University of Exeter: New art installations in empty Exeter shops address issues of mental health and social isolation during the pandemic

From rolling a large plasticine ball around the city, to textiles, poetry and body castings, the art is a platform for DIY artists’ projects, many of which challenge social norms around representation of gender, sexuality, race and disability.

The installations have been curated by students on the University of Exeter’s new Curation MA course.

Liza Zellig has worked with CAMP, the Plymouth-based artists’ network for Devon and Cornwall, to present an exhibition at Maketank gallery and performance space in Paris Street. Projects from seven artists will be presented, which explore the impact of the pandemic and social distancing on our mental health and sense of self. Artists exhibiting are: Rhys Morgan, Katy Richardson, Laura Hopes, Chris Drake, Andrew Fentham, Liam Jolly, Olya Petrakova and Bryan Brown.

Sofia Vellano Rubin’s project, displayed at Unit SU35 in Paris Street, Princesshay, the former Elk Salon, aims to unpack the colonial narratives that underpin the city streets of Exeter. Sofia is the artist and curator, and will attempt to roll a large plasticine ball around the city of Exeter, weighing 60kg – roughly equal to her own body weight – conveying the idea of a body in motion. As the plasticine ball is rolled around the streets it will collect dust and sediment, serving as a literal imprint of the environment. This performance is inspired by Mexican artist, Gabriel Orozco’s Yielding Stone, a 150-pound plasticine ball rolled through the streets of New York in 1992.

Olivia King has worked with artist Molly Rooke, students from Exeter College and clients of Recovery Devon to run restorative textile workshops to explore how processes of making art and being creative has helped us feel connected to one another. The finished pieces will be displayed at Unit SU35 in Paris Street, Princesshay and Positive Lights Project in Sidwell Street.

Carrie Neilson is both curator and artist of Pseudonym, an exhibition that deals with the trials and tribulations of the pandemic and how social distancing has changed people’s sense of self. Her work, at Unit LSU Princesshay, the former Crew store in Bedford St, projects her own internalised feelings of anxiety and evolving self-confidence, incorporating self-portraits, poetry and body castings.

Tom Trevor, Programme Director of the new University of Exeter Curation MA, said: “Despite all the difficulties of social distancing and remote learning, this intrepid group of students have been incredibly committed throughout, and we have gone on an intense journey, exploring the global apparatus of the art world, with speakers Zooming in from all around the world.

“Now is the time that the students get to realise their own curatorial projects, or a final dissertation. As we discussed this, it became apparent that an overriding shared concern was to address the issues of mental health and social isolation which have affected us all during the pandemic, and this has developed into a series of workshops, performances and site-specific installations in empty shop spaces around Exeter city centre, and also in Rome, under the collective title of ‘Antibodies: art during the pandemic’.

“My co-lecturer on the MA, Josie Cockram, and I are excited to see the outcomes of this intense year, and congratulate all the students on their sheer grit and determination, rising above all the challenges of this most challenging of years.”