Summer 2021 Learning Resource
Our Summer exhibition season explores themes of memory, place and image making. This online resource has been designed to help you explore the exhibition and inspire activities to do at home, and can be accessed from your smart phone or device by scanning QR codes throughout the exhibition.
The Tourists: Ellen Harvey & JMW Turner
Ellen Harvey is an artist originally from Kent who now lives in New York. She was one of the first artists to show work at Turner Contemporary 10 years ago! Ellen is interested in the places and spaces around us and how we connect with them. She reflects that images of places, such as paintings, postcards and photographs can influence this.
Ellen’s work invites us to question our ideas about art. In the corridor there are photographs from The New York Beautification Project, in which she painted tiny oil landscapes on graffiti-covered walls, bridges and bins across New York City. The choice of landscapes meant that people often responded differently to these paintings compared to other types of graffiti.
Who decides what is art? Who decides what is beautiful?
For this exhibition, Harvey has chosen a group of artworks by landscape painter JMW Turner (1775–1851) to sit alongside her own. Can you see any similarities between the work of JMW Turner and Ellen Harvey?
Tourism, Souvenirs, & Architecture
The Aliens Guide to the Ruins of Washington DC imagines a future in which Aliens have landed on an empty Planet Earth to find architectural ruins of human civilisation.
Using a souvenir stand, they share their ideas about what life on earth was like, turning the ruins into a tourist site. Harvey was inspired by the look of a hotdog stand and the idea that architecture has different meanings for different people.
Activity: Aliens Guidebook
Imagine a future version of your town or city with no people – what conclusions would aliens draw from seeing it? What souvenirs would be sold? Create an alien’s guidebook for the place where you live.
JMW Turner was also fascinated by ruins, particularly Ancient Italy. Before photographs, Turner’s paintings and etchings from his trips abroad would often be the only way for someone in the 18th or 19th Century to see the rest of the world – he was an original tourist. One of his favourite places to visit and paint was Margate, which he said had ‘the loveliest skies in all of Europe’.
Activity: Traveller's sketchbook
Create your own traveller’s sketchbook: Follow in the footsteps of Turner and sketch on the Margate seafront. Try to capture the world as you see it and feel it. Use whatever materials you have to hand. You could even turn your sketches into paintings.
Postcards can be a time capsule, hold memories from a particular place, or be letters to loved ones. They can also show places that don’t exist anymore.
To make The Disappointed Tourist, Harvey asked people all over the world if there was somewhere they’d like to visit or revisit that no longer exists. She has now painted postcards of over 200 places.
Start a conversation: What makes a place important?
Choose one of the painted postcards to look at closely. Why do you think this place was suggested? Why might this place no longer exist?
Activity: Be a tourist in your own town
Celebrate the everyday places in your life and create some postcards of local places or your own personal landmarks. What makes them special? What message would you write on the other side?
Is it possible to capture the feeling of a place through a photograph?
Throughout the exhibition Ellen Harvey explores how a lot of the time, the way we experience the world is through images. Years ago, postcards and artworks were a way for most people to see the world. These days, most places have been photographed and are viewable online. Often our first instinct when we come across a beautiful sunset, for example, is to take a photo and share it. This artwork shows a Margate sunset – can you find any similarities with a Turner artwork?
This is nothing new! In Turner’s time, painters would often look at a view through something called a Claude glass. It is a dark convex mirror that would simplify the landscape into a small image of light and dark, and capture a wider view, helping them to create a tonal underpainting. For Ellen, the Claude Glass has similarities to the screen age we live in now – looking at the world through a device.
Do beautiful images distort our view of the real thing?
Activity: Capture a view
Find a place, e.g. a building, a sea view, a corner of your home. How many ways can you capture the feeling of this place? Would each result elicit the same emotion? What materials could you use, what angles could you view it from, and can you use other senses?
Humans and the Environment
Some of Ellen Harvey’s work gets us to think about the mark we humans make on the environment around us. She suggests that we too often value the natural world for its beauty, rather than its function as an ecosystem (an area with living things e.g. animals, insects, and non-living things e.g. rocks, water).
I think that a lot of problems result from a picturesque view of our planet, that it is here to entertain us, to serve us, that its value is dependent on our point of view.
– Ellen Harvey
Do you agree?
Ellen uses the word sublime to describe something natural that is awe inspiring or overwhelming, rather than beautiful or picturesque – perhaps something that can’t be contained in a picture frame. What changes when you enter The Room of Sublime Wallpaper?
Can art be a mirror to the world? Or does it reflect our point of view?
On the walls around you you’ll find a giant painting called Mermaid: Two Incompatible Systems Intimately Linked. It shows a diagonal slice of a satellite view of Florida in the USA.
In the middle of the painting is the change between the natural landscape of the Everglades national park, and the man-made, urbanised Miami beach. Rising sea levels threaten the ecosystem and existence of both places.
Activity: Making your mark
Look at the Twin Planet protest. How could you use art to make a positive impact on the environment?
Ashes by Steve McQueen
Please note: This installation contains explicit language and references to drug use and violence.
Steve McQueen is British filmmaker and video artist. In 2002 Steve McQueen visited Grenada, a country in the Caribbean where his father was born. He met a young fisherman nicknamed Ashes and filmed him sitting on the prow of a boat. He didn’t use this footage for his artwork at the time.
He returned in 2013 to find that Ashes had sadly died not long after they had met and was buried in an unmarked grave. McQueen paid for a new grave to be built for Ashes and made a new film of the grave being constructed and the etching of its tombstone.
Ashes is a video installation made from three separate elements played at the same time: the two films and a soundtrack of Ashes’ friend talking about how he died.
Life and death have always lived side by side, in every aspect of life. We live with ghosts in our everyday.
The original boat footage was captured on grainy Super 8 film, like an old home video. The second film was made on 16mm film, a higher quality film that you might see in a cinema.
Why might McQueen have used different film for the two videos?
Activity: Tell a story
In Ashes McQueen puts together two different elements to tell a story. Could you tell a story with two images? You could also try it with videos and sound.
The two films play looped, back-to-back on a double-sided screen. You’re not told which side to view first.
Would you experience the artwork differently if you had chosen to watch the other side first?
McQueen doesn’t often give an explanation for his films to audiences but allows the viewer to put the pieces together themselves. What does the artwork tell you that words cannot?