Guest Blog - Turner Prize: A Volunteer's View

Posted on 24 Nov 2015 in News, Visual Art, Participation

​Rachel Boyd, a Volunteer Arts Assistant, muses on her experience of the Turner Prize exhibition

Art can simplify as much as it may stimulate our thoughts. It reduces our senses to a base, reactionary instinct of how we first perceive our environment. As a curatorial space, galleries are referred to as ‘white cubes’ - a blank canvas specially designed to give form and purpose to the ambiguity which often clouds creative thought. Tramway’s main gallery, by contrast, is one of the largest gallery spaces in Europe. Vast and industrial, Tramway has always been a working space. Once a tram depot, Tramway stabled several horses before being reincarnated as Glasgow’s transport museum and later, established as an arts venue.

For the purpose of this year’s Turner Prize, the main gallery has been split and sectioned into coherent space - little habitations in and of themselves, where the brainchildren of the four nominated artists reside. However, there is only so far a gallery can go in engaging its audience. It is merely a walled room; essentially, a container for all the activity that happens within it.

Turner Prize Engagement 3.jpgWith this in mind, Tramway wanted to construct a public engagement programme that focussed on art as a means of discussion. Using the exhibition as a starting point, the public engagement programme aims to sustain the audience involvement by inviting them to participate in a series of Workshops, Tours and Late-night events.

My own involvement with the Turner Prize has been as an Arts Assistant. By definition, the Turner Prize Arts Assistants are the all-encompassing helping hand. We switch constantly between taking tours, supporting workshops and answering questions. The most interesting part of my role has been the constant chop-and-change of location. Over the summer, I assisted at several public engagement events and was stationed at schools, sports centres and festivals. The opportunity to engage with the public under different (and sometimes, strange) circumstances has heightened my understanding of how important these external environments are. As an aspiring curator, setting is extremely important to promoting an exhibition in the best possible manner. However, working at this year’s Turner Prize has made me recognise the physical artwork in terms of the space it inhabits.

Bonnie Camplin low res.jpgFor example, see the work of Bonnie Camplin. Camplin - one of this year’s nominees – is exhibiting ‘Patterns’.  Patterns is curated within a very specific setting, seeking to mimic that of a typical library space. Books, video and ephemera are particularly laid across three long desks, extending the full length of the walls, where people are invited to sit, read, watch and photocopy the material provided. In essence, Camplin has facilitated a space where her audience can come into direct contact with the research aspect of her artistic process.This year’s Turner Prize invites visitors into a two-fold construct; aiming to link gallery visits with the critical thinking that arises from them.

Ultimately, I like looking at people looking at things. When inside the gallery space, ordinary pedestrians can develop magical properties, in which the slightest and most informal of expressions are amplified with childlike intensity. Often, it is not only the artwork that is on exhibition; the reactions gauged through the curiosities of an audience make for inspirational viewing.

Rachel Boyd is a History of Art student at Glasgow University as well as a blogger for Glasgowcityarts