Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Curating and Collecting Jocelyn Herbert

Tonight I attended the exhibition launch of the MA Curating and Collecting, UAL, 'Work from the Collections Number #3', which focused on Jocelyn Herbert's working relationship with Samuel Beckett.  The exhibition features material curated by each and every student on the course selected from the National Theatre's Jocelyn Herbert Archive.

The exhibition is at Wimbledon Space

The exhibition is a culmination of a term's work on the subject matter involving much original research by the students into the NT's Jocelyn Herbert Collection as well as into theatre design, Beckett and British theatre history in general.

Q&A session with Jenny West, David Gothard and Matthew McFrederick
Today's event opened with a Q&A session with three experts in Jocelyn Herbert and Samuel Beckett, chaired by one of the students on the course who had also acted as registrar and coordinated all of the archive loans (she must have had a very busy last month!).

Wimbledon Space

One of the things that I was really excited about seeing was how each of the students had used the archive material that they had found.  Coming from a vast variety of backgrounds and countries, each student approached the collection with different ideas and each has selected a different aspect of Jocelyn's work whether that be her drawings of trees, correspondence with politicians, her costume drawings or the spattering of her daily life that is portrayed throughout her work.  Some of the loans that were requested were so unusual that my team and I were at times baffled as to how the students could use them to meet the requirements of the course but it was fascinating this evening to see how and what they used to provide a commentary on Jocelyn's work with Beckett.

Costume drawings from Jocelyn Herbert's collection
The archive has also been very involved in offering mounting advice for many of the items, which are delicate and need to be carefully handled.  Where possible the students used facsimiles but there is a good number of originals throughout to offer authenticity.  The students also made excellent use of the digitised drawings, which they projected onto the wall so that the costumed figures were around life size.  This really brought the Collection to life and animated what could otherwise have been a dense pile of 2D sketches.

Another challenge was how to show a whole sketchbook in the exhibition.  One of the students filmed each page and the video is a very accessible alternative to displaying a sketchbook in what would have had to have been a static manner.

A sketchbook flicked through by page and page orientation changed when required
An extra bonus of this collection is that the students have produced 'The Work Book' to compliment their exhibition.  This work book contains essays on why the students have selected what they have along with images and catalogue references.  This will provide a valuable resource in coming years of the course to give an idea of how to approach what can be considered a large and potentially daunting archive collection.  It is also really useful for us as we are getting to know this collection and it will show the variety of ways in which this material can be accessed and interpreted for different audiences.  I am very grateful to the students and the course convenors for all of their hard work and I am very proud of this collaborative venture and look forward to continuing the relationship in the years to come.


The exhibition runs from the 25th March to the 10th April 2015 at Wimbledon Space and is open from 10am to 5pm each day.  The Jocelyn Herbert Collection is housed at the National Theatre Archive and the catalogue is online here http://catalogue.nationaltheatre.org.uk/CalmView/.  

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