Back in March, much of the original SOTSEF 2020 festival – including the annual Southampton Science and Engineering Day – had to be suddenly postponed due to the then increasing threat posed by COVID-19. Susannah’s exhibition was able to go ahead, however.
In the week that we welcome students back to a new term at University of Southampton, we’ve got a veritable toolbox of cultural wellbeing goodies lined up for you to dive in to. Though so much has changed, we’re #InThisTogether and here to help you relax with your culture fix.
In our first blog post of the term, we share details of an amazing online cultural project hot-off-the-press – The Ancient Mariner Big Read – launched this weekend. We also bring you a top 5 choice of online cultural encounters to be had, selected by the team at the University’s ownJohn Hansard Gallery – enjoy! Stay tuned for another top 5 recommendations from the team at Turner Sims, coming up later in the week.
John Hansard Gallery and Turner Sims are both exploring ways to focus their energies within the digital sphere, seeking to animate online spaces to bring you inspiring art and culture. Alongside this, Arts at University of Southampton’s digital channels will be dedicated to sharing with you the best of the arts to be accessed remotely. We’ll also be inviting the talented creatives and artists in our own team to contribute ideas and showcase their practice.
Two of our University of Southampton Arts Ambassadors – Kate Briggs-Price and Thea Hartman – were in attendance at John Hansard Gallery’s bumper opening event on Saturday 25 January 2020. Join them as they explore the exhibitions, mingle with the artists, interview some of the people behind the shows and generally have a good time.
Although we have been telling you about how much there is to see at John Hansard Gallery and teased you with a few snippets of what the new exhibitions within the Spring Season have to offer, we thought it’s high time we introduced these exciting events while also answering a question that I know I had been wondering about before this job illuminated me: what is the link between the gallery and University of Southampton?
The internationally renowned John Hansard Gallery (JHG) is part ofUniversity of Southampton, aiming to provide a platform for a variety of exciting contemporary artists, events and community-based research projects. Our lecturers themselves collaborate with the gallery to explore and develop ideas they have been interested in for their research in ways that go beyond academic articles – across departments, across disciplines, and across media.
One such example is one of the three current exhibitions at JHG, Many voices, all of them loved (1 February – 11 April), curated by Dr Sarah Hayden, a lecturer in the Department of English whose background is in experimental writing and the relationship between literature and visual art. The link between her research and JHG seems intuitive enough. However, the journey from her research to Many voices is much more intricate than that – so intricate that I spoke to Dr Hayden herself about it to understand it fully.
Many voices is part of the two-year project Voices in the Gallery, developed by Dr Hayden to explore how the voice operates in contemporary art. Her research, so far culminating with the carefully curated exhibition, beautifully encompasses how much more the voice represents than just people talking.
“In the works brought into conversation here, the voice is made present as rhythm, as visible pattern, and as carrier of meaning that extends form, and extends speech”, Dr Hayden explains. “The works gathered together in Many voices invite us to reflect on some huge themes: migration, displacement, legacies of colonialism, climate crisis, bio-surveillance, disability, and the role of art in resistance.”
Many Voices came out of a place of curiosity. Dr Hayden’s perception of the meaning of voice was widened by paying attention to it; and with this exhibition, she opens up the idea of voice to the Southampton audience:
“I noticed how often I was listening to voices in exhibitions—particularly in video art and installation. I wanted to understand how the presentation of the artist’s writing as an audio track rather than, say, on a wall, changed how audiences experienced the text. I was also interested in how artists were departing from the traditional format of the voiceover as we know it from documentary film and TV, and in how they were pushing vocality in a range of other directions, for purposes other than description or explanation.”
Artists Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Kader Attia, Willem de Rooij, Laure Prouvost, Liza Sylvestre and Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa all work with voice in different ways to explore a variety of themes; a voice can be a dog’s howl, a name on a screen, a person with auditory difficulties subtitling a film, a voice-over that seems to have little to do with the visual sequence of a short film.
As Dr Priti Mishra expertly summarises it, the idea of voice has a lot to say about power dynamics: “Sarah’s exhibition has enabled us to think about the ways in which dominant power is being contested by artists from different subject positions.”
Dr Mishra and Dr Jones ellaborate on the importance of the public programme experienced alongside the exhibition:
“We’ve recently seen a resurgence of eugenics in mainstream UK politics, an increased glorification of our colonial past and present combined with a denial of its most brutal aspects, and continued inaction on climate, so talking about these things is more important than ever – and it’s also important for us to talk about creative ways to resist them, and learn from people who have been doing so for a long time. We hope our programme can offer the space for this creativity!”
Many voicesand Interruptions/Disruptions have a lot to offer to any audience, especially students. Not only do they tackle themes relevant to our political climate, they also help us to think about concepts we are familiar with and which we may have studied in a completely new setting, or, if you are not a frequent gallery-goer, in a completely new place as well.
It’s true, the thought of going to a gallery can be quite daunting for some people, but the colourful sign at the entrance of John Hansard Gallery is more persuasive than I could ever be: “You belong here.”