PRESS RELEASE – South Devon College

June 20

How an art lecturer defied odds to run a student exhibition during the pandemic

The pandemic and the resulting lockdown of the country has put many things on hold for a lot of people. How we interact with each other has evolved and more people have utilised the capabilities of technology that is around us to stay in touch with friends, family, and continue working where possible.

However, what isn’t a common thing for people to worry about is running an art exhibition in the middle of lockdown. However, Pawel Szymanski (Pav), Art Lecturer at South Devon College, was far from worried. He had a solution.

It was by no means an easy task, but what Pav did was nothing short of incredible. He hosted the Pandemic Art Summer Show 2020 in a virtual form, replacing the traditional exhibition that would normally be physically attended at South Devon College.

Using Zoom, 139 artists took part in the exhibition with over 1935 artefacts on display. 18 countries wererepresented: UK, USA, Switzerland, Canada, Nigeria, Serbia, Italy, The Philippines, Russia, China, Australia, Mexico, Spain, Poland, Argentina, Bahrain, UAE andGreece.

The event was a great success and continuing this event in the only way possible was appreciated by all of those involved.

Pav said: “I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of the students proudly displaying their work that they had invested so much time and effort into. It was an ambitious event to run of this scale online but it ran smoothly and it gave even more people the chance to see the fantastic emerging talent here at the College.

“Following the success of the event, I decided an online magazine would be the most appropriate way to commemorate this unique event and also continue toelevate the students’ thinking. It also gave us a chance to explain the meaning and significance of some of the pieces on display in more detail. And so, Art Foundry Magazine was born. This is the beginning of a quarterly magazine run by new students every year ensuring continuity and legacy.”

You can also view the work of all the artists involved in the exhibition at artpandemic.co.uk, including over 20 guest artist appearances, creative staff from the College and their students ranging from entry level to degree.

For more information on creative and artistic courses, visit southdevon.ac.uk where you can find all of the courses on offer. If you have any questions, get in touch by calling 08000 380 123 or email enquiries@southdevon.ac.uk

-ENDS-

For more information about this story, please contact Tom Davey, Marketing and Communications Officer, at tomdavey@southdevon.ac.uk or on 01803 540563.

Notes to Editors:1. South Devon College is a general Further & Higher Education college and degree awarding body, serving Torbay, Teignbridge and the South Hams, with campuses at Paignton, Torquay, Newton Abbot, and South Devon Marine Academy based on the River Dart in Kingswear.2. The College provides teaching and learning to around 10,000 students per year, has over 700 staff and contributes £30 million to the local economy each year.3. The College Mission is “inspiring our community through learning for all”4. The College provides teaching and learning at all levels, including: GCSEs, A Levels, technical and professional programmes, Higher Education degrees, apprenticeships, community learning, business training and bespoke services for businesses. 5. The College’s age range begins at 14 through South Devon High School, an exceptional opportunity for pupils entering Key Stage 4, offering direct entry to full time core GCSE and vocational programmes of study.6. The College has a successful and well established apprenticeship programme, providing work-based training to 1,500 apprentices of all ages and working with nearly 700 employers in 2018/19.7. The College offers high-quality university degrees, with Foundation Degrees, Honours Degrees, Top-up programmes and Higher National Diplomas and Certificates, delivered in partnership with the University of Plymouth, as well as award winning professional courses in management and accountancy.8. The College was awarded the PLATINUM Investors in People Award for its staff development and training in 2017, the highest level achievable.9. University Centre South Devon was awarded with the GOLD rating from the Teaching Excellence Framework(TEF) in 2017, the highest level achievable. 10. The College won the national TES FE award for Employer Engagement in 2017 and was shortlisted for the ‘TES College of the Year Award 2018’, and regularly features at the top of the league table rankings for employer satisfaction, learner satisfaction and other key benchmarks.11. The College is committed to investing in the community and local economy. Construction has recently been completed on the Hi Tech & Digital Centre, the South Devon College Sports Centre, as well as planning future marine sector initiatives.

ARTPANDEMIC – Virtual Summer Exhibition 2020.

In addition to all of my current duties, I have spent the last three months working hard to organise an amazing and challenging venture called artpandemic.co.uk

Due to the many limitations of the current crisis, our summer show has been moved online. Despite these compromising conditions, which you might think, would prevent me from organising a major celebration of learning and achievement, I have put together something very special and much bigger than the usual final assessment exhibition.

As a leader of Art & Design at my institution, I have invited Hi-Tec and Digital to join with me for a unique online international exhibition.  Additionally, I have approached a range of former students, staff and artists from all-over-the-world to celebrate creativity and resistance to the damaging impact of the current pandemic. I am also delighted that Richard Wilson – one of the most renowned British sculptors agreed to exhibit a range of his artefacts with us, including his famous architectural interventions.

The Virtual Summer Exhibition 2020 took place on Friday, June 19th at 6 pm UK time.   A scheduled link was distributed to those invited and activated on the night. The celebrations were possible thanks to Zoom – a multi-screen videoconferencing and interaction platform.

During the Private View, I was joined by artists from 18 countries, who were supporting my innovative response to the crisis, by producing their own work to enrich the exhibition.

I was asked to make a statement for a press release in Devon Live:

“It’s really exciting in these difficult times to be able to construct an exciting and revolutionary platform for students to present their work.  The prospect of disappointing everyone by not having a summer exhibition and denying our learners an opportunity to show their talent was unacceptable.  The idea of organising this ambitious online venture came about from my involvement in the prestigious Dubai Ideathon 2020.  I was selected out of over 300 applicants to play an active role together with 100 fellow international artists and designers.  I realised then the potential in connecting hundreds of people simultaneously could be achieved, and immediately knew, this would be the perfect solution for our students”.

The notion of an online art magazine seemed the natural way to go to prolong and elevate the artwork long after the event and give the work longevity. I have worked with three Foundation Art students on the design and format of the brand new Art Foundry Magazine.  The first edition includes interviews and work produced by Richard Wilson, alumni, current students and a selection of collaborating artists.  This publication will be updated on a quarterly basis.

Further details are below:

VIRTUAL SUMMER SHOW 2020 ART PANDEMIC

Link to the online exhibition:

Home

Static poster:

Link to our full invitation video:

Art Pandemic in numbers:

139 artists, 1935 artefacts and 18 countries are represented, including: UK, USA, Switzerland, Canada, Nigeria, Serbia, Italy, The Philippines, Russia, China, Australia, Mexico, Spain, Poland, Argentina, Bahrain, UAE & Greece.

Group selfie:

I have included some statistics below. Data were gathered on 27th June 2020.

total number of views to date
number of views from different countries
number of top views

LINK TO FINAL VIDEOS WITH SPEECH

Painting 1 Three Haitian Girls in Red

Painting 2 Haitian Girl with Butterflies

Painting 3 Disabled Palenque

Painting 4 Fragile Little Dreams

Painting 5 Dreaming About the Islan Girl

Painting 6 Waiting for A Cocktail Called Pornstar

Painting 7 Punhana

Video 1 Lockdown with The Wheel of Fortune Seller

Video 2 Masquerade

Video 3 Bye Bye Wheel of Fortune Seller

Video 4 Bye Bye Three Monks

Video 5 Three Monks

Video 6 The Bathing of Pearl Twink

Video 7 Dialogue with Pearl Twink

Painting 8 Flower Girl from Batumi

Painting 9 One-Legged Pool Palyer

Painting 10 Thai Masseur

Painting 11 Three Monks Begging

Painting 12 Burmese Captain

Painting 13 Coach To Myiek

Painting 14 Ravens and Crows will Peck us to Pieces

Exhibition Design – Second Draft

I have continued to work with Aristotle in order to develop a more refined plan for the layout of my exhibition. Initially, my idea was to arrange all paintings and videos in a linear arrangement. I wanted to start with a series of work from Haiti, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The centre was dedicated to displaying a series of 7 videos. Finally, the work inspired by my research in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia were placed on the right.

I have spent a considerable amount of time reflecting in order to establish a sequence of images. My focus was on the cohesiveness of the process of visual communication, underlying narrative and messages, which are questioned by each artefact. Subsequently, I have managed to create a long wall design proposal with a degree of flow and echoing of ideas between the works. There was a sense of a dialogue and interaction between all parts of my research project. The holistic presentation would include a series of 20 pieces.

However, this concept proved to be problematic in technical terms. Therefore, a decision was made to explore possibilities of using a rectangular format. Paintings in the top and bottom rows and videos in the centre. This provides a more clear overview of the entire exhibition and allows to make an overall visual assessment.

The other development is to support every piece with a sound file containing an explanation of each piece. I will use a similar approach to the one, I experimented with in preparation for my Symposium. I will record a computer read text to make the speech clear and understandable.

Exhibition Design – First Draft

Following an exchange of messages, Aristotle has worked really hard in order to visualise my ideas for the exhibition. Initially, I wanted to display my artefacts all in one line. My intention was to have them equally spaced and presented on a white and plain wall with no shadows and other unnecessary distractions. For technical reasons, this was impossible to achieve. The first draft is based on a grid, which consists of three rows. Every individual image can be enlarged for viewing. I am very impressed by its simple, clear and aesthetic look.

I have posted the following two questions for a further discussion with Aristotle:

  1. Will videos play looped in small windows or only, when individually enlarged?
  2. Will I be able to add text/ sound files to accompany and explain my work?

This is necessary for me to ascertain in order to continue with additional preparation of appropriate text and narrative.

Screenshot of the overall page
Screenshot of an enlarged individual piece.

I am very happy with the progress of the design proposal for the exhibition. I am excited to see how it will continue to develop and evolve until a final resolution is achieved and refined.

New Ideas for the Design of My Final Show

I have created two plans for the arrangement of my work in preparation for the final show.

The 5 central pieces indicate video projections. My paintings are displayed on both sides and organised in their chronological order of research and production.

I shared the following thoughts and reflections with the group:

‘Having carefully considered many different options, I have made a conscious decision to use a website-like display for my exhibition.

This is to ensure clarity, aesthetics and sophistication of my visual communication without any distractions, additions and unnecessary decorations.
I would like to avoid, at all cost, the form overgrowing the meaning.

I am inspired by the design and organisation of presentation offered by platforms like Instagram and https://www.behance.net/

I would like to present my research project using a white page with a grid of ‘windows’ representing individual paintings and videos. Viewers will be able to click on each individual piece to open it up and view larger details in a pop-up window. My video pieces will play exactly in the same way – when enlarged.’

The more refined thinking is as follows:

‘I have copied an idea into my folder on google drive. All images are of identical heights, and are equally spaced, probably further apart than indicated on my design. Central pieces are video projections, and my paintings are on both sides. They are arranged in the chronological order of creation. Their sequence may be slightly altered.’

Refined version of proposal covers 7 paintings, 5 videos and 5 final images:



This is an earlier version showing some technical glitches and inconsistencies:

Planning and thinking:

Considerations for My Final Exhibition

Having carefully considered many different options, I have made a conscious decision to use a website-like display for my exhibition.

This is to ensure clarity, aesthetics and sophistication of my visual communication without any distractions, additions and unnecessary decorations.
I would like to avoid, at all cost, the form overgrowing the meaning.

I am inspired by the design and organisation of presentation offered by platforms, such as Instagram and https://www.behance.net/

I would like to present my research project using a white page with a grid of ‘windows’ representing individual paintings and videos. Viewers will be able to click on each individual piece to open it up and view larger details in a pop-up window. My video pieces will play exactly in the same way – when enlarged.

I have identified all paintings and three videos, which I will include in the display.

The recording for my final video will take place this weekend.

Reflections on the Final Show

I have researched and tested a great number of possible platforms for the final show. Unfortunately, I have found them quite disappointing. The most common concept is to based on echoing a feeling of a physical gallery. Frequently, the software is very slow and clumsy in operation. Additionally, the overall effect is more focused on the look of the space rather than the work itself. Art becomes somehow secondary to the meaningless decorations and textures of walls, ceiling and the lighting.

The most popular online gallery is artsteps.com and https://www.furioos.com/ is best for streaming 3D work.

Other options, which are worth investigating are:

https://www.capterra.com/art-gallery-software/

https://www.3dvas.com/

http://omeka.org/

http://openexhibits.org/

http://collectiveaccess.org/

http://pachyderm.nmc.org

Alternatively, I have considered using a website, which is similar in design to behance.net.

I really like the simplicity, effectiveness and freshness of the front page. There is a grid of large block images, which is inviting and very clear. This website is able to accommodate a broad range of artefacts, including gifs files and video work. Photography on display is relatively high resolution and organised with order and structure.

Our group meets in Zoom on a regular bases to discuss possibilities for arranging the exhibition. All students are very proud and would like to present their research projects to the best of the abilities. Likely, Aristotle, who is one of our students, has offered to help everyone and donated both, his time and the use of his original software.

In preparation for my exhibition, I have carefully considered a range of ideas. My main intention is to make sure that the way, in which my work is displays reinforces its meaning. I would like to avoid using any unnecessary gimmicks and distractions.

In these unprecedented times, it is quite strange for a painter to accept that the final exhibition will not have a physical dimension. Frankly, I am saddened and overwhelmed by a lack of reality it terms of the experience of true colour, texture and painterly mastery of strokes. However, an artist and creative individual needs to seek opportunities in overcoming obstacles. Therefore, my intention is to excel myself and make the online exhibition even better, more refined and sophisticated. I would like for this to be a new learning curve full of controlled happy accidents, experimentation and deep reflection of what is appropriate in term of visual communication – my chosen language of expression.

The digital approach creates a new chance to experiment with a ‘space’, which supports and reinforces my messages in cohesion to deliver a holistic poetry about my painterly and video work.

Currently, I am planing for a long wall with three parallel and simultaneous video projections. This number can be possibly extended to four. I am in the process of working on a painting titled ‘Ravens and Crows Will Peck Us to Pieces’. It is quite likely that I will make sufficient progress to video another washing cycle. This image is different to portraiture. Therefore, I was relatively hesitant to include this image. However, on reflection, it summarises my overall responses to my research findings in a time of lockdown and social isolation. We are all subjected to mortality, vulnerable and fragile. The end of our journey is the only certainty in our lives. Death is the culmination of our waiting, while being suspended in the vacuum of hypnotic repetition.

The side walls of the gallery will be dedicated to the display of the actual paintings. I should be able to exhibit between 8 and 10 canvasses.

It is all very exciting!