Saturday 01 October 2016 – Sunday 01 October 2017
Image Credit: Stretch by Sophia Clist with Nick Burge. Photo: Jarrad Seng
Organised by Naomi Hart, Rob Mulholland, Deborah Clark and Stuart Crewes, Art Week Exeter featured nine days of events and exhibitions, talks and interactive installations across the city.
This was the second year of Art Week Exeter, which aims to promote artistic development in Exeter and make the city a national destination for art-lovers. The organisation focuses on bringing everyone together – students and established artists, professionals and amateurs – creating a bridge between art and business to give a new colour to the city. Rather than being concentrated in a few main venues, exhibitions and events took place in small bars, restaurants, private houses and alternative spaces all over the city centre. Following the brochure in search of venues, visitors had the opportunity not only to discover the art in Exeter but also to explore the city itself.
Visitors could come across performances and installations while walking around the city. Street LAB, for example, was putting its performance on the city’s pavements; throughout the whole week, Miss*C’s Graffiti Academy and a cohort of local artists created urban galleries in the subways that lead from the bridge; in front of the Cathedral Green, Morth told us about Exeter’s history with his temporary installation, Hope and Renewal, inspired by the fire at Exeter’s Royal Clarence Hotel, which was built in 1769, and tragically burnt down last year, leaving a deep scar in the city.
Art Week Exeter wasn’t only characterised by the connection with the city, but also by the sense of play and interaction with visitors. Sophia Clist turned the nave of the Cathedral into a massive sound installation made of nearly eight miles of fine strands of elastic. Stretch had no rules or instructions; it had instead the power to stimulate viewers’ creativity in trying different sounds of shapes. In Exeter Phoenix the Art Vending Machine was selling random micro-art for a pound; Juneau Projects offered a small pavilion with an alternative vibe and sold objects from the Makers of the Multiverse, next to the Boat Shed, where a special cocktail menu was created for the event.
During the week, art appeared all over the city centre in unexpected and elusive locations. However, some of the exhibitions were easier to find in Exeter’s established institutions. The show at RAMM mixed art and science, with a collection of pictures and historical objects about sea life in Devon. The tour ended in the café, where a collection of works from Exeter illustrators completed the show with a touch of humour and fantasy. Just behind the Museum, Exeter Phoenix opened the week with the new exhibition of Cedar Lewisohn, NDUNGU, ISCA. The artist was inspired by RAMM’s World Cultures collection to give a new reading of the ancient artefact, following the idea that history is a collapsible archive that we need to investigate and explore, without necessarily following a linear trajectory. In the café, Strange and Romantic, a new collection of 1000 small female portraits by Corinna Spencer, responded to portraits of women found at the National Trust’s Killerton House.
Clare Thornton presented Friend of Magic II. The intimate gallery space emphasised the manipulation of materials, which is at the core of the artist’s work. Playing with clay and ceramics, Thornton wants us to examine objects teetering on the edge, and how the appearance of a material often drives us to assumptions that do not correspond to the authenticity of the substance. This idea was even more apparent in her other contribution to Art Week Exeter, with the Plymouth-based group of female artists, Sister Sister. As part of the exhibition Sister City, inspired by collaboration with other artists and mediums, Thornton positioned a small sculpture on a table, which looked smooth and malleable, next to a silk veil, which instead looked motionless on the wall. The works presented for this show were clearly characterised by their intent in combining materials and forms together, without losing their individual core of research. In the same gallery space, TOPOS, was the installation Brutal Pattern by the rising artist Adam Garret, who played with the idea of serial construction and how we can feel trapped in it.
Exeter Community Centre hosted Exe-Arts Plus Final Exhibition, a show that presented the result of two years of workshops organised by Superact, an initiative to engage the community with art and music activities, with a particular commitment to working with homeless and housing charities. The exhibition of abstract works by four local painters was spread across the building, encouraging visitors to walk around, to appreciate the art and soak up the warm, friendly atmosphere of the Centre.
The intent of bringing everyone together for Art Week Exeter was evident in the variety of art works and projects presented, which created a strong engagement with the city itself. Apart from the main locations, most of the exhibitions were organised in small cafés or businesses, involving the audience in a sort of hunt to see art and explore the city. The spirit that guided the structure of the event made the art closer, and accessible to everyone, like the Art Market or the AWEsome Art Fair, that brought together the majority of the artists presented at the festival.
The simplicity of ways in which this city presented its cultural offering reminds us that art can be valued from different points of view, not only for its conceptual meaning. Art can be a mutual ground to let people meet in alternative contexts and encourages us to develop our impression of society.
– Costanza Tagliaferri, May 2017
Working towards a South West where talented artists thrive, and a resilient and connected visual arts ecology that inspires more engaged and diverse audiences to value and advocate for its work.
Part of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network