At the weekend I took a trip to Devon to see family. Whilst I was there I managed to squeeze in a visit to an exhibition. I headed to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter (RAMM) to have a look around and see what was going on. There I discovered the wonderful Sculpting The Musuem by Michael Shaw, which is on until 13 November 2016.
Michael Shaw had created a huge inflatable sculpture within the museum, which passed through a doorway from one room into the next giving the impression that the work was bursting through the gallery walls and filling the space.
Made from orange and yellow material, the work created a warming atmospheric glow within the gallery. The size of the work in the gallery was an interesting play on scale with the sculpture seeming almost larger than the gallery itself, thereby bringing into focus the negative space around the work and changing the feel of the rooms in the gallery. I would however have really liked to be able to walk closer to the installation to better experience the spaces that were created.
The play on scale was what fascinated me most about the work and it is something that Julia and I have experimented with for our own work, for example in our Big Knitting piece, where we scaled up the concept of knitting to create an immersive installation. It is also a theme that we hope to develop further. Integral to this is the choice of materials to transform typically small-scale techniques into large scale unexpected outcomes. We often dedicate time to researching unexpected or large scale materials and testing the boundaries with these materials. This was apparent in Michael Shaw’s work and made for an immersive exhibition experience.
Last week I went to Kew Gardens to visit The Hive. The Hive is an installation by BDP that was commissioned for the UK Pavilion at the Milan Expo in 2015 and which is now at Kew until November. I wanted to make sure I visited before the exhibition closed. It was a beautifully sunny autumn day, perfect for a visit to the gardens. I headed to The Hive first as I wanted to make sure I got to experience it before exploring the rest of the gardens.
The Hive is a fascinating large scale work which highlights the life of bees, particularly their communication and vibration patterns. Tiny devices are used in the beehives to pick up these patterns, which are then translated in the installation to sounds and lights. The greater the activity of the bees in the hive, the greater the sound and light patterns within the installation.
The Hive is raised up so that you can walk underneath it, with a semi-transparent floor, which allows you to look up into the installation. Here there were ‘bone conductors’ to enable you to experience how bees communicate in this way. It consisted of a thin wooden stick which you place onto a metal plate. By biting the stick between your teeth and then covering your ears you could hear the bees communicating. It was a very strange experience as it does not work at all if you don’t cover your ears, which was quite unexpected.
Ramps on either sides of the installation allow you to walk up past wildflower meadows and into The Hive itself. These meadows attracts bees and provide them with pollen, with boards explaining more about pollination and the importance of the bees. There were also guides giving talks about the many different species of bees and explaining more about the bees lives as well as the installation itself. This meant that the work was very informative and engaging as well as visually beautiful. I was particularly interested to see the hive as I have heard a lot about the problems of bees population decline over the past few years. The work really helped to highlight this. Julia and I are interested in making work that relates to current issues, themes and ideas so this was an intriguing example of one way that this has been achieved.
Once inside the installation, the effect was very calming as the sounds ebbed and flowed with changes in the bees activity. These changes were subtle, which encouraged the audience to linger within the work. The lighting also gradually changed however I would have liked to see this at night to experience the full effect of the lighting within the installation.
Over the course of the year Julia and I are trying to see work in a variety of different spaces as we are keen to produce work in and for a range of settings and spaces from galleries to public spaces to reach a wider audience. Therefore it was great to see a piece that wasn’t in a gallery setting, which may have reached a different audience to pieces that we have seen at museums and galleries. I really enjoyed the different experiences that were part of The Hive, which engaged with a variety of senses with the scent of the gardens, the sounds of the bees and the visual aspect of the installation itself. By providing different activities and appealing to a range of senses, I felt that the installation would appeal to a wide range of age groups. Again this is something that Julia and I could consider within our own work, by incorporating different levels of activity and engagement.