (GUAAS) annual exhibition is back. Making use of the latest software, the exhibition, Sign of the Times: The Environment and Covid Through Art, which presents the work of eight artists, is taking place online from 12 March – 11 April. The exhibition aims to explore how our perception of time and the environment have changed over the past year during the pandemic and lockdown. Submissions were open to anybody and any medium of artwork, provided that a high-quality photograph could be supplied.
In order to present the exhibition GUAAS have collaborated with the Italian art-tech start-up Relevo, which was born out of lockdown as a way of supporting artists by holding exhibitions in virtual gallery spaces. The exhibition is hosted on the main page of their website for its duration, after which it will be placed in their archive. It’s only the third exhibition to be held by Relevo and its first to include student artists and curators, as well as being the first to have multiple curators.
This collaboration with Relevo has been essential in presenting the exhibition as standalone, rather than something that feels like a visual documentation of a previous exhibition. Exhibition-goers are able to move around the virtual gallery space, with accompanying critical texts and audio guides providing context to the work. Belen De Bacco, GUAAS secretary and one of the exhibition’s four curators, discusses this: “Engagement and dynamism was something that we wanted to bring to the exhibition. We want to create an exhibition that can be enjoyed by everyone, even the artist, and doesn’t look like an archive, something that is dead, something that you can’t further explore. That’s why we have many features that permit the visitor to engage with either the artist directly or the artwork. We have a 3D room where you can move freely and we will propose a direction of visit, but actually the artworks are all in dialogue with each other so the visitor can come up with new ways of communicating between artworks. I also think the audio guides really make the process of feeling like you’re in an exhibition a lot easier.” They have also taken time to interview all of the artists about their work and their experience of lockdown and the pandemic. These interviews will be posted on the Art Gate blog, a blog created by three GUAAS members (and exhibition curators) during lockdown.
Whilst, like everyone else, they are fed up with Covid-19 dominating the news and our lives, the curators decided to go down this route with the exhibition as it has highlighted the importance of the arts, in particular the young people involved in the arts and how their voice has been drowned out over the past year. “We thought that, yes, we are sick of hearing this word, we’re sick of hearing of the pandemic. However, it’s important to stop and think about what this time gave us or what we have had to give up. I think this exhibition really thinks about this and about how young people reacted. We hear everywhere in the news the economic stuff, but where are the young people? Where are the artists? Where are the young people that want to work within the art world? That’s the vision that we want to give,” Belen explains.
They wanted to keep the themes very broad so as not to impose any interpretations on the artists, the better to see what they created as their own authentic reaction to the current situation as young student artists. Belen continues: “We just gave a very general theme, and you will see that the reactions are different. We have one artist reflecting on touch, on how we cannot touch someone we love anymore and how loving means actually distancing yourself from each other, which is the opposite of what we had before Covid-19. Then we have another artist that reflects on the need to let go. These are totally different things, one from the other, but you will see that we have a cohesion within the exhibition theme.”
Although everybody may be starting to get fed up with the lack of in-person events, presenting it online has come with its silver linings. The exhibition can be viewed by anyone from anywhere in the world, not just those in Glasgow, which dramatically amplifies the voices of participating artists. The collaboration with Relevo has also provided the invaluable experience of working alongside industry professionals for the curators.
The curators and artists have put so much effort into creating a very professional exhibition, with accompanying critical texts, audio guides and interviews, despite their limited financial resources and time, as they are all full-time students. Whilst the past year may not have been the best, this exhibition allows us to reflect back on it all from the comfort of your own home.
The exhibition can be viewed on Relevo’s website from 12 March – 11 April. Artist interviews can be found (along with lots of other brilliant articles) here. The society also runs lots of amazing events throughout the year which can be found on their social media pages.