Past contemporary art

Joy Gregory, The Sweetest Thing

29 January to 5 June 2022

Acclaimed contemporary artist Joy Gregory was commissioned by RAMM to create new artwork in response to the themes of In Plain Sight: Transatlantic Slavery and Devon. This exhibition explored aspects of Devon and Exeter’s relationship with the slave trade which remain ‘hidden in plain sight’.

An introduction to Joy’s commission

Gregory’s artwork – The Sweetest Thing – drew on RAMM’s archaeological and textile collections, as well as her research into sugar production. Alongside photographs and a video, The Sweetest Thing also included Gregory’s first textile work. It refers directly to the Combesatchfield embroidery displayed in the exhibition.

Read a short BBC news article about the exhibition.

Resources, transcripts and research about the exhibition are also available.

RAMM is pleased to announce that Gregory’s textile piece will be acquired for our collections, with support from the Contemporary Art Society and Friends of RAMM.

Read more about the acquisition in this news article.

Trish Morrissey: Self Portrait with Two Snails

7 Dec 2021 to 26 June 2022

During the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Trish Morrissey’s perception of time changed and she suffered from a ‘crippling combination of anxiety, claustrophobia and fear’. Instead of making new artwork, she began to grow her own food and watch snails in the garden, becoming inspired ‘to live in the moment’.

A still from ‘Self Portrait with Two Snails’

Self Portrait with Two Snails (2020) was a video artwork that responded to this strange and difficult time. Trish Morrissey says, ‘I forced myself to breathe deeply. To slow down. To be still. This film, Self Portrait with Two Snails, depicts my full submission, without resistance or friction, to this new dynamic’.


19 November 2021 to 30 January 2022

SOUTHCOTTIAN (2019) was video footage of gameplay recorded inside artist John Walter’s virtual reality game of the same name, inspired by Devon-born prophetess Joanna Southcott (1750-1814).

Walter’s game is an immersive form of storytelling about Southcott’s false pregnancy at the age of 64, which she believed to be the new messiah. Combining digital animation, 3D scanning, religious memes and an explosion of visual mash-ups, Walter collages together a surreal ‘Where’s Wally?’ quest to find Joanna Southcott.

This work drew on RAMM’s extensive collection of material about Southcott, and was installed in RAMM’s ‘Making History’ gallery where objects from this collection are still on display now.

The SOUTHCOTTIAN game is available to download online and play for free through VR headsets.

In partnership with RAMM, Walter’s solo exhibition Jezreel’s Tower was held in the neighbouring Exeter Phoenix.

Amy Shelton, Biophilia: The Exeter Florilegium

18 September to 21 November 2021

RAMM launched a Covid-19 commission in April 2020. Selected by open competition from a range of proposals by artists living or working in Exeter, Amy Shelton was chosen to create her artwork Biophilia: The Exeter Florilegium, made in response to the first Covid-19 lockdown.

This work included a herbarium of pressed plant and wildflower specimens compiled on Shelton’s daily lockdown walks around Exeter in spring and summer 2020. It also included flower contributions from staff and patients at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS hospital, as well as specimens from the gardens of people self-isolating.

Celebrating local biodiversity and the importance of green space for wellbeing, Shelton’s exhibition also included her artwork The Herald of Spring. This was complemented by items from RAMM’s collection belonging to Devon’s renowned botanist and illustrator William Keble Martin.

Shelton’s proposal was selected by the panel Peter Randall-Page, sculptor; Julien Parsons, Head of Collections at RAMM; and Lara Goodband, Contemporary Art Curator and Programmer at RAMM.

Michelle Sank, Breathe

18 September to 21 November 2021

Internationally-acclaimed photographer Michelle Sank exhibited her photographic series Breathe, which documented the first Covid-19 lockdown in the Wonford area of Exeter. Taken on her daily walks, Sank’s photographs offer poignant visual records of individual and shared experiences of social isolation under lockdown.

Featuring images of people, their homes, and the everyday urban landscape, the exhibition explored how people negotiated their relationships to each other and to private and public spaces during the pandemic.

The works displayed in the exhibition were acquired by RAMM through the Contemporary Art Society’s Rapid Response Fund in summer 2020. They form part of RAMM’s new contemporary photography collection.

Naomi Frears, In Other Words

14 September to 7 November 2021

Commissioned by RAMM to complement her solo exhibition Men Falling at Exeter PhoenixIn Other Words was a stop-motion work by Naomi Frears. It explored the expressive and communicative qualities of sleeves and arms.

The short film drew on the artist’s research into RAMM’s historic costume and fine art collections. Taking inspiration from the range of sleeves in paintings, prints, and fashion illustrations, this new work explored the infinite possibilities of non-verbal language through arm movement, with sleeves framing every gesture and communication.

Léonie Hampton, A Language of Seeds

18 May to 5 September 2021

A Language of Seeds was created by Devon-based artist and photographer Léonie Hampton. Her commission explored RAMM’s collection of seeds and herbarium sheets in dialogue with her own photographs of her family, friends and vegetable garden.

The series of photographs were created between May and October 2020. They engage directly with the current ecological emergency through the tender relationships Hampton has created between human body, hand, mouth, the food she grows in her garden.

Léonie Hampton’s proposal was selected by the panel Susan Derges, artist and photographer; Julien Parsons, Head of Collections at RAMM; and Lara Goodband, Contemporary Art Curator and Programmer at RAMM.

Seedscapes: Future-Proofing Nature

3 July to 5 September 2021

Seedscapes was an Impressions Gallery touring exhibition curated by Professor Liz Wells and creative producer Pippa Oldfield. It brought together five contemporary artists whose work explores global efforts to safeguard vital plant species from extinction. Featuring photography, moving image and sculpture, this exhibition revealed how international artists, biologists and ecologists are responding to the challenge of global warming and pollution.

Alongside this exhibition, Eden 6 by Devon-based artist Susan Derges was shown in Gallery 21. This is the first major work acquired for RAMM’s new contemporary photography collection, and forms part of a series of works that explored Derges’ local Dartmoor landscape. It was purchased in 2020 with assistance from the Friends of Exeter Museum & Art Gallery Trust, private donors, and the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

Artists included: Dornith Doherty, Sant Khalsa, Chrystel Lebas, Liz Orton, and Heidi Morstang.

Michelle Williams Gamaker, The Silver Wave

October 2020 to July 2021

RAMM commissioned critically-acclaimed artist Michelle Williams Gamaker to produce new work to celebrate RAMM’s ‘Untold Stories’ theme. The Silver Wave film took inspiration from objects in the World Cultures collection, particularly the Arctic region.

The film tells the story of Ada Blackjack, an Iñupiat woman from Alaska who became the sole survivor of a doomed British expedition to Russia’s Wrangel Island in the Arctic in 1921. Extracts from Ada’s diary provide the dialogue to the film, read by Iñupiat poet and writer Carrie Ayagaduk Ojanen, from the Ugiuvamiut tribe.

An education pack about The Silver Wave is available for teachers.

Sea Garden

November 2019 to 26 January 2020

This contemporary art exhibition explored the gendered relationship with the sea and seaweed. Bringing together works by internationally-renowned female artists, Sea Garden also featured RAMM’s first South West Commission by Bryony Gillard. Gillard was selected to explore Amelia Warren Griffiths‘ seaweed collection and its connection with contemporary ideas and conversations.

The exhibition created dialogues between artists from across the globe, and explored interconnected themes of algae collecting, feminism, and environmentalism. The thought-provoking artworks on display expressed the artists’ intimate relationship with their environment, questioning how we relate to each other and the natural world.

Artists included: Claude Cahun, Jo Crook, Dorothy Cross, Susan Derges, Bryony Gillard, Mollie Goldstrom & William Arnold, Sarah Gordon, Ingela Ihrman, Mikhail Karikis, Sarah Rose, Lucy Skaer.

Handle with Care

21 November to 3 December 2019

Handle with Care was an exhibition of work produced in collaboration between Exeter-based photographer Brendan Barry and a group of young carers in Devon. The photographs on display were created during a series of workshops at Devon Carers, Westbank, and at RAMM.

Supported by RAMM, Barry worked with the young people to teach them darkroom photography processes, often using unusual objects as cameras. This allowed the young people to learn new skills, support each other to create artwork, and be inspired by objects in RAMM’s handling collection.

selection of prints from this exhibition were acquired by RAMM in 2020.

Heinrich & Palmer, Aerial

Birds without Borders, 20 July to 3 November 2019

Artists Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer were commissioned to create a new video for the exhibition Birds without Borders, inspired by RAMM’s migration theme. The resulting work, Aerial, was produced by using point cloud data from a CT scan of a feather and 3D laser scans of birds.

The film explores the migratory journey of fourteen birds, animating their flight paths over Arctic landscapes and creating juxtapositions between different species. The film is now shown on a monitor in RAMM’s ‘In Fine Feather’ gallery, accompanied by a soundtrack of wind recordings and orchestral elements.

Preston Street Union

Serge/Surge on 28 May 2019
Anyone may come or go, 15 February to 29 March 2019

Exeter-based artists Preston Street Union (PSU) were commissioned in Autumn 2018 to produce two new commissions inspired by RAMM’s theme of migration and its collections. PSU explored the flow of people, artefacts and ideas that enabled the city to prosper, particularly Exeter’s historic wool trade.

Working with RAMM’s collections and new research gathered by local historian Dr Michael A. Patrick, PSU were inspired by tillets: elaborate parcels in which lengths of woollen fabric were wrapped for export. They imagined a tillet wrapper, printed with a contemporary design which was traditionally carved by Saena Ku. This inspired a series of live performances around Exeter’s city wall in 2019.

Criminal Ornamentation

19 January to 17 March 2019

This intriguing touring exhibition was curated by acclaimed British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare. Showing nearly 100 works by more than 50 artists, this exhibition included key works from the Arts Council Collection’s rich holdings, supplemented with loans from the V&A, William Morris Society and individual artists.

From a sequined dress by Alexander McQueen to nineteenth-century wallpaper by William Morris, Shonibare’s selection celebrated colour and pattern. Exploring the cultural and social dimensions of the use of pattern in art, the exhibition reflected Shonibare’s own artistic practice.

Artists included: Andy Goldsworthy, Sarah Lucas, Sonia Boyce, Susan Derges, Mona Hatoum, David Nash, Bridget Riley, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Timorous Beasties, Boyle Family, Philip Elgin, Cathy de Monchaux, Lisa Milroy, Caragh Thuring, and Bedwyr Williams.

Bedwyr Williams, Phizogs

21 July 2018 to April 2019

To celebrate 150 years of opening to the public, RAMM commissioned award-winning artist Bedwyr Williams to create new work. Phizogs was inspired by the array of faces and masks found in RAMM’s collections, including an Easter Island staff, a roof tile from Roman Exeter, and a 17th century gold ring. Each face represented a guest at a fictional birthday party for RAMM.

Phizogs was installed around the statue of Prince Albert: the first thing visitors see when they enter RAMM’s Queen Street foyer. Visitors were also invited to enter a competition to add a face of their choice into the artwork, chosen by Bedwyr Williams in May 2018.