MLA South West signs off with regional exhibition extravaganza

By Adam Bambury | 10 March 2009
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Three girls laughing in a gallery

Local schoolchildren exploring artworks as part of Falmouth Art Gallery’s New Expressions project with artist Patrick Woodroffe (not pictured) © Steve Tanner

A vibrant new crop of projects to create art from museum collections in the South West burst into fruition this spring, just as the organisation that championed them bids a final farewell.

The New Expressions programme was designed to foster fresh interactions between artists, museums and visitors. The results are now going on show in a series of exhibitions and instillations across the South West.

Projects ranged from jewellery-maker Daisy Dunlop interpreting the work of potter Bernard Leach at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, to surrealist artist Patrick Woodroffe helping Falmouth Art Gallery re-evaluate its historic frames collection.

At the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, photographer Matt Pontin collaborated with young people to create a contemporary re-telling of Cornish myths and stories behind the museum’s collections.

“It’s the first educational project in which I’ve felt more like a photographer than a babysitter, working genuinely and collaboratively with young people,” said Pontin. “We’ve seen light bulbs going on in the young people’s heads. I hope it’s the first project of many with museums.”

The museum’s Director, Hilary Bracegirdle, added: “Working with these young people has given the museum fresh insight into its collections as well as how we might better work with young people in the future. The dialogue created between these young people, the artists and the artefacts will continue throughout March and beyond.”

A woman talking to some young people

Artist Helga Gamboa explores Bristol’s tradition of ‘sub-vertising’ (subverting advertising), encouraging local young people to create their own artworks © Alexander Caminada

The £150,000 programme was funded by MLA South West, along with the National Lottery through Arts Council England. New Expressions is the final project from MLA South West, which is closing on March 31 after 15 years of working with the region’s museums libraries and archives.

The organisation is being replaced by a new national and regional team created following a shakeup of the MLA council, and its 16 staff are being assisted in finding alternative employment.

“It is very sad to be closing the history book on MLA South West’s fifty years as a champion of culture in the South West,” said the charity’s Chief Executive, Bob Sharpe.

“In many ways, this has been a golden age of investment and I hope the museum, library and archive sector will continue to have a strong voice in local, regional and national government, as public spending becomes increasingly tight.”

All ten museums involved in New Expressions will be adding specially commissioned new work to their collections as a result of their projects.

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum is welcoming a large new work by Suzanne Redstone to its Sculpture Garden, which reveals the science of light behind the museum’s mirror galvanometer, while ceramics artist Edmund de Waal has created an instillation at Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum inspired by its furniture collection.

A man with a device surrounded by young people

Young people from across Cornwall worked with photographer Matt Pontin to reinterpret the myths behind the objects at the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro © Steve Tanner

At the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, artist Peter Stiles has delved deep into the world of Victorian science with his exhibition, Vivarium. It takes in evolutionary theory and creationism in an interpretation of the museum’s marine biology specimens and the stories of the Victorians who collected them.

“The relationship with the artist has been inspirational. We haven't worked with an artist like this before,” said Alison Mills, Museum Development Officer for North Devon and Torridge areas.

“Peter's enthusiasm and the surprising directions in which the project has moved have given us all kinds of ideas for working with the museum's stored collections. We're finding unexpected uses for them; unlocking the knowledge side as well as the physical side of what we have here.”

The exhibitions in full:

Falmouth Art Gallery
Frameworks: the beginning by surrealist artist Patrick Woodroffe, December 12 2008 – March 31 2009

Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
Very moveable things by ceramics artist Edmund de Waal, February 7 – May 4 2009

The Leach Pottery, St Ives
New Expressions: An exhibition of contemporary resin jewellery by jewellery-maker Daisy Dunlop, February 21 – 25 April 2009

Herschel Museum of Astronomy, Bath
Inspirations around the sun by sculptor Chris Williams, February 27 – June 29 2009

Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro
New Expressions photography project by photographer Matt Pontin, February 28 – May 10 2009 and throughout March on King Harry Ferry

Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery
Labelled by artist Dail Behennah, February 28 2009 – March 27 2010

Museum of Barnstaple & North Devon
Vivarium by artist Peter Stiles, March 14 – April 25 2009

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum
New public art sculpture by Suzanne Redstone, installation late Spring 2009

Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter
An instillation by textile artist Gabriella Falk, July 4 – August 31 2009 at Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Bovey Tracy, then at re-opened RAMM in 2010

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Works by Helga Gamboa (ceramics), Graeme Evelyn (sculpture) and Motorboy (street art), from Spring 2011 at the museum’s new Challenging gallery

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