Journeys with 'The Waste Land' installation photography by Stephen White
One year on from Turner Contemporary’s major exhibition Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’, which explored the relationship between T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem and the visual arts, the gallery is releasing a specially designed online resource so that other galleries, groups and individuals can learn from the exhibition’s pioneering approach to curating.
The Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ resource includes observations from the Research Group who curated the exhibition, the curatorial methodology, visitor insights, and key content from the exhibition, and is a tool for exhibition makers and individuals interested in a community-focused approach. It was developed by Michele Gregson and Lydia Laitung, and can be accessed for free, here.
Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ was the culmination of a three year project, based on an idea by Professor Mike Tooby and led by Mike and the project's dedicated Research Curator Dr Trish Scott. It was designed to radically rethink traditional curatorial processes. Turner Contemporary worked with a voluntary Research Group, made up of local people, to develop the entire exhibition. Ranging from people in their 20’s to their 70’s, the group brought a diverse range of interests and life experiences to bear on Eliot’s poem.
After the exhibition ended in Margate in May 2018, 100% of the Research Group reported that their top priorities for the project had been met. In feedback and interviews, all said that taking part in this project was a profound experience. Reflecting on their experience, one member said:
You don’t come out the other side unchanged. This has changed my life. It’s changed the way I look at things. It’s changed what I want to know about things, how my personal research will go forward. And I’m an age when you think, oh I might be knitting or sitting back taking it easy, but no, I’ve got so much I want to do and that’s why it’s been an absolute privilege to be a part of this, and to have a voice and to think your voice might actually matter. - Melody Bottle, Research Group Member
All artworks in the exhibition were chosen by Research Group members, and collectively the group designed the layout of the spaces, wrote exhibition texts and devised the public programme. Testament to their ambition is that Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ featured Edward Hopper’s Night Windows (1928), which was the first artwork that has ever been borrowed by Turner Contemporary from MoMA in New York.
Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ at Turner Contemporary had a total of 114,480 visits. 92% of visitors surveyed at the gallery rated the exhibition as “good or very good” and 8% of respondents said they had never been to an art gallery before, which is twice as many as compared to the same period in 2017 (4%). 91% of visitors interviewed by the Research Group said that they had learned new things or deepened their understanding.
The exhibition was featured in international press and reached an online readership of over 1 billion, including The Wall Street International, The New York Times, The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Spectator, Forbes, The Art Newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, Vogue, and was Exhibition of the Week in The Week.
A wider programme alongside Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ involved 33 events across 17 local venues, organized by local people supported by Turner Contemporary, resulting in the exhibition reaching larger audiences than ever. This aspect of the project has inspired work across Margate for Turner Prize 2019.
The initial legacy of the project was that a different version of the exhibition was presented in Coventry, curated by a different Research Group who were in contact with the Margate Research Group, using the curatorial methodology that was developed for the exhibition at Turner Contemporary. This exhibition used a combination of the same and new material, curated around different concepts, illustrating how the curatorial process is about shared ideas.
One year on, Research Group Members are still experiencing the benefits of the project.
In December 2015, several members of the Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ Research Group met to inaugurate the Thanet T. S. Eliot Reading Group - which is now in its fourth year. One year on from Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’, our lives are still very much involved with Eliot – reading, sharing, creating, and organising – a completely unexpected, life-changing and enduring spin-off from our initial involvement in Turner Contemporary’s 2018 exhibition. – Ian Jones, Research Group Member
Being involved with Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ enabled a deeper understanding of the vicinity surrounding Turner Contemporary. This opportunity to become involved in the curatorial process for a major art exhibition arrived at a personally dramatic time in my life and gave it a positivity that was a gift from heaven. My legacy work from this involvement still continues through the T. S. Eliot Reading Group, a forthcoming art exhibition in Margate and the Walking Group with walks in both Whitstable and London. - Laura Shawyer, Research Group Member
Being part of the research group of Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ consolidated my position as a member of Margate artistic community in a very real way. I joined the Reading Group who will celebrate the poetry of T.S. Eliot with an Art Exhibition this coming April at Limbo, and we hope this will be an annual event. - Alicia Box, Research Group Member
Turner Contemporary’s Head of Learning and Visitor Experience, Karen Eslea, said:
This project was an incredible journey for everyone involved. Working in collaboration with members of our community brought a new edge to the exhibition and to the poem. It opened it up and made it more relevant and intriguing for a tremendous variety of audiences. Rethinking traditional ways of programming is a key part of Turner Contemporary's approach and evidence shows that working in this way changes lives and has considerable social and economic impact. We hope that the legacy of this this project continues with our Margate-wide programme organised with local people and Margate Festival to celebrate Turner Prize 2019.
You can access the Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ resource for free, here: www.jwtwlresource.turnercontemporary.org