‘Its own interrogatory spirit imbues visitors with a sense of permission to explore and chart their own route through the assembled works of art, and to freely ask the questions and pursue the connections that they find most intriguing’ (Rugoff in Marincola, 2006).
How do you justify an exhibition? How do you justify any form of public outcome for a body of artwork?
I think there are two aspects which need to be considered.
First, what is the purpose for an exhibition? This is more common to all types of outcome than it might at first appear.
A public outcome needs to bring art out into the public domain by one means or another. As it does so, it needs to facilitate the following:
Showing the work in the best possible light (literally and metaphorically)
Conveying the message without encumbrance
Not detracting from the work, instead augmenting it
Providing an enriched viewing experience
Evoking a sense of emotion
Stimulating (action or debate)
There may be more. These are the things I would hope from an exhibition. Some expectations may be unique to a particular project – some projects may not want to show something in the best possible way, quite the opposite, in order to initiate a response from the audience.
This brings us to our second question – does a specific type of outcome allow that purpose to be fulfilled?
Jo-Ana will be exhibited via an online gallery, so taking that as a working example, the question becomes will an online gallery show my work in the best possible way?
It was felt that a dedicated website was essential in order to successfully display the body of work. Introducing the work as an additional page in an existing website would not do the work justice.
Furthermore, Jo-Ana is a series of images supplemented by text in order to provide the viewer with context and, therefore, an enriched viewing experience. There are four pages of supplementary text. Adding these into an existing website would be possible, but would not allow the viewer to navigate through the exhibition easily. This would detract from the viewing experience.
Communication between the artist and the audience is essential, particularly in terms of developing as an artist. Such communication is facilitated by a Contact page, and a Visitors Book. Locating Jo-Ana into an existing website would prevent any communication and feedback being exclusive to the project, which is necessary.
Creating a website specifically for the project enables the environment (background, logos, typeface, etc.) to be tailored to the body of work. This would not be possible with an existing website.
Why an online gallery and not a physical exhibition?
Each exhibition, irrespective of the form it takes, has a target audience. It may be viewed by individuals outside the target audience, but predominantly, those who the work will fit a specific demographic.
Wilson et al. (2006, cited in Johnson, 2015) inform us that ‘pro-eating disorder websites host communities of individuals who engage in disordered eating and use the internet to discuss their activities’.
How prevalent is the use of such websites?
Custers et al (2009, cited in Johnson, 2015) found that 12.6% (n = 90) of the girls and 5.9% (n = 42) of the boys from a sample group of 711 children and adolescents (7th, 9th, and 11th) grade had visited pro-anorexia websites.
Furthermore, a separate survey showed that 35.5% of 76 patients who had been treated for eating disorders in an outpatient clinic had visited pro-eating disorder sites (Wilson et al., 2006, cited in Johnson, 2015).
Woolf (2015) informs us that western society has a problem – the glorification of eating disorders.
‘Even if you’re not actively looking for encouragement with an eating disorder, even if you avoid the internet altogether, you can’t avoid the overwhelming message of our age, that weight loss is good, weight gain is bad, that thinner (harder, leaner, greener) is better. We live in a hypervisual age, with most of us – especially the young – confronting thousands of images every day. The focus on women’s bodies is intense, in every magazine, website or TV advert, on every billboard and celebrity shot, and in the conversations of friends, mothers and sisters around us.
The effect can be profound, and yet still eating disorders are misunderstood. They are dismissed as a teenage, female condition (although male eating disorders are on the increase) or misrepresented as faddy dieting, body hang-ups, a phase they’ll “grow out of”. In fact, the opposite is true: eating disorders are highly addictive, and self-starvation becomes involuntary.
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, more deadly than schizophrenia. One in five anorexics will die, either from physical complications or suicide’.
A primary aim for Jo-Ana is to raise awareness in two key areas: amongst the family, friends and colleagues of anorexics – helping them to recognise the signs and symptoms of the illness; and amongst anorexics – where removing the stigma is essential, helping bring the discussion out into the open, enabling dialogue with interventionist channels, and demonstrating that recovery is possible.
Clinical studies have proven that early intervention is essential for the successful long-term treatment of eating disorders.
An online exhibition enables Jo-Ana to effectively reach its primary demographic target – a readily accessible target audience which is already online, is using the same technology that will be used to present the exhibition, and is using hashtags to exchange information.
In essence, then, an online exhibition is taking the artwork to the audience, or as close as it is practically possible, rather than asking the audience to come to the artwork.
Johnson, Hadley A. (2015) I Will Not Eat – A review of the Online Pro-Ana Movement [Online]. New York: Adelphi University. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/I-Will-Not-Eat-A-Review-of-the-Online-Pro-Ana-Move-Johnson/b7a8b83bec0e6df021b83d4696ff8ac49c6819c8 (accessed: 09 February 2018)
Rugoff, R. (2006). ‘You Talking To Me? On Curating Group Shows that Give You a Chance to Join the Group’, in MARICOLA (ed.) What Makes a Great Exhibition? Philadelphia: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative
WOOLF, Emma (2015). ‘How social media is fuelling the worrying rise in eating disorders’. The Telegraph, 04 June 2015 [online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/11649411/How-social-media-is-fuelling-the-worrying-rise-in-eating-disorders.html (accessed: 30 January 2018)