Nicola Benge reflects on our recent event Curating Exhibitions in Practice, a day of short-talks and a workshop on making exhibitions in collaboration with Brighton CCA and the University of Brighton Design Archives

I attended the Curating Exhibitions in Practice Day at the University of Brighton on 5thMay. Organised by the Centre for Design History, I was drawn to this intriguing event, as so much of the work I deliver in my role as Director of Strike a Light – Arts & Heritage, and through other freelance work, is about finding creative ways to explore heritage, and engage people through delivery of community focussed exhibitions. This is through a diverse array of projects including Jewish Sussex, and the role of BME communities in WWI.

It fitted the bill perfectly! A wide array of speakers, all approaching the conference theme differently, but professionally relevant and memorable. The sessions firstly covered a segment on planning an exhibition given by Ben Roberts, Director of the Brighton Centre for Contemporary Arts. He covered useful elements to factor in with the logistics of setting up an event. Things to think of here included artificial lighting versus natural light, if the works included need light protection, factoring in the exhibition legacy, and its documentation too.

Zenzie Tinker pointing to their presentation

Zenzie Tinker

I was really pleased to be present for the second talk, a showcase on Displaying Dress and Mounting Mannequins by conservator Zenzie Tinker. Previously a conservator at the V&A, she set up Zenzie Tinker Conservation 20 years ago. Based in Brighton, the company have restored and cared for costumes in collections across the world. This was a fascinating talk and whilst I don’t know one end of a needle from the other, was an enervating exploration of different kinds of exhibition development for costumery, factoring in budget, location and clients. She covered so much including: What do you want to say with your exhibition, that Mannequin display is expensive so think about other ways to showcase the items, and that heavily decorated garments (and beading) will possibly be too heavy for a mannequin display. I learned a lot here, including the pithy new phrase ‘inherent vice’.

The following talk, Designing a Research Exhibition, Clothkits and Creativity, and given by Nicola Miles a UOB postgraduate researcher, was a great example of how to pull together an exhibition on a shoestring, something very pertinent to my own community interest company. This was a lovely walk through her research into the Clothkits clothing brand, and plans to create a shopfront window display in Lewes. Utilising people found on local community groups, loans, offcuts and freebies, Nicola showed the possibilities, with time and ingenuity (if not budget), to give life to a research area, both imaginatively and exuberantly.

Sue Breakwell presenting in a room with attendants looking at them

Sue Breakell

Sue Breakell and Sirpa Kutilainen, both from the University of Brighton Design Archives, gave an interesting appraisal of ways to display archival material for exhibition. This offered a different focus as much of their display work discussed was two dimensional, rather than 3D as other speakers had covered. Useful tips on adhesives, hangings and materials to support display were all relevant, but other pertinent questions I wouldn’t have considered included assessing the LUX (Light exposure), who pays for framing, layout – creating a mock up in advance, and whether to use UV filtered glass or add filters to ordinary glass for this purpose.

The day concluded with a workshop for students who are planning their own exhibition on City Campus in Brighton over the coming months. I wasn’t able to stay for this, but overall, this was a really uplifting day. To be in a packed room of enthusiastic people, all learning new things from some expert speakers was hugely enjoyable way to spend the day.

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