An Interview with Mindy Lee, curator of Ghost Changing Room at Wimbledon Space
This autumn Wimbledon Space presents Ghost Changing Room, an exhibition which explores the theme of impermanence. Here, we speak to curator and artist Mindy Lee to find out more.
“I always wanted to be a painter since I was a child, however, I began curating a lot later in life. After I graduated from painting at the Royal College of Art in 2004, I began working as curator at the Blyth Gallery, Imperial College, London. I’ve worked on hundreds of shows at the Blyth Gallery over the years, most recently in June 2019 I curated Sleepy Heads, which explored sleepers, dreams, masks, desire and death. I also work as a freelance curator, sometimes in a curatorial double-act with Sarah Gillham. Our first project, The Pleasure’s All Mine was held at Transition Gallery and we also curated All the Dead Dears, at WW gallery a few years later.
Curating is a great way for me to continue to research ideas and artists that excite me. My art practice doesn’t neatly fit into an existing Fine Art context. Curating offers me an empowering opportunity to create new contexts in which to experience artworks, to start a new conversation about ideas I feel are being overlooked. It has become second nature, as an extension of my art practice.
The idea for Ghost Changing Room has been bouncing around in my head for the past year. I had been making double-sided paintings on clothes with my son and as this series came to an end and began to fall into the past, I wanted to reassess the work within a broader context. I began to relook at paintings and sculptures that reference and transform clothes, that use garments to hold memories of the body.
The exhibition covers the disciplines of painting and sculpture but there are also elements of costume, prop and theatre. There are six artists in the show, Lindsey Bull, Tamara Dubnyckyj, Rebecca Jagoe, Cathy Lomax, Susan Sluglett and myself. The exhibition will immediately present itself as a changing room of sorts, with paintings of people getting changed amongst cast-off garments. There will be intimate traces of the body on show, looking into how we don and shed different personas, whether these be public, private or theatrical projections of the self.
We constantly shift, adjust and remake ourselves throughout life, overwriting our memories, without really noticing what we leave behind. Here the ghosts of our previous states remain as a constant reminder of our continual flux.
Choosing work for the exhibition is one of the best bits of putting on a show, but it is tricky to say exactly how this is done. When things come together the exhibition becomes greater than the sum of its parts, with no ‘flavour’ dominating. I initially explored the subject and researched intimate dressing moments within paintings. Sculptural works needed to embody the idea of having been worn and shed.
I wanted the exhibition to span public and private, so there is autobiographical narrative interwoven into more theatrical and cinematic moments. The works in the exhibition aren’t clean cut: each piece has a lot of secrets to divulge to the curious viewer. I wanted the show to move between an illusionistic and physical reality, so there needed to be both 2D and 3D works involved.
I love Wimbledon Space – it is a very unusual venue. I worked as a Library Assistant in Wimbledon College of Arts for over a decade and I know the space well, it is embedded in my history. I have walked through it countless times and observed so many people’s journeys in and through it. When I saw a call for exhibitions exploring the idea of impermanence, I wrote the exhibition proposal in direct response to the space. I began to think about all the shows, students, staff and visitors occupying, un-occupying and re-occupying the space.
Instead of taking Wimbledon Space as a blank canvas to work on top of, I wanted to try to use this activity and motion through the space as a curatorial stance. I wanted to consciously use the transitionary nature as much as I could. Motion, repetition, routine, revelation and change, then absence and re-visitation. They become the subject and the content of the show.
Mirrors will reveal the viewers’ own movement and behaviour in the space as they come and go. The show itself ought to feel impermanent and the viewer should become aware that they are briefly visiting a transient show and that they themselves are temporary. When it comes down to it, we are all ghosts passing through the space.
The process of curating Ghost Changing Room has been very organic, just like making a piece of art. You start with lots of sketches and ideas, then develop the most interesting and intriguing aspects. Take elements out, try new things, shift the context, part shift it back and this all takes time.
Once the idea is honed, you can get into specifics, like how many artists and which mix of artists is most effective. Then you can get into detail about which works of art create the most stimulating dialogue in relation to the context of your show. Finally, keep your fingers crossed hoping that the venue and artists will find it as exciting as you do.
Balancing the roles of both artist and curator can be tricky, as both disciplines are time consuming. I am super organised with my time and prefer to plan ahead. I am also strict on allocating time for both disciplines within my timetable. Curation is more outward-facing: you are finding, looking, researching and learning, then contextualising. Language is an important making tool to convey curatorial ideas. There are also a lot of practical logistical things to consider and deadlines. When you’re making, you can be as brief or as longwinded and as impractical as you like!
Making art utilises a lot of information gleaned through research and curating, but then words tend to leave the room as you look inwards and find your own visual language. Everything else becomes just background noise as you focus on making. It can all come back in the room, when you put your brush down and try to work out what you’ve done. I have learnt a new skill from the experience of putting this show together, which is to allow my curatorial voice to have its own presence. It often whispers, quietly orchestrating from behind the scenes, but for this show it will have its own distinct voice, separate from my art practice. The staging and altering of the space’s appearance is a new venture for me.
I am looking forward to seeing how people unravel the exhibition. Getting changed and being in a changing room is something we can all relate to. But being in a ‘changing room’ all together at the public reception will change things, thinking about private moments in a public space and also viewing paintings of others changing will be quite voyeuristic. The audience will become more aware of themselves and their movement around a static show.
The show will give the opportunity to experience time differently as the usual fleeting nature of changing is frozen for the duration of the show.
I hope the show intrigues and seduces, reminding the audience of things we all do without really noticing. I anticipate a level of disconcertion when presented with the ghosts of our past selves. I hope the show reminds the audience of both the visceral and the temporary nature of our bodies. I’d like people to take away a sense of their own ghosts and become more acutely aware of their own changing rituals.
I think the key to success when communicating with the public is simple honesty. Don’t use this opportunity as a platform or a stage to make you as the curator/artist look good, but rather be generous and offer a helping hand into the project, so the audience can engage with it.
It may sound like I have everything nailed down, but I cannot exactly anticipate the final outcome, the real exciting surprise will be seeing it all come together and finding links between the works that I have not yet consciously realised. That will be the treat of bringing it all together. Only by physically conjuring the show, will the exhibition’s full context be revealed. The show will only be complete once there are viewers looking at it and moving through the space. I am looking forward to seeing you in there. Also, look out for the publication to accompany the show, with an amazing introductory essay by Matt Price.”
Ghost Changing Room runs at Wimbledon Space from 30 September - 13 November 2019
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