Virtual exhibition celebrates work of BACA students after pandemic puts project on hold

A BACA student’s linocut (left) and an illustration from the Keep (right),

A BACA student’s linocut (left) and an illustration from the Keep (right), from Robert Thornton’s Temple of Flora (1799-1812), which is part of the University of Sussex Special Collections.

A collaborative project between University of Sussex researchers and the Brighton Aldridge Community Academy (BACA) has culminated in an online exhibition showcasing the work of Year 7 students.

Since January 2020, Dr Bethan Stevens , Dr Hannah Field , Dr Treena Warren and Professor Lindsay Smith from the University of Sussex English department, have been working with BACA to run a research and curating project for Year 7 students.

Focusing on their own work on 19th century illustration, the team organised visits to The Keep, to show the students rare illustrated books and encourage them to respond through creative and critical writing or drawing.

They also coordinated a linocutting workshop with printmaker Peter S. Smith to give the students an idea of the historical experience of the Victorian printmakers who made book illustrations.

However, with the project put on pause by the global pandemic, the students’ work is now featuring in an online exhibition, curated by Susannah Walker from the British Museum.

Dr Bethan Stevens, Senior Lecturer in English and Creative & Critical Writing, said: “We’ve all really enjoyed working on the project and are really proud of what the students achieved so far.

“With the final workshop on hold, and a physical exhibition tentatively scheduled at Jubilee Library in November, we wanted to find a way to showcase the students’ hard work during lockdown.

“The virtual exhibition is the result and we’ve already had some lovely comments back. It’s been really rewarding.”

The project intended to introduce students to archival research and, ironically, demonstrate the importance of exploring books as physical objects, rather than just relying on online information.

Free to access online, the exhibition shares a montage of the students’ work and responses to illustrations grouped by themes - nature, the macabre, fashion and gender, adolescence and empathy and maternal dedication.

Yet despite a focus on the students’ learning, the team found the experience to be a two-way process.

Susannah Walker, a Visiting Academic at the British Museum, curated the Beyond the Archive exhibition. She said: “Academics, archivists and artists can reconnect young people to the aspects of the nineteenth century that are less relatable today, the painstaking process of creating wood engraved illustrations and the intense, wordy descriptions that surrounded Victorian illustrations.

“But, as this project showed, young people can also give us insight into how a world of contrasting images can be navigated. The ways that students saw, interrogated and responded to nineteenth-century illustrations have set the agenda for this exhibition.

“Curating their work in the Beyond the Archive exhibition presented many observations, questions and directions to me which I had not previously considered. It also bought a greater sense of exploration, fun, humour and enjoyment of the material as a result of its having been seen anew.”

The exhibition can be viewed online at www.sussex.ac.uk/eng­lish/dalziel/explore-beyond-the-archive/

A physical exhibition is due to take place at the Jubilee Library, Brighton, in November.

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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Tuesday, 4 August 2020


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