|Our Japanese ‘Merman’ made for a suitable poster boy.
Poster design by Neil Holland, based on an idea by Sarah Selzer
Once a year, with the help of the head curator of the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, I stage an exhibition with a group of students who are enrolled in my undergraduate module “Curating an Exhibition.” The shows draw on the University’s vast collection of art and artefacts. The student curators are given a theme and set out to create a narrative by selecting objects in response to it. That is quite a challenge, considering that the exhibition is put together in just over three months from initial planning to display.
Past exhibitions include Untitled by Unknown, Queer Tastes, and Matter of Life and Death. This year, I was all set to use the colour red and its connotations as a theme . . . until the inauguration of Donald Trump and the ensuing dispute about the size of the audience made me see red in a different way. This gave me the idea for a more urgent, topical show.
That show is Alternative Facts: Interpreting Works from the School of Art Collection. It opens on 22 May and will be on display until 29 September in one of the School of Art’s galleries in Aberystwyth, Wales.
The introductory panel explains the theme as follows:
The phrase ‘alternative facts’ is a recent addition to our vocabulary. It has come to prominence in a political climate in which views and actions are shaped more by emotions than by reliable intelligence. Reflecting this shift, Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘post-truth’ to be Word of the Year 2016. And yet, alternative facts are as old as language itself.
The works in this exhibition range from a sixteenth-century woodcut to twenty-first century ceramics. They make statements about religion and war, consumer culture and the media, humanitarian crises and the economy. They contain references to historical figures such as Princess Diana and Nelson Mandela as well as fictional characters such as Mickey Mouse and Moby-Dick.
Using a current catchphrase as its premise, Alternative Facts explores the varied and conflicting functions of material culture: as representations of reality, as social commentary and as propaganda. Political caricatures by James Gillray and Honoré Daumier are exhibited alongside documentarian images by photojournalist Erich Lessing. Autobiographical and self-reflexive sculptures by Claire Curneen and Verity Newman are confronted with the hoax of a sea monster made in Japan. Collectively, these objects raise questions about faith and falsehood, truth-telling and myth-making, authenticity, authority, and freedom of expression.
Alternative Facts also invites a closer look at the role of curators as trusted interpreters and reliable storytellers. Our readings are not intended to be the last word. The gallery is a forum for discussion.
Curators: Tom Banks, Natalie Downes, Amber Harrison-Smith, Néna Marie Hyland, Brit Jackson, Frida Limi, Dean Mather, Brad Rees, Sarah Selzer, Magda Sledzikowska; with support from Harry Heuser (text and concept) and Neil Holland (staging and design)