RAMM and contemporary art 2018-2022
From 2018 to 2022, RAMM has received additional investment from Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisation funding to develop contemporary art activity in response to the museum’s collections.
RAMM is creating a dynamic contemporary art programme as an expression of its vision: Home to a Million Thoughts.
We are encouraging and inspiring new interpretations of RAMM and its collections by working with artists to create new work. Art work by internationally-renowned contemporary artists is displayed in exhibitions and within the permanent displays whilst our building and the stories that relate to collections are stimulating commissions.
Bringing his renowned surreal sense of humour to bear, Bedwyr populated the Queen Street foyer with an array of human faces all found on artefacts in RAMM’s collections. After decades of being examined in glass showcases, the objects had a chance to get their own back by studying the visitors.
We are also working in collaboration with local visual arts partners to develop contemporary art projects involving our communities inspired by RAMM’s collections and relating to our different programming themes of Ornamentation, Migration, Untold Stories, Health and Wellbeing, and the Environment as outlined and illustrated here:
Ornamentation – January to March 2019
RAMM showed the major exhibition Criminal Ornamentation: Yinka Shonibare curates the Arts Council Collection from 19 Jan to 17 March 2019.
This intriguing exhibition included eye-popping art ranging from film to fashion and ceramics and fashion. Celebrated British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare chose works that surprise and dazzle. From a sequined dress by Alexander McQueen to nineteenth-century wallpaper by William Morris, there were more than 100 works by 50 artists including Andy Goldsworthy, Sarah Lucas, Sonia Boyce, Susan Derges, Mona Hatoum, David Nash, Bridget Riley and Yinka himself.
Migration – spring to winter 2019
Artists Heinrich & Palmer were commissioned to create a new video work titled Aerial inspired by the migration theme for the exhibition Birds without Borders in 2019. It starts with a flight over Arctic landscapes and ends by looking in detail at a single feather. The artists Heinrich and Palmer produced Aerial by using point cloud data from a CT scan of a feather and 3D laser scans of each of the birds. They explained their making process as:
‘Our starting point for exploring the fourteen migratory birds was the idea of journey. The medium has enabled us to animate a series of flight paths through the group of birds, creating new juxtapositions between species. Aerial developed out of the editing process: the slow process of exploring the point clouds revealed unexpected qualities unique to the birds. There is a dynamism to their forms, captured in freeze frame by skilful taxidermy, but transformed again into luminous bodies which appear to dance around each other in combinations that can only exist within this diorama.’
The soundtrack developed specifically for the film, and showing on the monitor in the “In Fine Feather” gallery, weaves recordings of wind together with orchestral elements specially composed and mixed to express the balletic moves and potential dramas playing out between the different birds. In this virtual world these lifeless birds are able to soar beyond the borders imposed by their apparent stillness.”
Here in this short video they describe the inspiration and process of making the work.
Landscapes were created using open source data provided by Norwegian Mapping Authority. ©Kartverket, www.kartverket.no.
About the artists Heinrich & Palmer
Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer have worked in collaboration since the early 1990s. Their practice crosses disciplines and employs a range of media including installation, intervention, large-scale projection, film and photography. Many of their projects evolve through a process of research or collaboration with people from other disciplines such as architects, engineers, programmers and fabricators.
Recent work includes Ship of the Gods, commissioned by Absolutely Cultured for ‘Urban Legends: Northern Lights’ and shown at Hull Minster; The Ripple Effect, a Trust New Art Commission for Lacock Abbey; Floe, a large-scale projection commissioned for Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and Travelling Light commissioned for the National Railway Museum and Illuminating York 2016. www.heinrichpalmer.co.uk
Exeter-based artists Preston Street Union (PSU) were commissioned in Autumn 2018 to produce two new commissions inspired by RAMM’s theme of migration. PSU use social, collaborative processes to create participatory and performative artwork.
Handle with Care
Exeter-based photographer Brendan Barry was commissioned to work with a young carers group in Devon and create new work inspired by RAMM’s collections. The resulting display was titled Handle with Care.
South West Commission
In February 2019 RAMM announced its new South West Commission
Bristol-based artist Bryony Gillard was selected to explore Amelia Warren Griffiths’ seaweed collection and its connection with contemporary ideas and conversations. She was also inspired by feminist philosophers and scientists in a new moving-image artwork which featured in the exhibition Sea Garden.
Sea Garden – a unique exhibition
Sea Garden 16 November 2019 to 26 January 2020
Artists: Claude Cahun, Jo Crook, Dorothy Cross, Susan Derges, Bryony Gillard, Mollie Goldstrom & William Arnold, Sarah Gordon, Ingela Ihrman, Mikhail Karikis, Sarah Rose, Lucy Skaer
The exhibition presented contemporary art that explored our close relationship with marine life – specifically seaweed. Many of the works addressed a tension between nature and culture: between the living algae on the shoreline and dried seaweed specimens carefully preserved by the museum.
Sea Garden was intentionally international: the ocean has no border. From Devon to the North Pacific via Ireland and the West Coast of the USA, the themes suggested in the artworks placed the local within the international.
By setting-up dialogues between artwork made by artists in the 21st century, Sea Garden created interconnected themes of algae collecting, feminism, and environmentalism that questioned how we relate to each other and, in turn, the natural world. Seen together, these thought-provoking artworks expressed the artists’ intimate relationship with their environment.
Watch a short introduction to the exhibition Sea Garden
RAMM was a partner on a project with the artist Simon Pope titled Wassailing the microbial ecology of cider-making with an event at Halstow, near Tedburn St. Mary on 18 January 2020
“Here’s to thee Old Apple Tree,” we declaim to the apple tree, every year on Old Twelfth Night, as part of traditional wassail celebrations.
But who else takes part in cider-making? What of the fungi forming symbiotic relationships with the trees’ root systems? And what of the yeasts, living “wild” on the apple skins, that are vital to the fermentation process?
This new type of wassail celebrated this microbial ecology
This was the culmination of Simon Pope’s latest project in Devon, exploring the relationships between microbial ecology and human community. Pope has worked in close-collaboration with folk singer-songwriter Jim Causley, and ceramic artist Abigail North to produce a new folk song and experimental wassail bowl that will be presented at this public performance. This work was informed by a series of hands-on workshops at Grays Farm Cider, with participants specializing in cider-making, ecology, folk traditions, and local food culture.
It was a partnership with Grays Farm Cider and The University of Toronto, funded by the Social Science & Humanities Research Council in Canada and Arts Council England.
Year of Untold Stories – 2020
This year’s theme of Untold Stories explores people who have achieved remarkable feats or lived extraordinary lives. It includes hidden histories or the stories of neglected communities, or people fighting inequality and overcoming barriers. We are working with artists to explore these themes in works intervene in the collections.
Anyone may come or go 15 Feb to 29 March in the Making History galleries
Focused on Exeter’s historic wool trade, Preston Street Union have been investigating the flow of people, artefacts and ideas that have enabled the city to prosper. At the height of the wool industry, traders wrapped lengths of fabric for export in elaborate parcels known as tillets. The tillets were decorated with ornate, specially commissioned prints, which acted as a branding device. While some of these sizeable wooden printing blocks can be seen in the RAMM collection, no known examples of complete tillet wrappers have survived, and so their construction and use is a matter of some speculation.
Working with the RAMM Collections and new research gathered by local historian Dr. Michael A Patrick, Preston Street have re-imagined a tillet wrapper marked with a collectively created contemporary design that draws attention to the creative industries. The block from which the design is printed has been carved using traditional techniques by Saena Ku. The wrapper encloses a 15-metre length of red woollen cloth that was previously used by Preston Street Union in the work SERGE/SURGE, a series of live actions around Exeter’s city wall in 2019, commissioned by RAMM.
A paper print of the design will be distributed throughout Exeter and beyond in a contemporary act of trade and distribution, inviting reflection on the theme of migration. Watch a video about the work.
To coincide with Naomi Frears’s solo show at Exeter Phoenix, RAMM has commissioned the artist to create new work inspired by Untold Stories in the collections with a focus on sleeves. Intersecting the worlds of high fashion and work wear, sleeves bring together Frears’ interests in gesture and everyday choreography. Her research and observation of the costume collections in store have provided the catalyst for this new intervention in the Courtyard Case.
Naomi Frears (born 1963) lives and works in St Ives, Cornwall and is based in the historic Porthmeor Studios. Recent solo exhibitions include New Work at Beaux Arts, London; The Picture Room, Newlyn Art Gallery; Kestle Barton, Cornwall as well as a commission for Groundwork, CAST, Cornwall in 2018. She received her BA (Hons) from Sunderland College of Art in 1986 and has shown widely throughout the UK since. Alongside her personal practice she has curated a variety of exhibitions, residencies and events for organisations such as Tate, Newlyn Gallery, Groundwork, Kestle Barton and Falmouth School of Art. Her work appears regularly on the cover of London Review of Books.
RAMM has invited acclaimed contemporary artist Joy Gregory to create a new artwork this year. The piece will be displayed as part of an exhibition, opening in October 2020, which will explore how the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy permeates Devon and Exeter’s social infrastructure to this day.
The new artwork will be informed by the artist’s experience of working with the curators at RAMM and the museum’s collections, the advisory panel to this exhibition and members of the public.
The Silver Wave, by critically-acclaimed moving image and performance artist, Michelle Williams Gamaker, has been commissioned by RAMM to celebrate this year’s theme of ‘Untold Stories’. Inspired by objects from the Arctic region in RAMM’s collection, it tells the story of Ada Blackjack, an Iñupiat woman from Nome, Alaska, who became the sole survivor of a doomed expedition to Russia’s Wrangel Island, in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. The explorers were hoping to claim the island for the British Empire, but as the four men Ada travelled with fell ill and eventually died or disappeared in an attempt to seek help, she was left alone on the island. Ada’s diary of this ill-fated voyage, are filled with thoughts of her young son Bennet, who she had had to leave behind in a care home. Extracts from this diary provide the dialogue to the film read by Iñupiat poet and writer Carrie Ayagaduk Ojanen, from the Ugiuvamiut tribe. The work will be displayed in the World Cultures galleries from October 2020.
Health and wellbeing 2021
Exploring the history of medical treatment through history and around the globe. How visiting museums and galleries can improve your mental health.
Tackling some of the pressing challenges of our era. What will be the impact of climate change on our environment and what can we learn from the past to create a sustainable future?
If you are interested in showing work at RAMM please read the information Exhibiting with RAMM and post or email proposals to Anne Starkey (Exhibitions Officer), RAMM Offices, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, EXETER EX4 3LS
If you would like to know more about the Contemporary Art Programme please contact Lara Goodband [email protected]