Online, opened 18th Jun.
Created by MA students at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, Unquiet Moments: Capturing The Everyday is a testament to the ability of online exhibitions to provide an immersive and engaging experience for viewers. Originally due to take place at the city’s Somerset House, the premise of the exhibition – to explore how everyday moments are of great significance to our individual and collective histories – was developed in response to the site’s past use as a public Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Through focusing on the everyday and giving it importance, rather than official documents of landmark moments, the exhibition explores how we can redefine the notion of the archive.
The exhibition has taken on a whole new layer of meaning during the Covid-19 pandemic. People’s day-to-day lives have altered dramatically and we have been reminded that nothing is absolute. Things that were once commonplace such as going to a shop, café or bar now require planning and adherence to stricter rules and regulations. Additionally, personal objects such as photos of past holidays and gatherings with family and friends are now perhaps of greater sentimental value. Twenty-four artists, from various backgrounds and periods, are represented in the exhibition. Their artworks – selected from the Arts Council Collection and The Courtauld Gallery – are divided into three virtual ‘rooms’: Visual Diaries; Family Albums and Portraits; and Traces of Loss.
One highlight includes Karl Ohiri’s How to mend a broken heart (2013) in the Traces of Loss room. In this highly visceral work, the artist displays personal family photographs that were partially-defaced by his mother following the collapse of her marriage. These include intimate scenes of the couple dancing and sat on the sofa with their baby, with words such as “monkey” and “false” written across them and her ex-husband’s face etched or scribbled over. Alongside conveying the devastating emotions that accompany a breakup, this work speaks to the notion of a more fluid and flexible archive, which can be revisited and revised as our associations and understanding of its contents evolve. Furthermore, Ohiri advocates photography’s ability to act as a “gateway to the past”. This work is part of a series entitled “Sweet Mother”, devoted to Ohiri’s mother, who passed away. Following her death, Ohiri has expressed how he wished he had photographed far more moments with her.
Each work in the exhibition is accompanied by audio provided by the curators and invited individuals which reflect upon the artworks. For example, Paul Cezanne’s Hortense Fiquet (Madame Cezanne) sewing (1880) is accompanied by audio of a curator, her mother and sister reflecting on their relationship with the practice of sewing. Such discussion invites visitors to make their own deeper reflections on the works.
Further highlights include Barbara Walker’s Boundary I (2000) and Boundary II (2000) oil paintings. Based on photographs taken during her visits to barbershops in Handsworth, Birmingham, these paintings provide what art historian Dr Eddie Chambers has described as “inside social commentary” on the local African-Caribbean community. By documenting commonplace rituals, such as a trip to the barbers, and imbuing a sense of ease and warmth through her employment of oil paint, Walker provides an alternative representation of this community to that offered by mainstream media which perpetuates negative stereotypes and misinformation. These paintings, which measure 182 x 121 cm and 121 x 182 cm respectively, were designed to dominate an exhibition space. One misgiving of the exhibition being moved to an online platform is not being able to witness these works in real life and experience their full effect.
While viewing artworks online cannot compare to real life, the ability to explore this particular exhibition from home, where viewers are likely surrounded by their objects of sentimental value, and with a heightened awareness of the presence or absence of loved ones, is incredibly impactful. Certainly, people value meaningful experiences with works of art. This digital experience allows visitors to engage with works of art in their own home in a unique way.
With grateful thanks to Amy Miles for this review.
Featured image: Barbara Walker, ‘Boundary II’ (2000) oil on canvas*
*Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist and Cristea Roberts Gallery. Gift of the artist 2014.