The Norman Rea Gallery has recently announced the theme of its second summer open exhibition, the final of the upcoming term: WINK. Calling for art of a variety of genres, the idea is to produce something that acknowledges, appreciates, re-interprets or re-invents any iconic works of art by well-known artists of the past. Creator and supervisor Jure Kurbis and curator Lydia Miller see it both as an opportunity for originality to stem from imitation, and a chance for students to see art as a more approachable form of expression.
“We as students are very much called-upon to reference things,” Kurbis explains when describing how this year’s idea was conceived. “We always have to know what has been done in the past. But in art, there is so much emphasis on originality. So, we decided to do WINK, where all participants are invited to take what interests them and re-appropriate it.”
Doubtless, the blend of returning to the familiar as a stepping-stone while incorporating one’s own vision into an artwork is a productive approach. There is very little art that has not been inspired, consciously or unconsciously, by the style, genre, or even just the mood evoked by a previous artist. Indeed, these have gone on to become the source of such inspiration themselves. However, while students with a prior interest in artistic pursuits may immediately have a Warhol-esque portrait in mind, or a caricaturized Mona Lisa, or York campus at night in the style of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, how to spark the interest of those students with no knowledge of the iconic images of the art world?
“It’s a chance for students to educate other students. Seeing an artwork they may recognise from a magazine or gallery, re-worked, is fresh… it takes the pretentiousness out of art,” Miller points out. The theme, rather than calling for any heavy-handed, inscrutable attempts at the creation of something that takes itself too seriously, is instead looking for “witty and creative” works. The aim was to provide a theme that is “playful… you look at the artworks and try to find what winks at you,” says Kurbis. Simultaneously, though, “something that breaches all boundaries” would be most likely to catch their eye, Miller admits. The approach does try to be all-inclusive, providing familiarity to the easygoing art-viewer and flexibility to whoever wants to use their creative muscles. The gallery is hoping to receive a variety of submissions that reflect a multitude of personal responses, among which mediums such as audiovisual, 3D, sculpture and performance are particularly welcome.
Of course, it would probably take more than an open-ended theme and unpretentious attitude to get students who are uninterested in art anywhere near the exhibition. Despite the “social atmosphere” which both Kurbis and Miller praise as being one of the strong points of the Norman Rea gallery, there is no denying that it is still not frequented by students who may need exposure to a dose of creativity and subjectivity the most. However, open exhibitions such as WINK do seem a step in the right direction, as students are more likely to come along in order to see a friend’s work, or even be encouraged and unintimidated to see subject matter they have encountered before in contemporary culture.
As importantly, for those who do want to try their hand at creating a work, it provides “some sort of structure; a starting point,” Miller argues. Indeed, in the blend of academic and social distractions that encapsulate the university experience, hobbies – particularly those of an artistic nature that require facilities, time and inspiration – can be put on hold for so long that they may lose any previous momentum they had. Although only available once a year, an incentive for the exercising of such interests these open exhibitions nonetheless are. Trying to cultivate new gallery-goers is perhaps a rather ambitious aim; nevertheless, it is still encouraging to know student creativity has this chance to assert its presence in an easygoing, accessible context that can potentially draw in a variety of participants and onlookers.
A preliminary meeting for anyone interested in being involved with WINK will be held on May 6th. The deadline for submissions is May 27th, with the exhibition opening June 6th to the public. More information at www.thenormanreagallery.com