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[SHELTER]: designing a site-specific exhibition

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Museo Spazio Pubblico in Bologna on a site-specific solo exhibition and residency, [SHELTER]. The museum is based in what used to be a neighbourhood supermarket. As their name suggests, they’re interested in the status of spaces in the community: how space is used, privatised, activated. In that capacity, they’ve taken a custodianship role of the adjacent plot of land, activating it with a variety of artistic interventions that seek to engage the public with how they might use this space. These two spaces perform 'publicness' in two different ways: the museum is a private enterprise with an active ambition to engage the public; the garden space is public but inactive and underused. These two spaces embody some of the dichotomy of public and private space, and how it is the activation of spaces that really shape their place in a collective imagination.

[SHELTER] will span both these sites, and it's this core dichotomy that provides the inspiration for the works. The exhibition adopts local flora as its central motif - something which, being located fairly centrally in the ancient city of Bologna, is largely absent from both spaces. In this way, [SHELTER] talks about our changing landscapes and the resultant changes in the ways we experience and navigate the land. In a disruption to the accepted norms of these two spaces, these floral interventions take a myriad of different forms as the audience moves through the different locales.

I'm curious about the mechanisms that make somewhere feel like home, how we develop roots in a place. It feels two-fold - that we feel a connection through both place and time - and that perhaps homesickness and nostalgia are closer kin than we might ordinarily imagine. With this in mind, I wonder if we can deepen our connections with the places we inhabit through shared experiences, through active memory creation. As such, I wanted to create an exhibition which encouraged exploration and occupation; an experiential exhibition that might aid in the creation of a memory within this specific landscape.

Outside, the garden space is transformed by translucent voile ’shelters'; small enclosures which provide a place of refuge for anyone who wants to enter. The voiles are painted with native wildflowers using charcoal and natural pigments, and suspended on umbrella frames; no longer providing shelter from the rain, but hopefully shelter in a new form. It’s a reframing of the ‘wild’ as a space of nurture and nourishment, rather than a space of threat and uncertainty. There has been so much research recently about the benefits of being in nature to mental wellbeing, that it feels timely to think about ways in which nature can be reintroduced into our public spaces. Following the exhibition, I plan to take the structures to new locations, finding ways to add the marks of their new place so that they become layered, textured artefacts of the land, embracing the stains and scars of these interactions.

Inside, I’m creating a ‘growing’ installation - comprised of both painted voiles alongside the petals and leaves of native plants - bringing the wild into our private spaces. It's an extension of my continued practice creating suspended installations which are both site- and time- specific. The site inevitably places certain restrictions and opportunities on the works; for this work, the piece will be constructed in a shallow archway within the museum. And - despite a lot of planning - I won't know quite what. the piece will look like until it's up. It will exist only for the duration of the exhibition, after which it will be dismantled for its component parts to be reused in new works.

For my part, I have become increasingly interested in the ways in which we connect with the land, how we feel part of a place, what legacy we leave on the land through our interactions with it. This takes shape both through our built and cultivated landscapes, but also in smaller interactions - the paths we tread, the marks we leave. In Bologna, litter is a visible problem, and also a visible marker of people's interactions with their environment. So in the final series of works created for [SHELTER], I wanted to think about my own legacy on the land; my own occupation of the city. Throughout my week in Bologna, I will be collecting litter from the gallery's neighbourhood and transforming these into tiny ecosystems; an inversion of our relationship with nature from coloniser to colonised. These will be available for people to take home with them throughout the exhibition.

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