Kirsten Tambling and Bethany Wright , MA Curating The Museum Students
And we’re open! Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art opened its doors on Thursday for a special private view.
It was exciting to see the exhibition space turn back into a public gallery at the Courtauld, because over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been spending most of our time there – hanging the works, lighting the works and putting up the interpretation panels.
One of our artworks, Nicky Hirst’s Wall 1, had to be specifically installed by the artist, using electrical cabling and a drill. So for three of those days we had the privilege of seeing Nicky at work bringing her piece to life, and drilling holes in the walls.
When we actually got in the space after months of planning and talking, we found that some of the works we’d chosen had a different sort of ‘presence’ from the one we imagined – perhaps they were slightly bigger, or more imposing, or seemed to have a different sort of emphasis.
So even though we’d planned our layout reasonably clearly in advance, we still spent a lot of time reordering things and trying new things out – which became part of the fun.
One of the works that became an anchor for us throughout these discussions was Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Its massive size and its power from a distance made it an ideal ‘vista picture’ – a work you see through the door of the previous room – and we knew we wanted it to be the first thing visitors saw.
We had been imagining the sightline from the entrance to our show for months, and seeing the interplay between the two Richard Long works, Mona Hatoum’s + and –, and Anna Barriball’s Sunrise/Sunset V was a poignant moment for us all.
When we had the works up and arranged, the next task was to light them. There are a lot of works of paper in our show, and these usually have to have a light level below 50 ‘lux’ – the standard measure of light for conservation – and so we had to make sure we kept measuring the light levels and reconfiguring them as necessary to keep them low.
A particularly challenging work to light was Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought, a circuit board covered in silver filigree.
We wanted the silver to shimmer gently as it hung on the wall, but we found with head-on lighting this was impossible. After experimenting with lots of different options, eventually we discovered that the best way to achieve the effect we were after was to light the viewer, rather than the work, so that they reflect the light back onto the work, and make it glow.
Impress responds to the Courtauld’s current Bruegel to Freud: Prints from the Courtauld Gallery.
This explores The Courtauld’s collection of prints, one of the biggest parts of their collection but also the least known. When we came to discuss our own exhibition, and how it would respond to The Courtauld’s show, we decided that we wanted to consider the act of ‘print making’ more generally.
Since all the best known printing techniques – etching, engraving, woodcut, and so on – involve the exertion of physical pressure onto a surface, we decided that we would take this idea of pressure as our cornerstone.
One of the works that was part of our discussions from the beginning was Richard Long’s photograph A Line Made By Walking. Here, the pressure of the artist’s body on the grass creates a ‘line’, like a footpath, in a field. It’s a ‘print’, but it doesn’t use ink, plate or paper.
The final exhibition includes ‘blind embossed’ prints, pencil rubbings, engravings created by the pressure of the sun and, of course, Richard Long’s handprints in River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Another work, Richard Wentworth’s Nature, Mort reduces ‘print making’ to its essentials: it’s a metal bolster lying on a pillow.
The private view was an opportunity to show the final exhibition to everyone who has contributed to it, and helped us, over the last few months. It was a very proud moment for us all – and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made it possible.
Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.