November 13, 2021: Today is the last day of the Making Care exhibition. It also happens to be my last day staffing the gallery, as I will be moving on from my position here next week. It hangs heavy in the air for me; I really love being here but felt that time had come for me to move into something new.
Beyond being a job, ONCA has been a source of community, friendship, critical engagement and stability for me. I was new to Brighton when I first began my research residency here (before getting hired) and have really regarded both the main gallery and the barge as my ‘second homes’ in Brighton. These things won’t change… this will always be a home to me.
I preface this ‘review’ of our current exhibition with this statement to contextualise my feelings whilst I sit in this space. From a cosy chair in the back of the gallery I see people pass by the window. They stop and look at the sandwich board, take a closer look at Keith’s mural in the front window. They seem intrigued. They linger in the street. They poke their head in the window to see Josephine’s portraits and the bed from Kyla and Lou’s installation. They pause for a moment… and then they walk on. This exhibition has had just a small amount of walk-by traffic. Even though I think it’s a beautiful exhibition that everyone would, could, should enjoy, I’m actually grateful for the selection of viewers we do have coming in. People who come into the gallery for this show spend time here and that is the way this should be enjoyed. A man that walked in this afternoon explained to me that this is his second time around, as he was so taken the first time that he needed to spend more time with the work, to ‘really take it all in.’
When Lydia told me about this show and asked me if I wanted to help facilitate it, I was very excited. In this show we would not ‘curate’ a visual exhibition; instead we tried to facilitate an experience of coming together with artists we admire who have taught us, healed us, delighted us and within whose work we saw aspects of care. Through a series of virtual meetings, conversations, and sharing past projects, we all came together to collaboratively curate a show that shows various ways we can make care. In the end, the initial concept of ‘making care’ became not just a philosophy for how we wanted to treat the artists involved or the audience, it became the de facto title.
At the front of the gallery you have a score on the floor from Carmen and Heather that is meant for a group of friends and a parachute; the parachute is suspended from the ceiling. Along the right wall are two self portrait mixed media pieces in a literal conversation with each other from artist Josephine Chime. Across the gallery there is a hexagonal chalkboard room divider, creating a self contained space with padded floors, large cosy cushions, the best rocking chair you’ve ever sat in and a 528 Hz frequency wah wah pipe.There are chalk pens you can use to answer questions posed by the artist Evan, or you can just sit back and listen to Evan’s podcast B.L.I.S.S. At the back of the gallery is a bed and chair where you can recline to watch Kyla and Lou’s pilot for ‘It’s Personal’, a reality TV show about personal assistant training – and two friends breaking barriers, sharing insecurities and catheter techniques. Within Kyla’s imagined bedroom you will find a plethora of sensory toys and a curated selection of reads from us as a collective.
Maybe it’s the cosy appeal of the soft furniture, or the mountains of interesting books and interactivity through play laid out all over the gallery, but this space is doing something I’ve not seen a lot of our exhibitions do. It’s creating an environment where one can and does spend a lot of time comfortably. People who came in to see this exhibition wanted to spend time here – they felt held here. Even myself as a facilitator and employee felt more like I was having a slumber party than a shift at work every day I’ve been here. But beyond these cosy feelings of being within the space, I started to think of care, access and community in different ways I hadn’t before. I also started to think about the varying ways curators, programmers and facilitators show artists care. In instances of curating, how do we appropriately highlight voices? In which ways do we ‘gate-keep’? In my capacity as an artist, how do I want to be cared for? When you work within an arts organisation you are constantly asking yourself, ‘who is the audience?’ ‘Who is this work for?’ ‘How are the works communicating with each other?’ In this one instance we decided to instead focus on what each artist had the desire and capacity to do, and let that lead us. I feel grateful to be a part of where it took us.
Image: Detail from a white parachute with black lettering around the edge. The words ‘Point of Orientation’ are visible.
Main image: Two people sit propped up in a bed. They are under a white duvet, laughing. They are reading books about topics such as care, disability, trauma and community. There are books and plants on the window sill behind them.