Art galleries and exhibitions are truly magical spaces. It’s a curious mix to see people at their most unguarded, as they access artwork, yet simultaneously so aware of themselves and others in the space. Memorable artwork can be an intensely personal experience, at odds with the physical reality of sharing this next to a complete stranger, who is also connecting to the artwork.
Working in fine art engagement, I often have the chance to observe others observing art. We run the gamut of emotions in gallery spaces, but how aware are we of others in the room? Accessing an exhibition like “Coming Out – Sexuality, Gender and Identity" in the gallery means by default interacting with others. We politely or non-verbally navigate around others, wait for our chance to get up close and see detail, share social time with friends, family and strangers all at the same time. Our every active choice in the space is a subconscious message to those around us – how long do we linger on a particular artwork and why? Does our body language reveal our unconscious reaction to the work?
The mechanics of this public transaction are fascinating to me. Consider though that this is a public moment. By entering a space with queer art we build an association and reflect values of openness, exploration, exposure to new ideas and equality. For a number of people in our region though, and indeed within the LGBT+ community, this may not be an option. Consider for example if you did not want people to know you are accessing queer art. Perhaps the associations, interest, atmosphere or preconceptions of what it may be like are off-putting. This might not not feel like a safe space emotionally to enter, as it is packed with questions, provocations and emotion.
It's been a joy to see how popular and heavily attended the exhibition has been so far. However, as someone whose career is built on accessibility, I’m conscious of those who don’t feel they want to or can physically attend. How do we extend the reach of the collection?
For me the outreach sessions we have run are key. Independent, private access to the artworks and themes that doesn’t presume that the entry point begins with walking into the building. Working with Learning Resource Assistant volunteer and talented artist Trixiebella Suen, she has considered this and has used her own arts practice to create a bridge or provocation to people remotely. Trixie has made a piece in response to the idea of partial decriminalisation in 1967, specifically the legal / emotional and social reality of countries from around the world then and now. She recounts her own experience of finding identity, and asks others to consider or share theirs, in the video below.
Moving, anonymous and respectful, this work looks to reach beyond the gallery walls. Whilst we don’t require an answer, museums and galleries are always asking visitors to consider, “What’s your story?”