“This work with ArtLab has really felt purposeful and most importantly useful, on a variety of levels. From making better connections within our department both with staff and students, but also and most importantly through the outreach, exploring, and creating for and with children of all ages.”
Cerys Griffiths – Fine Art Student and ArtLab Co-researcher
Continuing engagement through uncertain times
ArtLab would ordinarily take to the roads in Reading, to visit schools and encourage students to ‘dive’ into Art. Or, our co-researchers would have welcomed school children to the Art Department to experience life at the University of Reading.
However, due to the Covid19 Pandemic, visiting schools or having students visit the Art Department has been impossible to do. So, technology has come into its own during these uncertain times to reach out to schools and pupils online, enabling us to continue our widening participation projects.
The World’s Greatest Exhibition 2021
ArtLab’s ‘The World’s Greatest Exhibition’ has provided a great opportunity to be both innovative in creating, but also curation this year.
As content creators, our co-researchers needed to consider the accessibility of creating artwork ideas away from studios and galleries, we also had to come up with an accessible way in which viewers could display their finished artworks within alternative settings, using only the facilities and objects around them.
“In my own practice I always like being resourceful and using what I have around me in making my pieces but I have never thought about being resourceful and repurposing things around me for exhibiting my work. One of the things I need to improve on is exhibiting my work as it’s normally an afterthought, but because of this experience I really got to practice being purposeful in how I exhibit my work and hopefully help with my own practice going forward.” Natasha Davis – Fine art student and ArtLab Co-researcher
Our idea was to take exhibitions outside of traditional gallery spaces, placing them inside and outside of participants homes and schools. For example, an exhibition in a washing machine, underneath a table; on the stairs and even hung on a washing line. These videos demonstrated how this could be achieved and have become the basis for our online portal – How2Lab.
The inspiration videos were produced by the University of Reading’s ArtLab co-researchers and aimed to inspire and promote collaborative exhibitions by our partner schools in Reading.
A technical and theoretical challenge
This project really encouraged our co-researchers to apply a high level of critical thinking, that our fine art students even at degree level, found both beneficial and at times tough:
“Specifically, in the ‘Filming Your Exhibition’ video, when I encouraged viewers to consider the different angles at which they could film their exhibition, it was a real reminder that not only is art about the artwork itself, but also about context; an important aspect of art study that I feel is sometimes overlooked prior to higher-education studies.”
Tehya Connery – Fine Art student at Reading and Co-researcher with ARtLab
Accessibility was also a reoccurring theme of our schools project this year. As well as the technical forms of accessibility such as captioning, we needed to ensure a clarity of ideas. It was important to present graspable concepts and a focus on easily accessible materials, using domestic items such as clothes pegs, books, paper and cereal boxes.
It was hoped that using these types of materials, the art-making process would be increasingly accessible; promoting the message that: everyone can make art and art can be made out of anything!
On Reflection – Lindsey Jones – Fine Art Student and ArtLab Co-researcher
For six weeks of the summer term in 2021, during the easing of lockdown, I was invited to join a group of art students on a virtual & collaborative ArtLab project.
It was a unique opportunity to meet other students on a weekly basis over Microsoft Teams, to discuss creating a series of YouTube-style videos all about art. The pandemic had forced a change of direction for the ArtLab. Visiting schools and working directly with the children was unviable. The focus for this year’s project was to produce a series of short videos with inspiring content looking at putting on an art exhibition – literally anywhere!
We had a wealth of ideas for venues around our homes, in and around school buildings, and outside in the garden, including drawers, dishwashers, fridges, staircases, cereal boxes, and even a washing line to display art as an exhibition. Most were shot using our mobile phones. Nothing was discouraged, all ideas were welcome, and by the end we had produced a collective resource, that would hopefully be a source of inspiration for teachers, schools, clubs, and other artists to encourage all children no matter where they came from to be creative about sharing their artistic talents with family and friends.
It was a privilege being involved, listening to a wealth of knowledge, ideas, and feedback. Our collective results were imaginative, diverse, not just in themes but also in their production. We all paid close attention to the “accessibility for all” parameters while making each video engaging, and fun. I learnt to be resourceful, finding quirky, eye catching props, like the Mickey Mouse gloves, or repurposing a set of plain coloured t-shirts to frame individual pieces of 2D art.
Directing other artists was a new experience, taking my ideas and realising them into the series of miniature “How to put on an exhibition” videos was immensely satisfying. Learning how to process raw video footage on my phone or using Photoshop, I gained a whole range of basic-level editing skills, how to compress large files and transfer them online. These were sent to Jon, who was tasked with adding graphics and sound in the ArtLab-style and uploading them to our Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook pages.
I am grateful to Tina and Jon, the project leaders for their trust in allowing us to produce a body of work that fulfils the brief and contributes to this rich inspiring resource. I would encourage any student who has the chance to be involved to get deeply involved in this project.
Moving forwards – Tehya Connery – Co-researcher with ArtLab
Through ArtLab this year, I had the chance to develop and experiment even further with video editing, combining both the animation skills I learnt last year on the stop motion studio app, with video footage.
This allowed me to create more engaging and fun content for viewers, for example layering animation over video footage. I also got the opportunity to write some copy for the website, which I really enjoyed; again, considering how to explain something in the most accessible way possible. The weekly catch-up meetings provided a good opportunity to keep up to date with the teams ideas and projects, and it was also generally lovely to see everyone and meet some new faces as well.
I don’t know how feasible this would be, but particularly if online interaction continues, live making sessions on Facebook or Instagram might be something to pursue. Viewers can then make the artwork in real-time with the instructor and ask any questions or queries live, while they are making it. Viewers could then share their finished artwork on the page. I feel that something participatory like this, alongside the pre-made video content may increase engagement and accessibility.
I would definitely be more than happy to get involved in ArtLab again, whenever the opportunity may arise. It has been an absolute pleasure and it would be great to do some in-person workshops when it is safe to do so as well. I would definitely encourage other art students to get involved.
Moving Forwards – Philippa Rocks – Co-researcher with ArtLab
Being part of the ArtLab group to inspire others also inspired me to learn more about how to produce videos with Apps such as Premier Pro and Stop-Motion.
The opportunity to be part of ArtLab certainly was a worthwhile experience for as I acquired new knowledge in technology and Apps, but more importantly gave me the opportunity to hopefully inspire passion for creating in Art and to promote ‘can do’ enthusiasm for school children. This enthusiasm could even develop into the future and be incorporated within a future careers where their creative ideas could benefit everyone.
Moving forwards – Cerys Griffiths – Co-researcher with ArtLab
As well as engaging with other like-minded students, I got the opportunity to continue to improve my skills, especially in video editing. This is not only beneficial for the quality of work I produce for this job but for my art practice as well.
Considering the limitations of found materials and working from home has made me think about more inventive ways of displaying and creating art.
On Reflection – Lennox Brewer – Co-researcher with ArtLab
I’ve worked with ArtLab’s summer schools programme for the last three years, working in-person with schoolchildren, working virtually on #LockdownLab2020, and this year working on the World’s Greatest Art Exhibition.
I’ve had a wonderful time working with the staff and other students these last three years. Together we’ve considered how art can be used in new and creative ways that might not typically be taught to children in schools. With ArtLab I have learned to be confident in my own voice, to work in a team, and to believe in my ability to have a positive influence on other people.
I believe that as a Widening Participation programme, ArtLab shows schoolchildren that art doesn’t need to be restricted to still life and portraiture. By showing the children that an art exhibition can be as big or small as they want, they can see the potential for art to communicate ideas, to represent dreams, and to do whatever they want it to do.
I’m grateful to have had this experience. Between the wonderful staff supporting us and guiding us, and the excellent student cohort sharing ideas and making content, I’ve been inspired to think more broadly about what shapes art can take and how art can be used in our lives.