At this year’s On The Rocks, curators of art exhibitions have looked to escape the confines of the traditional gallery, and have held exhibitions in venues ranging from cafes, restaurants, and bars around St Andrews. However, the most unusual, and by far the largest show to be held is ArtSoc’s exhibition entitled Heritage, which utilised the Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History. At first I was skeptical of the exhibition’s location; the peculiar museum is not widely known by students and is hidden at the back of St Mary’s Quad. I was also curious as to how the organisers could effectively display artworks in a venue that is already full of objects, and somehow bridge the gap between two opposing forces: art and science.
Visitors were greeted, upon entering the exhibition, by the words ‘Esho Funi’, which I later discovered to be a Buddhist principle (typically ArtSoc). These words, as explained on a sign, summarise the intentions and themes of the exhibition: ‘the oneness of self and the environment’. Putting aside this overt pretension, in simpler terms, the exhibition aims to ‘question the relationship between heritage, humans, and nature, and what it means to be human’.
After fully immersing myself in the exhibition, I found it to be both ambitious and original; I have simply never seen works of art displayed in such a manner. Paintings, pencil sketches and multimedia works were set beside artefacts of natural history, from animal skeletons, anatomical diagrams and taxonomy creatures. The lights in the room were dimmed, and complemented by music and the sounds of animals, creating an evocative and interesting environment, in keeping with the biological themes.
There was an abundance of works that, whilst varied in subject and media, still maintained the overarching theme of the natural world. Furthermore, the artworks complemented, instead of overpowering, the existing exhibits in the room. Heritage included works of art from St Andrews students, and also submissions from art students across the country. A personal highlight was Olya Tyukova’s series of six little light-boxes entitled Capture, which when viewed closely reveal a stunning vision of the Edinburgh scenery. The artist explained she wished to combine her memories of childhood and her memories of Edinburgh through the boxes, which resemble a child’s toy. Amongst the student works, I was particularly impressed by a series of large, simplistic paintings, which depicted iconography from ancient or exotic cultures, from Easter Island heads, to Egyptian mummies. The paintings were fragmented into thin, horizontal strips, and placed on the glass cabinets of the room, partially revealing the objects behind. I was struck by the talent of the many student artists here in St Andrews, with many works displaying meticulous technical skill and vision on behalf of their creator.
Some of the artworks could have perhaps been displayed in a more effective manner: there were many projections of photography and film that I barely noticed. Although having said this, I suppose the organisers were hindered by the cramped nature of the museum room itself. Furthermore, as much as I appreciated the darkness of the space, and the loud music, I felt that some areas were not illuminated enough and the artworks were obscured; it felt at times more like visiting Hollister, than an art exhibition. Overall, it was a fantastic exhibition, and I applaud ArtSoc for looking outside the box, and utilising an unusual and wonderful space. The artworks blended harmoniously with the artefacts in an exhibition that celebrates the talents of the student body and of the natural world around us.