An annual arts exhibition displaying the final works from the University of Cumbria’s masters in arts students took an unusual turn this year as it the MA Show moved fully online in response to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.
The latest crop of artists all had to rapidly respond to the changing circumstances that the March lockdown brought. They swiftly altered plans for their final displays to suit an online medium, all while working their last term exclusively from home.
Their adaptability and creativity have been praised by lecturer, Nick Dodds who said that the unprecedented situation meant that students had to operate within constraints and with limited means.
He said: “Each student deserves special praise for their creativity, resilience, fortitude, and sheer professionalism in adapting their MA projects and working through to a successful conclusion.
“In the process, domestic spaces have doubled as makeshift studios, audio/visual equipment shared, scripts redrafted, documentary approaches altered, online practices pioneered, and community support mechanisms initiated.
“It is testimony to all concerned that the final work is so strong and the creative voice of each student shines through. I have no doubt that the MA class of 2020 are well placed to make the most of any opportunities that arise - to forge thriving careers as creatives."
One such student is Lucy Hadley from Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway. An ex-wildlife ranger of 17 years, she has always been fascinated by nature and preserving the natural world and was able to play out her passions by studying an MA in Creative Practice.
Eyes Wide Ears Open takes the form of an online book of illustrated poems that features Lucy narrating beautiful prints of native British wildlife.
Talking about her work, she said: “I have been exploring ways in which to engage audiences in meaningful conversation about the natural world through my creative practice. I have always used my on-location sketchbooks as the starting point for my prints and further developed this practice to write and illustrate my first picture book.”
Part of her role as a ranger was to excite the public about the natural world and for several years now Lucy has dabbled with video as medium to engage new audiences.
Her ‘Draw along with Lucy’ series features Lucy drawing native species to the British Isles coupled with little known facts in a humorous and engaging manner and is perfectly gentle viewing material for current times.
Her most recent video on marine life shows the audience how to draw a tope shark which is found in the waters surrounding the UK.
Still working for Forestry and Land Scotland, Lucy managed to balance her studies around working full-time. She plans to continue sketching, making prints and videos even though putting them on You Tube is out of her comfort zone, she says it is necessary to "help continue conversations about the natural world".
Caroline Dalton felt lockdown completely disrupted every angle of thinking as she and her fellow students worked towards their final MA project. They needed to re-examine their ideas and methods of delivery, and added to this, they were operating against a backdrop of anxiety, fear and uncertainty all around them resulting from Covid-19.
She said: “In hindsight I realise that there were pros and cons to this time and the experience. Being ‘locked down’ meant that I could focus fully, almost as a distraction, and I needed to think on my feet and be entirely pragmatic in function.
“What came about was a regular and systematic approach that focused on making the very best of my situation and working steadily from moment to moment. I pooled every resource I had at my disposal and ultimately I allowed myself to reimagine the work and gained new skills such as film making as a result.”
Caroline’s work Materials, an investigation, journey or conundrum explores different materials seen through the eyes of the artist.
Holly Knowles’, Sensing Yourself, is a proposal installation meant for the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The piece transforms the hall with mirrors into an infinity room that plays on viewers perceptions, allowing them to have an experience of heightened bodily consciousness.
“Remote working had its challenges,” said 32 year old Holly, from Blackburn, Lancashire. She continued; “I predominantly work on a large scale so had to find a way of scaling down my work, whilst also keeping the immersive experience the same.
“A virtual exhibition does take away from the overall experience, however, this piece has been filmed in such a way that enables the viewer to feel they are in the space. Not so much surrounded but as if watching from an upper viewing gallery.”
Other graduates for the 2020 class include Paul Bacon who previously shot to fame working alongside revered film maker Terry Abraham on this Life of a mountain TV series. The final instalment of which, Life of a mountain: Helvellyn, premiered on social media last month.
‘Mountain Ringlet’ is a printed zine that focuses on Britain's one true mountain butterfly species, the rare mountain ringlet, and documents Paul’s experiences of trying to photograph it.
The zine takes influence from traditional nature guide books and DIY fanzine culture and features images taken on a DLSR camera and iPhone.
A rare species of butterfly only found in remote areas of the Scottish Highlands and Lake District, the zine depicts the area of natural beauty that Paul has developed a love of from documenting it for various projects.
The exhibition was officially opened in an online event that took place on Thursday 26 November. Opened by Institute of the Arts Director, Colette Conroy, it featured many of the students talking about their works and the programmes.