Fine art students at the University of Lincoln are determined not to let coronavirus ruin their degree show. Emma Brice explains how they’ve been harnessing social media to give profile to their now-online celebration of 3 years’ hard work.
Under normal circumstances, the University of Lincoln Fine Art Degree Show would be opening on Friday 22nd May with a private view to celebrate the final works produced by 37 final year fine artists. Creative professionals would have been invited to attend and view the exhibited works, providing us with an invaluable networking experience. The exhibition would have been open to the public for 2 weeks afterwards.
That’s enough ‘would-have-beens’ for now…
Since receiving the news that Lincoln, amongst other UK Universities, would be moving to online teaching, we began discussions about how we might curate an online exhibition for virtual visitors and produce digital versions of a catalogue and our marketing materials.
The degree show, for us, is the focal point of our degree from day one of university and is a celebratory conclusion to our hard work over the three years and a typical Monday morning for us began with a lecture delivered by Steve Fossey, the Programme Leader of Fine Art at the University of Lincoln and leader of the degree show module. Our lecture on Monday 16th March, however, was slightly different.
This lecture took the form of a discussion the about developing circumstances of Covid-19, and the potential scenario where the degree show would not be able to go ahead in a physical studio space. Discussions were forward-thinking. We looked at how we could organise, advertise and document an online exhibition, and still celebrate our achievements and connect with industry professionals. Immediate decisions included setting up an Instagram account that introduced each exhibiting artist, their practice and their current stage of development. This account is now live and building a virtual community that supports our artists and is boosting audience involvement and interest in the run-up to the online show.
The degree show would normally require in-person support from academics and our technicians from the College of Arts, Danny Ridealgh and Robert Britt. Now instead, lectures, tutorials and technical support are taking place on the University’s digital learning portal Blackboard Collaborate, and we’ve all signed up to one of four teams that are organising the degree show catalogue, marketing, curation and logistics.
Embracing the online platform
As a member of the marketing team I am involved in the social media campaign to promote the artistic and professional development of the 30+ graduate artists before they set out on their careers. We are being supported by the School of Fine and Performing Arts embedded producer, Rachel Baynton, who is advising on online audience development.
We’ve titled our new online degree show The Space Between Us 2020. As the physical space between us grows, we hope our online community of social media followers will too.
Throughout our degree studies we have been encouraged to think about how the placement of our works alters because of the context in which the work is received by the viewer. With the Internet as our new platform, the marketing team have been thinking about performative ways to slowly release information such as artists profiles and digital exhibition posters to create a buzz amongst our followers.
We are assigning each digital/social platform a different purpose. Instagram posts begin by introducing each artist, their practice and their stages of development with their degree show work. The exhibition poster, designed by exhibiting artist Elise Florence Watson, has already been split and released across 12 posts, forming a large digital jigsaw of this image.
Meanwhile, our Instagram story is active with live Group Crits and artist takeover days. These virtual events are giving an insight into the situations of the artists and letting our audience into the creation of the work. The labour and development that has gone into the final work is not usually shown in such detail in degree show contexts. Often the artist wants to ‘reveal’ the finished product rather than allow audiences into vulnerable stages of creation. We are proud of every artist who has revealed their process and are grateful to our followers for supporting our growth.
Our Twitter page is expanding and promotes creativity. In April, National Poems Month, poetry written by a selection of exhibiting artists from our exhibition was posted. The Twitter page is also retweeting posts by our artists – exhibiting artist Kat Baines, for example, was asking for images of pigeons from the public to support her work. It is also promoting responses elsewhere to the current circumstances in the creative sector, such as the BBC’s #CultureInQuarantine programming series.
Our Facebook page explores the individual realities of our artists and how they are adapting to this change of circumstance. Facebook posts offer a ‘behind the scenes’ view of our artists in their home environments and how they have been continuing to make and develop work for the degree show. Exhibiting artist Eleanor Ball would usually keep her work and relaxation spaces separate. However, “Ball is…currently living with her…installation [which is a replica of a pub bar] in her bedroom, meaning that her artwork is encroaching on this space daily and at times the bedroom needs to be activated by art performances”. Ball is using “her daily interaction with her installation to develop the work” and “is trying to embrace the positive outcomes that this new working environment has led her project in”.
Because we feel it is important to contribute to and encourage interconnection between artists and respond positively to these unprecedented circumstances, a selection of our work has contributed to other projects that are embracing the change in situation. This includes Nebula Festival organised and delivered by BA Music students at the University of Lincoln, and external online projects such as @sadgrads2020, @artistsagainstdistance, @photography_features34 and @thesocialdistanceartproject, amongst others. These platforms have generously shared development images and videos of some of our exhibiting artists, which have been shared on our Instagram Artist Features highlight.
Context and connection
In 1972, art critic John Berger noticed how the development of the camera allows us to view images of paintings “in the context of [our] own [lives]”. In response to Covid-19, the degree show and the marketing team are embracing digital devices and social media platforms that are already part of the context of our lives, to celebrate the adaptation and development of ourselves as exhibiting artists.
The Space Between Us 2020 requires its artists and audience to stay at home but opens up a newfound digital connection that brings people together from different contexts and viewing situations. We would love you to join us now on our social media, and online exhibition from Friday 22nd May, to explore with us the endless capabilities for virtual connection in a time when we must remain physically apart.