ULethbridge Art Gallery interns Jessica Colley (BFA - Art '20) and Kate Riddoch are the curatorial minds behind the latest exhibition in the Helen Christou satellite space.

The pair, students in the Art History/Museum Studies program, came together to curate an exhibit that showcased their diverse, and at times opposing, interests through pairings of artworks from the renowned ULethbridge art collection revolving around themes of life and death.

The exhibit, titled As Above, So Below, illustrates Jessica and Kate's different points of view–one interested in macabre photography, the other interested in impressionist landscape. 

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The pair became interested in images of opposing forces, light and dark and life and death. Artworks that were seemingly opposite started to tell interesting narratives in pairs, bringing forth conversations of mortality that transcend time, space and culture. Jessica and Kate discuss their exhibit below.

As you were curating this exhibit, what message(s) were you hoping to convey with the chosen works?

Jessica Colley: When choosing the works, I wanted to consider how life and death is often viewed as binary terms. Is there a grey area between the two that exists? For instance, we chose Tulugaq, the print of a raven, because crows and ravens are often they are viewed as a bad omen. However, some cultures believe that ravens brought light into the world. It’s more subtle than the rest of the works, but people who know that story from their own background will understand. That’s another consideration we had – what does life and death look like cross-culturally? We are so fortunate to have such a diverse student body - my biggest hope for the exhibition was that it would open up conversations around life and death between students in this way.

Kate Riddoch: We really wanted to leave things open ended. The topic of life and death is a really personal one and it didn’t feel right to just say that there should be one experience of it. We chose to do the re-occurring cycles because we wanted to highlight that idea of multiplicities and how each pairing is both different and similar to the others around it. The space we were in also played a factor in this; because it’s not a separate space we wanted to have a show that someone could spend two minutes or 20 at and still walk away thinking about it.

What was the process of co-curating with someone else like? How did you work around each other’s respective differences in artistic interests?

JC: We joked that this was the "Barbenheimer” of the semester. Kate was interested in photography, while I was interested in impressionist landscape – two vastly different art forms.

How could a show come together with two seemingly opposite ideas? Our first steps were to look at the collection individually, choosing works that interested us personally. When we came back a week later, we noticed a narrative of life and death starting to develop, and we worked together from there to curate pairs that could demonstrate this narrative. I was lucky to have a co-curator who was very open to working around my ideas, and vice versa, which made curating the show really enjoyable.

It also exposed me to works I would have never looked at. Photography was of little interest to me, but after seeing the works Kate chose and hearing them speak about it, I started to look at photography in a different way.

KR: It was a really crazy process. I’d had classes with Jess before, so I knew she was a great student and person; but I was honestly expecting us to have to choose something neither of us were interested in just to be able to have a completed show. We came at the collection from such different angles; and it really felt like it wasn’t going to work until it clicked. We’d managed to come together and make the theme of life and death without realizing it, because we started at complete opposites of the collection. It made the process really fun and interesting because we came together with our own lists of artworks and then worked in from there. So, we didn’t have to work around each other all that much because everything just happened organically.

What were some of your biggest takeaways from your internship? How does an internship prepare you for your future careers?

JC: My time at the ULethbridge Art Gallery was incredible! I was initially placed to work in collections, as I had an interest in how that side of the gallery worked, but when I was approached with the idea of curating, I couldn’t say no. It was definitely outside my area of expertise, but the entire staff at the Gallery were so supportive throughout the experience. I got to explore my own interests while also learning practical skills for my field, such as proper object handling, researching, and the process of curating an exhibition. It was really cool to see the theoretical side of my degree start to work hand in hand with the practical side. Overall, this experience gave me the confidence to explore my ideas while working alongside professionals in my field, which is an amazing opportunity at the undergraduate level. My biggest takeaway from my internship was don’t be afraid to try new things! As students, the best thing we can do when challenged with something new is to take a leap of faith and see where it leads. If it doesn’t work out, it's another learning experience to grow from.

KR: So, I was actually the public programming that semester, which is something I didn’t think I would be that well suited too, but it really was for the best.

I learned so much from Kirsten, and everyone at the gallery; not just about public programming, but working with a team, stepping outside my comfort zone, dealing with deadlines and surprises, and so many other things that are going to make my life after university all the more fulfilling. I don’t think I had half as much confidence walking into the gallery for the first time as I do now; and that’s thanks to them.

Anything else you would like to add?

JC: I want to thank all the staff at the Art Gallery for their kindness and support throughout my internship! It’s an experience that I will never forget. I have now completed three internships, giving me a year’s worth of experience right out of the gate; which will certainly help aid my career as a future museum studies professional.

KR: Go to the Gallery! See the art, do the events, have fun! Do an internship if you ever get the chance; there’s so much to be learned and experienced if you go looking for it!

As Above, So Below runs at the Christou Gallery until June 15, 2024.

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