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Growing an online community

Written by
Monica Biagioli
Published date
31 July 2020
Photograph of meshed fabric creating a dystopian-looking environment.
Artwork by Imogen Mills, Coleg Sir Gâr

When we started planning for Origins Creatives 2020, we brought professional curator Monica Biagioli on board to help with the selection and curation process of the exhibition. Whilst the exhibition won't be going ahead as planned, Monica is sharing her knowledge and awareness of curation with us through a series of blog posts. Read all about her thoughts on growing an online community - using college online exhibitions and student work as examples!

Enter the water silk crisp still flat cold bites envelope me viscous fluid embrace reach out to the depths gentle glide dark water release strength quieting mind silence within delicious water liberation tangled depths murky deep twists and knots unknown quantity if I let go will I surface disappear to the deep torn treading the line succumb fear embrace watery depths glide in thrilling precipice I rise.

-Imogen Mills, Sublimity installation

The statement/poem above could be a description of the creative process — pushing and coaxing as it does towards murky deep waters through twists and knots. It is from the textile works installation by Coleg Sir Gâr student, Imogen Mills, developed as “articulated responses through extensive mark-making, photograms, and print”.

Image of a hand in front of a colourful face, with a blue mandala backdrop
Angel Graham's exploration of nature and consciousness, South Devon College

Throughout the online exhibitions and offerings, there are extensive records of process. At South Devon College, Ella Mcanuff’s study of the impact of media on women’s perceptions of women; Angel Graham’s exploration of nature and consciousness; Amber Penwarden’s observations of the everyday surroundings; and Ruby Christie’s exploration of reflection to express perspective. At Leeds Arts University, LuJain Al Nahdi’s Construction Sites. At Central Saint Martins: Aayushi Hariharan’s Wandering Poems; Eloise Thomas’ Distraction; and Kennard Bahar’s A Sherpa’s Ba(g)ck.

Photograph of shadows
A photo from the Cutting Shadows project, NESCOT College

At a time when self-isolation and social distancing have become distracted habits, creative arts institutions — as we have seen through so many examples of vibrant exhibitions throughout the UK — act as a lifeline, as a community of practice active through the dynamic interplay of tutors and students with their subject and their media. As all interaction and communication remains located online for the time being, the need for the concrete and mortar of the creative institution as physical focal point has come into question, or at least into debate.

Where do you build community? Where do you nurture it and keep it growing? The reality is that communities are built within their practices — in the printmaking workshops over a ground plate; in the letterpress studio setting type; in the textile area, weaving, planning and making. Even in areas referred to as digital, the physical proximity of peers and tutors has a tremendous impact on the experimental and testing phases of projects. This then translates to an unteachable confidence that can launch careers, and encourage a recent graduate to send a portfolio, request a contact name, and get on with the work of making work.

Nescot Art & Design College’s exhibits for 2020 are a series of experiments, processes, materials pushed and pulled to great visual effect, but also to exercise the link between thinking and making so central to our subject area. The UAL Level 1 Diploma in Art and Design’s statement expresses this aim clearly: “designed to encourage students…to explore their own creativity and individuality in a supportive environment which helps to build self-confidence”. And we see examples of Cutting Shadows and documenting the movement of light — both so light-hearted and playful and yet fundamental building blocks of a creative process. Coleg Sir Gâr demonstrates through the exhibits a love of craft and making and the real physical space that surrounds the artist/designer and engenders the work being made. At Richmond upon Thames College, a tightly-edited showreel reveals practice steps, dances, holds, and poses to tell the story of the dance process for the students enrolled.

A black and white drawing of a textiles design
Artwork by Phoebe Mae Thompson, Central Saint Martins

The Central Saint Martins Foundation Show 2020 takes the approach to its next logical level, producing self-contained publications for each course along with stories highlighting individual students. The results speak for a talented group of students allowed to immerse themselves fully into their areas of interest within the structure and support the course provides. The publications themselves are designed by graduates of the foundation programme now completing further studies; thus reinforcing the sense of community and completing the creative cycle of learning, nurturing, mastering, and sharing.

Circular rainbow coloured postcard design with
Artwork from Manchester College's postcard projects

With their Postcards from the Edge 2020: A lockdown project, Manchester College took sharing the creative process out into the community, with outstanding results. The powerful images and texts posted throughout lockdown are archived in their online space, as a document of a time and a place for those involved in the project. This is a great example of how to create a community of practice through a self-initiated project and how to keep sharing and keep it active.

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