From ‘Pop’ to Gallery- How I Curated My Own Exhibition “U2Opia” with Bethany Freer June 5, 2018

Last month, curator and Pop My Mind artist and enthusiast Bethany Freer launched the visionary exhibition “U2Opia: the collaborative exhibition of tomorrow” at Nunn’s Yard Gallery in Norwich. The exhibition that was the first of its kind: bringing together a diversity of talent from the Pop My Mind community and Norwich University of the Arts, engaging the audience in thinking about what the future may or may not hold.

A fantastic space of performances, sculpture, painting, illustration and interaction, the success of the exhibition is a great example of how artists can utilise and collaborate with the Pop My Mind community creatively – from the virtual world of the ‘Pop’ to the physical realm of the gallery space… 

Bethany describes how she curated this impressive exhibition below.

What inspired you to come up with the idea for “U2Opia”?

“I was really excited about curating a space that was interactive
and encouraged the audience’s response…”

The ideas that are presented in the exhibition link directly to my own research and practise that I wanted to adapt creatively, and to also seek answers to some of the questions the exhibition poses about how we visualise the future. These questions I feel are something we avoid, so I was really excited about curating a space that was interactive and encouraged the audience’s response. Incidentally the exhibition is something I have been wanting to curate for a while now!

I had the idea after creating and selecting work for the Curated Space you may have noticed on the Pop My Mind website. I loved selecting works for this feature and thought it would be fantastic to take this “virtual gallery” and put it into the physical. Being able to collaborate with creatives that are so talented and diverse from the Pop My Mind community really just shows the masses of possibilities on how we can collaborate. Bringing both PMM and NUA together meant that I could showcase a grand variety and diversity of work, all responding to a single theme.

What was it like to curate the exhibition?

As you can imagine, one person taking on such an ambitious project curating 20 people’s work was very overwhelming! Saying that, it was such an exciting project to curate – especially seeing artists and creatives respond to my own research in such creative ways was very interesting and inspiring.

Being able to work with such talented people is always an honour, and I had a lot of fun advertising the exhibition and deciding how work would be placed in the space itself. This was also a challenge as I had brought together such a diversity of mediums; we had performances interacting with sculptures, projections of 3D visuals interacting with the space and a range of interactive stations which utilised QR codes linking the exhibition back to the virtual.

I wanted to curate a show that I myself would want to see: something different but also accessible to the public, something thought-provoking and interactive.

Digital Immortality by Brandon Toop, studying BA-Games Art

3D art piece by Drew Burrett

Do you have any tips for others who may wish to curate their own exhibition?

If I had any tips to give on curation, it would be to keep learning. Research a variety of artists, theories and concepts, be aware of the world around you and what is happening in the news. This is how you will get ideas and how you will transfer these ideas into concepts and exciting shows. Don’t be afraid to do something different and to experiment! Put on a show that you yourself would want to see, be excited about that project and your enthusiasm will show in the exhibition!

Performance piece in progress by the NUA performance art society

“Don’t be afraid to do something different and to experiment! Put on a show that you yourself would want to see.”

What was it like working with the Pop My Mind community?

It is always a treat working with the Pop My Mind community. Everyone I approached were very enthusiastic about the project, and it was lovely getting to meet some of them at the private viewing. I loved seeing the work in conversation with each other, especially having pieces such as Katie Borkin’s Cocohut and then Sander SteinsCoconut Meltdown, a Pop in response to the former.

Introducing NUA students into the space with this work was also interesting, and allowed members of the community to meet talents from a diversity of backgrounds, from GamesArt to VFX to Fine Art. A further collaboration came out of this, with the talented Pop My Mind member Martin Swan directly popping NUA Fine Art student Emma Hampson’s sculpture, by using a piece of the material from her work!

The exhibition was funded by the Invention Award provided by Pop My Mind, that you won in January for your piece Plastic Daydreams. How did this prize help you create the exhibition?

As this was such a big exhibition, I put a lot of time into advertising and marketing the show. A product of the marketing strategy which was funded by the prize was the use of the “U2Opia” postcards which I placed around Norwich and in the show itself. These not only acted as flyers, but also were also interactive and asked the viewer to draw what they thought “Utopia” was and to upload to Instagram with #u20pia. I thought this was a really innovative way of promoting the exhibition, and shows how I used the prize in a creative way! (You can read more about the Innovation award here.)

Incidentally, the piece that inspired Plastic Daydreams, Sam Spicer’s The Fragile Tower was exhibited in U2Opia.

The flyers Bethany created to promote the event

And finally, what collaborations do you hope to be part of in the future?

I think Pop My Mind is perfect for collaboration, and I would absolutely love to do more projects such as this one in the future. I am very interested in pursuing a career as an art director and creative events organiser, which is something that is rooted in collaboration and I feel creative thinking and artists are at the heart of this. Wherever there is a project or brief, you can be sure I will jump right on it and put my creative thinking to the test!

A photo of the opening night

U2Opia: the collaborative exhibition of tomorrow took place in Nunn’s yard gallery Norwich from 12th-14th May 2018. Follow @u20pia on Instagram for more content from the exhibition and the opening night!

Interview by Pop My Mind artist and curator Bethany Freer

Photography by Hannah Smith