RAMM’s dynamic contemporary art programme is an expression of its vision: Home to a Million Thoughts.
RAMM received additional investment from Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisation funding in 2018 to develop contemporary art activity in response to the museum’s collections.
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 by artists in Exeter and across the UK.
We are also working in collaboration with local visual arts partners such as Exeter Phoenix and Arts & Culture at the University of Exeter to develop contemporary art projects involving our communities inspired by RAMM’s collections and a range of themes including Ornamentation, Migration and Untold Stories.
In 2018 RAMM commissioned internationally acclaimed Bedwyr Williams who took over the Queen Street Entrance with his work Phizogs
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.
Ornamentation – January to March 2019
19 Jan to 17 March 2019
This intriguing touring 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 Theme – 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.”
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 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.
Watch the documentary video of ‘Surge/Serge'(2019)
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 investigated the flow of people, artefacts and ideas that 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 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 was 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 was distributed throughout Exeter and beyond in a contemporary act of trade and distribution, inviting reflection on the theme of migration.
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.
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.
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, unique to RAMM, 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
Watch interviews with exhibiting artists
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.
This project is now developing as Here’s to Thee in partnership with Arts and Culture at the University of Exeter. You can read more about the project here on our news and here on the Arts and Culture website. Due to coronavirus restrictions this project has been extended into 2022.
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 is displayed in the World Cultures galleries from October 2020 to July 2021. It can also viewed online via RAMM’s YouTube channel here
RAMM launched a Covid-19 commission in April 2020. The commission was selected by open competition from a range of submissions from artists living or working in Exeter by the selection panel Peter Randall-Page, sculptor; Julien Parsons, Head of Collections at RAMM and Lara Goodband. The Biophilia: The Exeter Florilegium by Amy Shelton will be shown at the museum in Autumn 2021.
Biophilia: The Exeter Florilegium by Exeter-based artist, Amy Shelton, is an artwork created from a unique herbarium collection of pressed plant specimens that Shelton has been meticulously compiling on daily walks in Exeter. The new artwork will record spring and summer through wildflowers collected between March and October 2020, coinciding with the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. Biophilia: The Exeter Florilegium will also include pressed flowers contributed by staff and patients from the Royal Devon & Exeter hospital as well as specimens contributed from the gardens and window boxes of people self-isolating.
A Language of Seeds will be created by Devon-based artist and photographer, Léonie Hampton of Still/Moving.
Hampton’s commission will explore RAMM’s collection of seeds and herbarium sheets in dialogue with her own photographs of seed experiments, the garden and family. Creating a ‘story about love, growth, family and the archaic wisdom of plants’ the new artwork will place Hampton’s photographs of living and growing plants alongside that of the collected, dried seeds in the museum.
Léonie Hampton said, ‘I feel very lucky to have been given this opportunity by RAMM to work closely with their extraordinary collection of seeds. The seeds are little pods of wisdom and magic that inspire awe. I intend to challenge our tech-based growth-obsessed society through the lens of taking care of a garden and its nourishing forms of growth. The archaic wisdom that emanates from seeds can root us to our present from our past and is a means to discover an urgent, sustainable, reciprocal approach to life in earth.’
The new series of photographs are on display in the first floor exhibition gallery from 18 May to 5 Sept 2021.
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. The work will be displayed from 17 September to 7 November 2021.
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. The piece will be displayed as part of an exhibition which will explore how the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy permeates Devon and Exeter’s social infrastructure to this day. Originally planned for 2020, the Covid-19 emergency and lockdown have forced a postponement and will now be displayed from 29 January to May 2022.
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 local residents. Joy talks about her research so far and ideas for the work in this short video for Black History Month 2020.
RAMM’s exhibition programme is programmed for the next two years. If you’d like to know more, please read the information Exhibiting with RAMM
Opportunities for artists, open calls and commissions are advertised on the website via our news pages and through our social media channels