Review: Queen’s Art Festival

An art experience controlled by the curators and artists

Like galleries all over the UK, Queen’s Art Festival has had to brainstorm new ways to present their art virtually. Available as a series of videos on their Instagram, their online exhibition creates a viewing experience controlled by its student curators. What emerges is a new way of experiencing art, and one that’s well worth a try.

The gallery consists of six videos on their Instagram, which range from one to 14 minutes each. The videos guide the viewer through two virtual rooms, modelled on London’s White Cube Gallery, which exhibit roughly 20 paintings and sound/video installations. Designed to be viewed on your phone, the digitally rendered images are shown from a range of angles. As we study each work, we hear the artists and curators discussing it, fading in and out against soft background music by Felix Zombory-Moldovan.

The Archeology of Knowledge by Samuel Race in Room 1 Part 1 (Credits: Queen’s art Festival on Instagram)

‘Crompton Abbas’ by Ben Zombory-Moldovanin Room 1 Part 1 (Credits: Queen’s art Festival on Instagram)

With this new format, we no longer browse through the artworks, studying those that we find appealing, and passing over the ones which do not hold our eye. Neither can we converse with a friend. Instead, the cinematographic layout means that we see the art through the eyes of the curators and as described by the artists.

‘{__} et Statement’ by Apolline Bokkerink in Room 1 Part 2 (Credits Queen’s Art Festival on Instagram)

At first, I found navigating the Instagram layout confusing, and, at times, I felt like I wanted to gaze longer at particular artwork. However, the curators have undeniably given us a more sensory way to experience art. In a darkened room, the light from your phone shows you images saturated with colour.

The motions of the camera leave the impression of artworks that, in opposition to the traditional static museum context, are alive and moving. You find yourself fully immersed in each artwork, its image rolling over you before it fades into a darkening background.

In many ways, I found the experience very calming, especially when I turned the sound off and just experienced the visuals. When you do listen to the audio, I would recommend using headphones, particularly for the sound/video installations like Apolline Bokkerink’s ‘{__} et Statement’ in Room 1 part 2,  Nik Yazikov’s ‘Community’ in Room 2 Part 2 and ‘Oolong’ by Anna Li in Room 2 Part 3 .

‘Tom’s Visit’ Alex Haydn-Williams Room 1 Part 1 (Credits: Queen’s art Festival on Instagram)

‘Palette 2020’ by Sophie Beckingham in Room 1 Part 2 (Credits Queen’s Art Festival on Instagram)

The gallery’s theme this year is community. Community seems to be defined broadly in the exhibition as connections: Connections between artworks, places, and beings.

For me, the exhibition emphasises the loss of these connections not only as many of the artworks articulate the pandemic experience, but also through the way that the viewer journeys alone into the gallery format through their phone screen.

At the same time, the festival also rebuilds this sense of community. Both through bringing together artworks in its gallery space, as well as through uniting students, artists and curators in Zoom conversation at its ‘Art Night’ last Saturday.

‘Oolong’ by Anna Li in Room 2 Part 3 (Credits: Queen’s Art Festival on Instagram)

‘Nature of Things’ by Sarah Strachan in Room 2 Part 1 (Credits: Queen’s Art Festival on Instagram)

‘Companionship’ by Melissa Irving in Room 2 Part 1 (Credits: Queen’s Art Festival on Instagram)

Of course, I urge you to experience the artworks for yourselves, but there were a few pieces that stood out for me which I’ll talk about briefly. The way that the camera pans over Sophie Beckingham’s ‘Palette’ in Room 1 Part 2 meant that I could almost feel the work’s sculptural texture through the screen (I also couldn’t help but smile at her audio discussion of the work’s materials, which include her own hair).

In the same room, I found Apolline Bokkerink’s video installation exhilarating. With French and English voiceover, the viewer is taken on a journey through the confusing, tumultuous insides of her cotton sculpture. A similarly provoking work was ‘Oolong’ by Anna Li (Room 2 Part 3), which uses audio and visuals to take the viewer through an equally bewildering experience mimicking a fish swimming through ocean nets.

Queen’s Art Festival has given us a new way to view artworks. For me, the virtual gallery that they’ve created is not so much a museum as an experience. And, in a way, the curators have transformed these artworks into a type of video art. Available on their Instagram, it’s well worth taking a dip into, even if only for five minutes.

4.5/5 stars

Feature image credits: Queen’s Art Festival on Facebook and Instagram

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