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Young Curators Project Inspired by Damien Hirst Artist Rooms Exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery
File photo of the artwork 'False Idol', a calf in formaldehyde by British artist Damien Hirst, is part of the exhibition 'Pop Life'. EPA/MARCUS BRANDT.

LONDON.- The Damien Hirst ARTIST ROOMS exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery, as part of the ongoing UK tour sponsored by us, has inspired a group of students to create an accompanying exhibtion entitled A Series of Artworks Carefully Arranged. We put up additional funding for The Young Curators Project which was run by Leeds Art Gallery in collaboration with students studying BA Visual Communication at Leeds College of Art. The group of 18 were led by three core curators – Jodie Curley, Joe Durnan and Amber Bednall, each taking a specific area of responsibility and together creating a show in response to Damien Hirst’s art using Leeds’ permanent collection.

Hirst as inspiration
After many workshops and hours of research into the work of the ex-Leeds resident Damien Hirst, the team began to develop a theme. As they say, ‘We wanted to link to Damien Hirst, but indirectly so it didn’t look like a copycat exhibition. We had elements of life and death and science, but the whole idea of how performance exaggerates the everyday is something we got from Damien Hirst and we wanted to portray this through our artwork.’

The three curators explored the museum’s stores to select works from the collection. The breakthrough moment was finding Such is Life by John Byam Shaw, as Jodie explains, ‘The references to performance – the ballerina, the clowns – encapsulate the exhibition’s theme.’ The Gallery was surprised at how many traditional pieces were selected, but, as Joe clarifies, ‘Lots of people have commented on how the traditional artworks had little relevance or interest to them until they were put in the gallery space and a narrative was created around them.’

Interactive elements
Once they had developed the focus of the exhibition and chosen their six key works, the team set about bringing the show to life. Amber created interactive and interpretive pieces to get people actively involved rather than just viewing from a distance. It is quite unusual for curators to have such an impact in the storytelling of an exhibition, but this was a conscious decision, as Amber explains, ‘The curator’s voice tends to be a whisper, but for this exhibition we wanted the voice to be really strong and create different narratives’

Joe headed up what he calls a ‘Multisensory Celebration’, in essence a re-imagining of the opening night, held in nearby bar. Joe commissioned young Leeds-based artists, live acts and installations, ‘There was a preview event the night before with a lot of people in suits standing around looking awkward. I wanted to use our event to communicate the theme of the exhibition a bit more and involve people.’

Onwards and upwards
Has their opinion of Damien Hirst changed through this project and seeing his work in the ARTIST ROOMS exhibition? For Jodie he was ‘just one of those artists’, but that has now changed, 'I definitely appreciate him more as an artist.’ It was a similar story for Joe, ‘I am definitely engaged with his work more now and the ARTIST ROOMS exhibition has heightened that’.

The project has had a fantastic impact on the lives of the young curators, as Joe says ‘It’s made me learn a lot about curating and I’ve realised how open it can be’. Amber is returning to the gallery in August as Artist in Residence, running workshops to teach children about art outside of the school environment, and Jodie is looking forward to pursuing a career in events organization within the arts.

The two exhibitions run side by side until 30 October.

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