Layla Adams’ student experience at the Glass Tank

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Each year the Glass Tank welcomes two independent study module (ISM) students into the Glass Tank. One for each semester of the Academic year. Starting in September 2017, our first student, Layla joined us for her semester of shadowing and working in the gallery..

Here is her experience of her time with us at the Glass Tank. We hope you enjoy reading about her experience as much as we did!Thank you Layla, for all your hard work and your lovely words!

What is the Glass Tank? Blog 1/10

Oxford is a hub for celebrating art, design and culture. When in search of creative stimulation, one is never far away from a picture gallery or exhibition site. Located in the Oxford Brookes Headington campus, The Glass Tank is an exciting showcase for a diverse range of temporary exhibitions.

By shadowing the gallery team, I will be getting a closer look at the varying roles involved in running the gallery and the art collections in the university.

My first two weeks so far have given me the opportunity to get to grips with the archives of previous shows, with how social media plays a vital role in marketing and building a platform, with some of the physical ‘behind-the scenes’ aspects of installing an art show, and with the type of relationship the artist and the curatorial team might have.

Just some of the jobs I have dabbled in have included plastering up a hole in one of the exhibition walls, Snapchat-ing the new and incredibly detailed drawings of the PROGRESS installation by artist Andrew Holmes, and location scouting to hang new pieces of the Student Art Collection!

Each week I will be diving into different aspects of the gallery and documenting my journey in The Glass Tank, so stay tuned!

It's all in the details - Blog 2/10

The Student Art Collection at Brookes consists of works that the University has purchased over the years, made by Fine Art or Architecture students for their final degree show. Once the pieces are obtained, certain steps must be taken before they can be displayed around the campuses. This is something I got to explore when the gallery team visited the framers this week.This might sound like an easy task, but there were plenty of lengthy discussions from selecting frame and backboard colours; to choosing which thickness of glass would give greater visual effect on a multilayered work; to deciding whether another piece should be displayed landscape or portrait, as the framer needed to place thicker glass at the bottom of the frame for optimum viewing! Display location is also important because pieces that would be placed with heavy exposure to sunlight need UV protected glass to not degrade the creation over time. And I haven’t even mentioned the Health and Safety side of display!To see how these subtle additions not just prepared but transformed the artworks to a whole new level was an exciting and quite rewarding experience as each piece felt like a whole new challenge!

Location, location, location - Blog 3/10

Whilst the new pieces are busy being suited-and-booted at the framers, we used this week to find them potential homes in the new Clerici building, because a new building means lots of blank walls!

Top tips that I learnt on our expedition:

  1. Obvious maybe, but a big no no; do not place artwork on a wall that has a radiator, as heat will degrade the work.
  2. The artwork should be the centrepiece of a wall, therefore, walls with signposts or posters are not ideal.
  3. Consider the space as well. The pieces in this collection belong to the whole University, not specific people; therefore they should not be placed in offices, meeting rooms, or even classrooms, but rather open social spaces such as a reception area or a study hall.
  4. Avoid walls down narrow corridors, or busy corridors with a lot of movement. The point of displaying art is so the piece can be admired or pondered over; not only would a crowded environment take this function away, but would risk the piece being damaged too.
  5. Finally, even if you find a perfect wall, the lighting might be terrible and you will have to keep searching!

Eyeing up the competition - Blog 4/10

It’s easy to visit an exhibition and engage with the artworks, whether that be a marvel or a critique of the artists’ creation. Perhaps what we all tend to disregard though, is the efforts of the gallery team that make these events possible. If anything, my time at The Glass Tank so far has shown me the enormous amount of labour that the team have to carry out in order to present viewers with an experience the artists and the University would be proud of. My task this week was to put my detective hat on and research how other university galleries operate.

As with any business or institution, being in a market of your industry puts a competitive edge on the goals and ambitions you set to achieve. Market research is not just about trying to be better than others though; it’s about evaluating your practice and how efficient you’re being within your limitations. Comparing the frequency of exhibition turnaround, the types of shows being put on, how the galleries uses social media, to the size of the managing team, which allows a team to reflect on their practices in place and where they stand within the spectacle sphere.

Installation time - Blog 5/10

A new show is in town at the Glass Tank, but before opening night arrived, there was a lot of work to be done! All the plans and proposals had been building up to this week, and it was finally time to put them into action and see the exhibition unfold.

Thinking Through Making is a show comprised of chairs made by furniture design students and alumni from Rycotewood, who Oxford Brookes happily endorse! Working with the gallery team, the space was organised to highlight the beauty of the craftsmanship on show, and to show off the skill of the makers by displaying their prototypes and design work on the opposite side.

Each show at the Glass Tank makes use of various elements of the space accordingly, meaning when a new show comes in, the gallery must be prepped and ready for installation. So we got our yellow gloves out, and began repainting the walls, varnishing the glass panels, sprucing the glass cabinets back to life, positioning the stage mount, and finally, adjusting the spotlights and lighting. When the gallery was ready, the works were brought in and set up, and the result (of our elbow grease) can be seen for the next four weeks now!

Showtime - Blog 6/10

So, installation complete – time for the Private View! This is the exciting opportunity for the curators and artists to present the exhibition to the public as a spectacle of sorts! It was a joy to see those who had contributed to the process of putting on the show, revelling in the delight of the viewers.

The head of program from Rycotewood and one of their distinguished alumni members gave wonderful speeches about the ideas behind Thinking Through Making and how important it is for the art world to incorporate furniture design within its celebrations. The Glass Tank is proud to hold exhibitions for a wide variety of faculties within the university, from of course Fine Art, to Architecture, to Engineering, to Biomedical Science; so it was a delight to see an outstanding turnout, with more than double the amount predicted, for a faculty with one of Brookes’ partnered institutions.

The gallery team and I were there to mostly oversee the event and support the curators. It was an amazing opportunity to stand back and soak up the event. And, of course, when free wine is on offer, everyone had a great time!

The sky is the limit - Blog 7/10

Oxford Brookes opened The Glass Tank as part of their ‘Space to Think’ campus development project in 2012, and over the last 5 years it has grown and evolved in numerous ways. But of course, why stop now!

So we arranged a meeting with the manager of Lethaby Gallery at Central Saint Martins, to enquire about the co-ordination of a university exhibition space that had been running for 100 years! The meeting was intended as a mutual research opportunity, where we could compare and discuss elements. However, the visit was delightfully much more fruitful than expected and we came away inspired!

From the types of shows we decide to put on, to the frequency of turnaround, and even how we use the space – the aspirations of The Glass Tank are set high and we can’t wait for you to see our ideas put into action!

It was wonderful to see universities supporting each other and working together, in the hopes of providing their visitors with the best experience possible. A huge thank-you to Central Saint Martins, for letting us see the grounds and of course the fantastic gallery!

And we're live! - Blog 8/10

This week at The Glass Tank, we had the pleasure of facilitating two live events – both relating to the current Thinking Through Making exhibition by Rycotewood. The first was a talk and demonstration by woodsmith Charlie Whinney, and the second was a live panel discussion between four established figures in the furniture design/making industry.

My role was to assist the set up of the panel talk and ensure the event ran smoothly. Hours before the talk was to begin, it was decided to change the room location as the initial space was too noisy; this meant posting flyers around the campus to indicate the room change and guiding attendees from The Glass Tank to the new room.

The talk itself was a huge success! The four panellists were so varied in backgrounds and fields that the discussion created interesting viewpoints in regards to theories and practice of their work. The end of the discussion was then opened up to the audience, where Rycotewood students in particular used the opportunity to ask the panellists questions about their jobs and their passions.

The university is proud to host events such as these, and we at The Glass Tank hope those who attended enjoyed the experience!

The art of making walls - Blog 9/10

This week at The Glass Tank, I joined the student-led technical team in installing the temporary walls into the gallery space. Temporary walls are an amazing feature as they allow the gallery to cater for a diverse range of exhibitions; for example a show with hung paintings or images need wall space and a sculptural show needs more floor space.

So with the de-install of the Thinking Through Making show complete, it was time to get the walls out of the store room and into the gallery, ready for the next show – DreaMFActory. I may have underestimated the task going in, as there were more hinges and hooks in more nooks and crannies than I could have imagined, and not to mention the sheer weight of the wall panels either! But with a bit of teamwork and some elbow grease, the three sets were positioned and steadily built!

Once built, the walls needed sanding, plastering, and painting back to perfection, ready to home the artwork of the MA Fine Art students in the next exhibition. Come check out our handy work at the private viewing of the show on the 18th December @ The Glass Tank.

Want to know more? - Blog 10/10

This week at The Glass Tank, I had the task of examining our Student Art Collection website and seeing how we could improve it. As the site needed updating with the newest pieces in the collection, the team felt it was a good time to reflect on the design and layout as well.

Social media and online presence is really key in building and maintaining an invested interest of the gallery for visitors; it keeps the public aware of upcoming events and new exhibitions, and also behind-the-scenes action for those curious about the roles of the gallery team! By keeping up to date on all of our platforms, we hope to deliver a great service to our faithful visitors and to market our gallery to the wider public who may not have known about us otherwise!

It has been a pleasure documenting my journey over the last 12 weeks with The Glass Tank, and I wish the best of luck to the new show DreaMFActory which opens 18th December 2017!