Working with the CSM Museum & Study Collection, MA Culture, Criticism and Curation students have created the course’s first 3D-modelled virtual exhibition. We talk to the curators about the challenge of digitally designing a retrospective of Vivien Rothwell’s work as an embodied experience.
Why did you decide to create a virtual show?
"Working digitally was central to the initial project brief. Virtuality has become an integral part of curatorial practice and is still in the early stages of development. Our hope is that curators can think through what it means to use 'virtuality' to make an exhibition widely accessible. For us, it meant providing a legacy for an artist whose incredible works might otherwise be limited to archives and occasional shows."
Echoes of Nature is presented in a specific architectural space. How did you create that space and how does it impact the works on show?
"It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the architectural structure took its inspiration, as it was inspired by so much – we spent weeks researching past exhibitions, both those that embraced digital technology and those that were rooted in the physical.
We could say that The Guggenheim and The Serpentine Galleries, as a model for open-space structural planning, were both influences but when we developed the model it was really Rothwell herself that inspired us.
"We wanted to make a space in which we could embed her, in order to lead the viewer on a path through her creative universe. This approach is one we took from Rothwell’s own desire, as reverently articulated by her daughter, 'to give the viewer the possibility of a journey'."
Each part of the show has been constructed to best represent the artist’s interest in geometric shapes, from the line-based concentric circles of the outdoor garden to the circular palace in which the works are exhibited. The exhibition space’s design, in turn, becomes a projection of the mystical character of Rothwell’s output, resisting that sometimes-stagnant effect of the white cube gallery space.
We separated out her abstract and figurative works in the space to demonstrate how diverse Rothwell’s practice was. We’ve also gone to great lengths to make each side of the exhibition visible at all times – no separating walls have been added – to show how these two bodies are also entangled, both informing and shaping one another."
Sensory perception within digital space, specifically sound (sound of footsteps, water, birds) is an important element. Why did you include those?
"This is something that we wanted from the offset. Sensory stimulation in curating has so often been confined to the visual, but we wanted to create something more dynamic in which immersion could be experienced through a delicate balance of sound and moving image.
Yet our ability to provide this sensory perception was limited by the exhibition spaces we were originally working with – a series of screens in large open spaces without scope to install speakers, so we quite quickly dismissed this idea. When the lockdown began and we were forced to abandon our initial plans, we gained new possibilities by moving to an online platform. We began developing a soundscape: one that included footsteps, water and birds – all sounds closely connected to the environments from which Rothwell drew her inspiration. We’re so happy that the project veered back towards our initial instinct for sensory stimulation, it added a layer of depth to the immersion that might otherwise have been lost in the bustling halls of an arts institution."
Your show has an environmental awareness beyond the spatial. Can you explain that?
"Though available exclusively online, limiting some of the classic environmental waste generated by exhibitions, Echoes of Nature, is, like all virtual galleries, not a carbon free project. This must be acknowledged, the electronic resources used in both the creation and streaming of the digital environment.
In response to this, and in order to mildly offset the footprint of the exhibition, a £200 seed and planter donation will be made in the name of Vivien Rothwell to a forthcoming project at Central Saint Martins. These seeds will be used to cultivate sustainable pigments which can be used in both dyes and paints from plants including, among others, echinacea, sunflowers, marigolds and plum trees. Rothwell loved nature and regularly mentioned environmental causes that she felt deserved attention. Giving something back to a landscape that gave her such life is fitting of her legacy."
The curatorial team for Vivien Rothwell: Echoes of Nature comprises Weiyi Chen, Mazzy-Mae Green, Hanwen Liu, Maria Serena Padricelli, Esra Vazirally, Chu Ling Wang, Molly Wright & Wenjing Zhang.