Journeys with the Wasteland

Co-curation project • 2015 - 2018

About Journeys with the Wasteland

Journeys with the Wasteland was Turner Contemporary’s first major co-curation project, centred around TS Eliot’s seminal 20th Century poem The Wasteland and its links with Margate and the visual arts. The project was facilitated by guest curator Michael Tooby and research curator Trish Scott, in collaboration with a volunteer research group made up of local residents, artists, academics, writers and students. Over three years the gallery worked with 100 members of the community, who selected around 60 works for the exhibition in 2018.

The Research Group

The Waste Land Research Group formed through an open call issued by Turner Contemporary in 2015. Their first meeting took place in August 2015 at Nayland Rock Shelter for a poetry reading. Ranging from people in their 20s to their 70s, the group have brought a diverse range of interests and life experiences to bear on Eliot’s poem. Through weekly meetings, discussions, talks, workshops, walks, research trips, studio visits and individual inquiry, the group have developed their own methods for making decisions together and deciding on content.

The group informed all aspects of the curatorial process, and all the artworks in the exhibition have been chosen by group members. They have also designed the layout of the show, written the exhibition texts, and devised the public programme.

Through their rich discussions around personal connections to art, poetry and life, the exhibition foregrounded the multiple perspectives of those involved. In doing so, it mirrors the form of the poem, where Eliot juxtaposes many different voices and references.

By getting involved in the pioneering T S Eliot & The Waste Land project I have become immersed into the process of collaboration and the curating of a major new approach to visual arts and poetry and I have risen with gratitude for the opportunity and the lifeline it gave me to further develop myself in the town I love – Margate – where Eliot wrote ‘On Margate Sands. I can connect nothing with nothing

Research Group Member

Project Highlights:

  • The project was first proposed by Mike Tooby back in 2012, and funding was secured in 2014. Trish Scott was appointed as research curator in 2015.
  • The first meeting took place in August 2015, recruited by an open call over email and through Trish engaging with community groups. 67 people gathered for the first meeting at Nayland Rock Shelter.
  • Initial fortnightly meetings to discuss themes in the poem had high attendance from 40 to 70 attendees per session. These were facilitated by different groups including artists, literary experts, a philosopher, and secondary school pupils. A core group of 22 regular members formed the Research Group, but members also established their own self-led walking group and reading group.
  • The Research Group were hands on in the delivery of the exhibition. As well as choosing and deciding on the artworks for the exhibition, the Research Group also wrote loan requests to galleries and collectors, designed the exhibition layout, interviewed and appointed designers and artists for commissioned works and wrote the wall text.
  • The group made artist studio visits, led philosophical inquiries, visited different institutions, and had talks from artists and experts throughout the process.
  • The project culminated in a major exhibition in 2018 which attracted 114,480 visitors. It also led to a symposium, People, Power and Curating, exploring community curation.
  • Throughout the exhibition the Research Group delivered tours, talks and walks, and the Reading Group delivered regular performances of the poem.
  • The exhibition made connections with the community – 40 offsite events were planned with 16 partner venues.
  • A summary of the project and its pioneering curatorial approach can be found here.

I found a gap in my life when I stopped being a carer for my mother. Something drew me to this project as I wanted to get involved in a creative process. TSE was a mystery to me. Through examination of The Waste Land I first hoped to understand the poem – what I have got is much more – an insight into myself and opportunity to meet diverse and interesting people which has definitely opened my mind and increased my limited knowledge of modern art

Research Group Member

Journeys with the Wasteland Gallery