Curating and creating art exhibitions are unusual activities for Sociologists. When the time comes to turn our data and analyses into a public intallation, we find ourselves standing in the gallery as if facing a blank page. The Mead Gallery's exhibition space presents a vast, empty area for us to fill. Our materials, which seemed oversized in the office, look lost in here.
The stories we have constructed from the archival images, documentary materials and interview data need to be displayed so that there is some coherence - whilst allowing for the multiplicity and openness of interpretation - and they need to look good. We approach the task a bit like writing an article or an essay, laying out the materials on the floor and trying different texts alongside each other. We come at it from different angles, and ask the advice of colleagues.
All finished outputs are crafted with a view to telling certain stories to certain audiences, but the public and multi-sensory nature of curating a visual and interactive exhibition makes this process much more explict. We do have stories to tell, but they are multiple, disjointed and in some cases contradictory. There are many gaps. We want the exhibit to allow space for these productive tensions to emerge and for people to make their own meanings from the materials.
Cath and Adam are here in the 'cinema space' where the On Campus (1970) film is shown. Although the Beatles' soundtrack to the film can be heard throughout the gallery, you don't actually see the film until you walk right round the corner. The feeling of disorientation and surprise fits with our feelings about the themes and our analysis to have emerged from the data.
Hannah and Caroline fold exhibition guides and collate interview transcripts for stocking the makeshift shelves in the social reading space. The space of the gallery as a whole has been curated by Fierce! and involves a labrinth of 'rooms' divided by wooden walls. You can climb through or under irregular sized 'doors', or peak through 'windows'. In line with Fierce's Interrobang philosophy, the space promotes the movement of people (and ideas?) around the gallery and incites their participation. It's not self-evident what you should do or where you should go when you walk through the gallery entrance. This resonates with the pedagogical principles behind the Reinvention Centre's own teaching space, the Reinvention Centre at Westwood.
The social reading space comprises several 'shelves' fashioned from the backs of the plywood walls, on which we display books, University prospectuses and reports about Higher Education. There are also files of catalogued print-outs from our archival research. All these materials have been central to our project. There is a range of seating, including coloured blocks and beanbags, benches and piles of cushions around the gallery. In the bench area, a silent film is showing aerial footage of the University and the surrounding landscape, taken sometime during the 1980s. On a table with a stripy cloth, the computer screen shows live footage from one of the University of Warwick's CCTV cameras which is positioned overlooking the Piazza by the Student Union. At the time of the exhibition, exams were just finishing and all over campus students were celebrating and socialising in the sunshine. Although fuzzy, the footage presents an exhibition in its own right. You can view what's happening there right now. To the right of the footage, we set up a bench with three sets of headphones on; these have different recordings selected from the interviews. To access these materials, go to the methods and methodologies page.