Thirteen Contemporary Art Practice and Painting students, in their third and fourth year at Gray’s School of Art Aberdeen, were invited to Hospitalfield to assist with installing the upcoming DUSK Winter Season Open Weekend exhibition featuring artists Ewan Murray, Judith Hagen and Frank Dobson. The students were given the opportunity to get involved in various tasks in preparation for the exhibition.
There is a subtlety to Hospitalfield; granted the architecture and beautifully decorated rooms are far from subtle, but you can’t help but feel you have discovered something; something untouched by the 20th and 21st century hiding in the town of Arbroath. Getting out of the comfort of our studios in Aberdeen allowed us to see the way things work in a different context, and the different approach Hospitalfield takes to the artist’s work and ideas around what an exhibition is.
We were welcomed by staff and given a tour of the never ending house. Laura Simpson, Programme & Facilities Manager, spoke passionately about the heritage and historical background of the artefacts; 19th century furniture filled the rooms and we were encouraged to sit and treat the beautiful building as our home. Laura discussed the intentions of Hospitalfield and the different programs they run varying from artist talks and exhibitions to garden visits and history tours. We were then given the opportunity to become involved in installing the exhibition. The tasks varied from condition checking Frank Dobson’s works, to moving a large red sofa into the small doored cottage. Ewan Murray, one of the artists exhibiting, introduced us to his work explaining the relevance of Hospitalfield to his practice. We assisted Ewan in the preparation needed and familiarised ourselves with his, Judith Hagen’s and Frank Dobson’s work.
That evening over dinner we shared thoughts and opinions with the staff. Laura and Director Lucy Byatt spoke honestly when answering our questions and were interested in our perception not only of Hospitalfield, but also the exhibiting work. We were asked to think about a curatorial proposal and to consider common themes in the three artists’ work and their relationship to the history of the building. Following dinner we had a bonfire which facilitated an open discussion on our experience and the formation of our thoughts about curating the exhibition. Laura valued our opinions and encouraged us to trial different set-ups; we switched paintings from room to room, compared Ewan Murray’s drawing to a 19th Century painting which hangs in the picture gallery, and carefully placed Frank Dobson’s sculptures beside Judith Hagen’s abstract and brightly coloured paintings. We trialled different themes; touch, terracotta and movement, by thinking about the conversations between the works and the building. We had the opportunity to learn many important steps and skills for exhibition making that will be invaluable for future exhibitions we will be involved in. We now understand the necessary skills involved from considering the artist’s work individually and in a broader context, to the installation details which can lead to a debate over dark green carpet for half an hour!
It was a challenging and inspiring experience for all of the students. We were given the opportunity to participate in an array of tasks that developed our professional skills and our understanding of the various roles involved in the preparation of an exhibition. It was a pleasure to engage with the heritage of Hospitalfield, and to be encouraged to question its relationship to the contemporary art being shown. The experience opened our eyes to possible opportunities in our artistic careers and the acceptance organisations have for students.
We are all thrilled to be returning to Hospitalfield for the Winter Open Weekend from 19 to 20 November, during which there are several events which are listed here.
Patricipating students: Marcus Murison, Natasha Macbeth, Natasha Riddoch, Mary Gordon, Darja Abdirova, Jasmin Cheyne, Elliott Cookson, Katie Avey, Paula Buskevica, Suzann Ross, Lauren Dixon, Kaitlyn Dunsmore and Christopher Farrell.
This article was contributed by Mary Gordon and Darja Abdirova