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Observe Experiment Archive

  • Dates:November 2019
  • Status:Archived

A commissioning and research project supported by Arts Council England.

Observe Experiment Archive explored the relationship between contemporary photographic practice, science, technology, health and wellbeing, through a series of talks, screenings, seminars and new commission opportunities, culminating in the presentation of new photographic works in Sunderland.

Programme partners for the project included Kielder Observatory, Sunderland Co-Lab, The Cultural Spring, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Sunderland Culture.

Photography emerged from the creative innovations and networks of knowledge pioneered by 19th century scientists. Ever since, its history has been enmeshed with scientific and technological endeavour; through science and photography we explore the world and communicate our understandings.  Key developments in each discipline have often been concurrent, from the harnessing of chemical processes and techniques by Victorian photographic entrepreneurs, to the shared exploration of the mysteries of light, the development of artificial light and the use of lenses as a means of mediating and examining experience.  In our digital present, extensive communities of practice exist around both scientific and photographic endeavours, which now incorporate a spectrum of citizen, amateur and professional approaches. A democratization of knowledge and tools has enabled the rise of citizen science, citizen journalism and shared creative expression of lived experience.

Our first large participatory commission #WearExperimenting ran during June-December 2018 in partnership with The Cultural Spring and led by Jo Howell.
 Associate artists Graham Patterson, Nicola Maxwell and Michael Davidson and Ben Freeth received developmental commissions to develop their audiences and engage the public in workshops, exploring the connections between their practice and participation.

During the project talks were held by photographers Marjolaine Ryley, Tim Mitchell, Fiona Crisp, Chrystal Lebas, Susan Derges, Wendy McMurdo.

The exhibition Observe Experiment Archive, opened at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens from 15 November 2019 – 05 January 2020. It considered how contemporary photographic artists can respond to both scientific innovation and historical collections, their work transforming our world through light and lens.  It delved into the age-old sense of wonder we feel when faced with the complex nature of our ever-changing world and the ongoing struggle to learn more. The exhibition also considered the power of human inventiveness in meeting global challenges.

Observe Experiment Archive included new bodies of work by Liza Dracup and Tessa Bunney, both commissioned by NEPN in 2018/19.  Work created in response to the natural history collection of Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens accompanied a UK premier of work by Robert Zhao Renhui. Helen McGhie presented new work commissioned for the exhibition and Sophie Ingleby presented SEED, which was supported by NEPN in its development. These projects were accompanied by existing work by Mandy Barker, Penelope Umbrico and Maria McKinney.

At Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, a mid-career retrospective of Marjolaine Ryley ‘This is What I See’ was programmed.  This exhibition is the first to offer an overview of her entire body of work to date, created over two decades, including two bodies of work not exhibited before.  Further information on Marjolaine’s exhibition can be found here.

Liza Dracup’s newly-commissioned series Light Matter was also exhibited at the NGCA Collections Space within National Glass Centre.

Collectively drawing together photographic artists from across the city, nationally and internationally, both exhibitions sought to create contexts for photography-science dialogue and further establish Sunderland as a centre for photographic practice.

Observe Experiment Archive included a catalogue of scheduled events across November and December 2019, including: Observing the Changing Natural World, a seminar with Robert Zhao Renhui and Maria McKinney; talks by Mandy Barker with Matt Barnes of the Marine Conservation Society; ‘Joseph Swan: A New Light’ talks programmed as part of the national Being Human Festival with Liza Dracup and Carol McKay; and family workshops with Jo Howell, Helen McGhie, Dave Partington and Kielder Observatory.

Observe Experiment Archive was curatorially led by Amanda Ritson of NEPN in partnership with Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and Sunderland Culture.  Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.


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