Gray’s visit to Hospitalfield and DUSK Exhibition

A special guest blog post written by Mary Gordon and Darja Abdirova on their recent visit to Hospitalfield in Arbroath which allowed them to learn more about the contemporary arts venue, and assist in curating the upcoming DUSK Winter Season exhibition.

Thirteen Contemporary Art Practice and Painting students, in their third and fourth year at Gray’s School of Art, were invited to Hospitalfield to assist in the setting up of the upcoming DUSK Winter Season Open Weekend exhibition featuring artists Ewan Murray, Judith Hagen and Frank Dobson running from 19 to 17 November. The Director – Lucy Byatt, the Project and Facilities Manager – Laura Simpson and Scott Byrne, the General Manager were excellent hosts for our overnight stay. The students, Marcus Murison, Natasha Macbeth, Natasha Riddoch, Mary Gordon, Darja Abdirova, Jasmin Cheyne, Elliott Cookson, Katie Avey, Paula Buskevica, Suzann Ross, Lauren Dixon, Kaitlyn Dunsmore and Christopher Farrell, were given the opportunity to become involved in various tasks in preparation for the exhibition.

There is a subtlety to Hospitalfield. Granted, the architecture and beautifully decorated rooms are far from subtle, but you can’t help but feel you’ve discovered something, something unstained by the 20th and 21st Century, hiding in the coastal town of Arbroath. Getting out of the comfort of our studios in Aberdeen allowed us to experience different approaches to studio spaces in a new location, and experience a new calibre of artists’ work and a fresh perspective on the use of exhibition space.

A sculpture by Frank Dobson

A sculpture by Frank Dobson

During a tour of the never ending house Laura Simpson spoke passionately about the heritage and historical background of the artefacts. 19th Century furniture filled the rooms and we were encouraged to treat the beautiful building as our home. Laura discussed the intention of Hospitalfield and the different programs they run, varying from artist talks and exhibitions to garden visits and history tours. She explained the intentions of the Fraser family and the importance of them currently.

We were then given the opportunity to become involved in the setting up of Hospitalfield’s newest exhibition, DUSK Winter Season. The tasks varied xhibiting, introduced us to his work and explained the relevance of Hospitalfield to his practice. We assisted Ewan in preparing his work for the exhibition and familiarised ourselves with his, Judith Hagens and Frank Dobsons work.

That evening, as we had dinner, discussions took place on how inspired we were by the challenging tasks of running an arts institution, as well as the welcoming consideration that the staff had for our opinions and ideas. Laura and Lucy spoke honestly when answering our questions and were interested in our perception of not only Hospitalfield but also the exhibiting work. We were asked to think about a curatorial proposal and to consider common themes in the three artists’ works in relation to the history of the building.

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We had a bonfire later that night which seemed to facilitate open discussion on our experience and the began the spark of ideas for curating the exhibition. We spoke in peer groups of suggestions for the setup. Laura valued our opinion and encouraged us to trial different set-ups. We switched different paintings from room to room, compared Ewan Murray’s drawing to a 19th Century painting hung in the picture gallery, and carefully placed Frank Dobson’s sculptures beside Judith Hagen’s abstract and brightly coloured paintings. We had the opportunity to learn many important steps and skills for curating an exhibition that are going to be crucial for later exhibitions we are involved in. We now understand the need for skills to consider the artists work individually and then understand the work as almost an entity, as well as the importance of debating the dark green carpet on the floor for half an hour.

It was a challenging and inspiring experience for all of the students. We were given the opportunity to participate in an array of challenging tasks that developed our professional skills and our understanding of the various roles involved in the preparation of an exhibition. It was a pleasure to engage with the heritage of Hospitalfield and to be encouraged to question its relation to the contemporary art being shown. The experience opened our eyes to possible opportunities in our artistic careers and the acceptance organisations have for students.

We are all thrilled to be returning to Hospitalfield for the Winter Open Weekend running the 19- 20 November. Visit the Hospitalfield Website for more info.