UCL News


Beyond the classroom and the gallery: art collections at UCL

7 April 2009


'Sequel' exhibition ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/sequel/" target="_self">Sequel: a Slade/Strang collaboration
  • UCL Arts Collections
  • The old masters archived in the collections of the Strang Print Room have found a new lease of life in a collaboration between UCL Museums and Collections and the UCL Slade School of Fine Art.Separated by time, artistic paradigms and, as the project website tells us, only 100 yards, current Slade students were asked to create an artistic dialogue with artworks by former Slade students (dating back to the nineteenth century) and an extensive collection of old masters from the Renaissance onward.

    The Sequel project was conceived as an art/web publication engagement project; it  started in January 2009 when a design brief was circulated with an invitation for students to participate. The project website was launched on 25 March to coincide with a one-night exhibition of the students' work  alongside the art works from the collection by which they were inspired.

    This was a pedagogical as well as an artistic endeavour. Simon Gould (UCL Contemporary Projects Curator) explained that the project was designed to replicate professional processes of the art world. Increasingly, artists take on residencies at various institutions (such as universities), work in a collaborative dimension, and engage with their audiences using contemporary online media. They work off-site (away from the studio) and very often immerse themselves in dusty archives.

    Projects such as Sequel help students learn the language of project applications and how to approach an archive. The project enabled students to go through the mechanisms of writing proposals, arranging appointments with a curator, developing their project over a three-week period, and then publishing their work via the web and social network tools to engage outside audiences in their response to pieces from the arts collection.

    While students had to exhibit their final work on the Sequel website, curated by Wynn Abbott (UCL Museums and Collections Web Projects), equal emphasis throughout the collaboration was on process. By maintaining the link with the past, the project demonstrated the possibility for students, especially those in creative degrees, to be both avant-garde in their practice and knowledgeable about art history as a discipline. 

    In addition, Sequel reconnected UCL Art Collections with the Slade School. The university's art collections were originally formed for the benefit of the Slade students, so it was fitting to rejuvenate this relationship and foreground the benefits of interdisciplinary partnerships.  
    The collaboration has resulted in 15 exciting works of artistic dialogue that use contemporary media and modes of representation. Technology has a strong presence; a feature that lends itself well to the online dimension of the project. Reading the students' descriptions is an equal delight: their texts throw up some unexpected responses to the past, to the universal and to the masterful.

    Below three students who took part in the collaboration describe their experience of the project and some of the ideas that inspired them.

    Top: a Strang print from the UCL Art Collections
    Middle: visitors at the Sequel launch exhibition
    Bottom: a selection of works by Kate Keara Pelen


    Junko Otake (First year student, Masters in Fine Art)

    The music of 'Flying geese'

    "Sequel was a great opportunity to work with people from outside the Slade. I had not previously come across the Strang Print Room and did not know about UCL's excellent art collection until this collaboration. I found the collections of Japanese painting really interesting as it reminded me of the history between UCL and Japan - the first Japanese prime minister studied here more than 100 years ago!

    "My work for the collaboration is an interpretation of the image 'Flying Geese and Full Moon' represented as a piano roll score. The picture has a typical composition of Japanese prints: the geese are animated and show a stream of movement. What interests me is the representation of rhythm and sound in this vertical composition. Such prints are often used as the themes for traditional poems and paintings in Japan and this inter-semiotic translation has been a research area of mine. In a chance encounter with a girl and her father who is a pianola collector (a device by means of which a piano may be played automatically), I was able to shoot a film showing the piano roll played by the pianola. It was the perfect combination: playing new sound from the old painting on an old instrument which dates very nearly from the same period of the painting." 

    Image: detail from work by Junko Otake, Painting sound - Flying Geese and Full Moon


    Amanda Wasielewski (First year student, Masters in Fine Art)

    Reading maps: from sixteenth century to Google technology

    "It was great to have the opportunity to collaborate with the UCL Art Collections since I was not familiar with it before. In general, there seems to be a divide between community interest in historical artwork and contemporary art practices, so I was really happy to be part of bridging that gap and drawing inspiration from art in the collection. 

    "Having studied art history as well as art practice as an undergraduate, I'm interested in the ways in which views on older art are constantly revised in contemporary art historical texts, so the works from the collection at UCL really maintain relevance to our time as well as the time in which they were made. In my project, I was hoping to draw out how pieces of the visual culture of another time preference aspects of our geographical environment and its usage differently than  in our current visual culture. By using contemporary tools - the  internet, Google Maps, computer programming languages, video - I was able to communicate similar information to the old map in a way that is readable and relevant today."

    Image: detail from work by Amanda Wasielewski, Representative river usage


    Janne Malmros (Second year student, Masters in Fine Art)

    Searching for a forest

    "When an opportunity arose to collaborate with the collection at the Strang, I was keen to take part. I have a strong interest in printmaking and botany so I was naturally drawn to the imagery of trees in the collection and the different ways in which they were depicted - through drawing, engraving. My proposal was to search for a forest in the collection. As time was limited I only had three hours for my quest. I was kindly helped by Andrea Fredericksen (UCL Art Collections), who dragged out box after box with prints, from Dürer to Turner to Constable to Japanese woodcuts to prints by an array of Slade alumni. I photographed all the trees I found, recorded where I found them and where in the image they were located. (Just like a botanist would do when observing a new find!) After a lengthy process I ended up with over 120 very distinct trees from which I made an encyclopaedia - 'Origin of Species' - in the form of a concertina book. I also made a silkscreen print in which all the trees came together as a forest.

    "Collaborating with the Strang has been an excellent way of studying and familiarising myself with the prints and craftsmanship of old masters and Slade alumni in an intimate way. The element of discovery was exciting. The project turned into a hunt for new varieties not unlike that of a scientist searching for new species, medicine or planets. It was excellent to see what my fellow students were drawn to in the collection and how they tackled their sources of inspiration - a lot of great pieces came out of the sequel. I am now working on an animation of the forest coming together that will go online with the image of the forest on the project website."

    Image: detail from work by Janne Malmros, Forest (3 hours and 45 minutes hunting for 'species' of trees in the UCL Strang Print Room Collection to make a forest)