What does an artist do in the midst of a pandemic to get their work seen? In Julia Cameron’s case, you find a wall and then you find a window!
Firstly, a wall…or to be more precise, the wall on the side of our house in Grosvenor Road, Norwich.
My husband, Simon Marshall and I decided that as we had lost nearly all our exhibitions this year that we would have to think outside the box to show our work. We had long considered the side of our house as a potential gallery space and lockdown seemed an ideal time to use it. We hoped it would also lift the spirits of neighbours and passers-by.
Our large photographs, printed on canvas, are hauled up the wall like ships’ sails and secured. Hanging can be very ‘entertaining’ in windy weather! Now, at the end of September, we are on our seventh version of our ‘Wall Gallery’, having changed the pictures approximately every three to four weeks.
Simon works with land art photography and the everyday experiences of his own created character, Bean Man. I mainly work with re-imagined portrait photographs and images of the coast. We also created a fruity set!
It is our plan to continue hanging new works unless the weather becomes too much of a challenge over the winter.
Secondly, a window…or to be more precise, the East window of St Margaret’s Church of Art in St Benedicts Street, Norwich
The Coronavirus pandemic has made us cherish our families and friends more than ever as we live through unprecedented times. In the absence of face-to-face contact, I got comfort from looking at my family archive and researching my ancestry. The Kinswomen project is based on a box of letters and photographs from four generations of my family. The old pictures have been re-imagined using new and innovative photographic techniques and the resultant images are imbued with memory and emotion. Although autobiographical, most people have similar albums and boxes of family memories.
The works explore the importance of family archive materials both on a personal level and as a resource for research in the future. We take more photographs than ever but mainly upload them to social media and I wanted to express the need to make at least some physical records in this predominantly digital age. The family photographs also run parallel to the history of photography. My oldest ancestor featured in the exhibition, my great-great grandmother, was born in 1822, making her 15 years old when Henry Fox Talbot produced his ‘photogenic drawing’, celebrated as the world’s oldest surviving photographic negative. My re-imagined works use a wide variety of ‘wet’ and digital processing, from sun-exposed cyanotype, freezing images in ice and image manipulation.
It was with a heavy heart that I thought my solo exhibition would not go ahead as planned. But then, 10 weeks before the scheduled dates I got the news that I could possibly have my exhibition. I realised that some modifications would need to be made in order to make it ‘Covid-19 safe’. Then came the questions: What are the government ‘rules’? How can I modify my plans? Will I get any visitors?
My works are very large. They are mostly printed on canvas (up to four-metres high) and include a garden, Mary’s Garden, in tribute to my mother, with a four-metre high tree and a 5.3×4 metre lawn and nine one-metre high double-sided panels.
The ‘Kinswomen: Camerons and Kings served with baked starlings’ exhibition was designed holistically to work with the topography of St Margaret’s – some pieces were site specific. The East window and altar were the main focus of the space and so the exhibition needed to respect the ‘visual pull’ in this direction. I created pieces to flank the window and created a plain covering for the cabinet that referenced the altar. Mary’s Garden would sit centrally in the church but be placed at an angle to lead visitors around in a clockwise direction.
Then came the inevitable changes for social distancing and hygiene measures. The new must-haves of social distancing signage, masks and sanitizers were implemented.
There was no possibility of having a Private View so instead I arranged to give Artist’s Talks for pre-booked groups of up to six people (before the rule of six came into force).
In spite of my concerns, more than 450 visitors came to the exhibition and feedback was positive. The talks were personal and very enjoyable with lots of engagement with the participants.
The experiences of sharing my family archive resonated very strongly with many visitors and I count that as success.
I have no further exhibitions for the foreseeable future except keeping the Wall Gallery going with new images, but I do have a new project that has grown from the Kinswomen project with a working title of Embroidered Stories. Still based on my family photographs, it starts with stitching on a duplicate of the original picture, then enlarging and reprinting. Next step is stitching on the new, larger print and repeating until I have a canvas version 2.5 metres high by 1.5 metres wide. Each set of stitches represents a generation. This process creates a metaphor for the way in which stories from the past are re-told and the truth becomes ‘embroidered’ with each re-telling.