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Norman Rea Gallery's 'Dreamland'

"There is beauty everywhere - it’s just a matter of perspective": Muse reviews the Norman Rea Gallery's latest exhibition.

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Image Credit: Elizabeth Walsh

The Norman Rea Gallery, the University’s on-campus gallery, has consistently curated innovative and diverse exhibitions, and this term has been no different.  With pandemic restrictions lifted, the Gallery has been able to welcome students back into its space, showcasing two new exhibitions since the beginning of term, with ‘Norman Rave’ and their current collection, ‘Dreamland’.  Muse caught up with two of the faces behind the exhibition, Beth Jones and Sophie Norton, to find out more about how it all came together.

When asked what the inspiration was behind the exhibition and why the theme of ‘Dreamland’ in particular, Beth explained that the main inspiration behind ‘Dreamland’ was John Keats’s statement that “the Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream - he awoke and found it truth.” Furthering this, Beth said “the ideas of beauty, imagination and truth were therefore central to our conception of this theme - and Emily Quli (Co-Director) coupled these ideas with the rebirth of beauty in Europe from the Renaissance to Impressionism.” Sophie added that they wanted artists to interpret the idea of beauty however they felt was best, resulting in a large range of ideas, works and mediums.  She captured the essence of the exhibition by saying, “the artworks we exhibited ranged from bold knitwear to sculptures made with kitchen roll, and it’s this diversity and scope that affirms the idea that there is beauty everywhere - it’s just a matter of perspective.”

The idea for the exhibition is original and exciting, but it had been brewing behind the scenes for quite some time before coming to fruition. Despite this, concrete plans only started to be developed in October following the successful ‘Norman Rave’, leaving the team with a tight turnaround. Sophie explained that “with ‘Dreamland’, we had less than five weeks between initial contact with artists to opening night.” With the hard work of different teams within the gallery though, they pulled it off.

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Image credit: Elizabeth Walsh

Beth’s role in the Gallery as Graphic Designer entails designing the visual marketing materials for every exhibition, as well as creating blog posts and social media content. Drawing on these skills for the ‘Dreamland’ exhibition, she was able to design the promotional materials for social media and printed posters. Telling us a bit more about this, she noted that for ‘Dreamland’, “we actually produced three main promotional graphics, because we felt that this visual variety would capture the exhibition’s ethereality.” On top of creating the graphics, she supported other members with the curation and installation of the exhibitions.

Sophie, who is the Gallery’s Head of Blog, said that “we aim to create as much hype around the exhibitions as possible, so I will organise interviews with participating artists or share behind-the-scenes information to promote both the gallery and the artists involved.” For ‘Dreamland’ specifically, Beth and Sophie were able to collaborate on and exhibit a piece of their own entitled ‘Cut N Paste’ which they were able to install alongside other pieces.

One of the other talented people that helped to put the exhibition together was our very own Deputy Arts Editor Maya, who gives an insight into her involvement below:

"When I first heard about the chance to help out with Norman Rea’s ‘Dreamland’ exhibition, I was a mixture of excitement and nerves. The prospect of finding an artist to participate in just over a month seemed more than ambitious, let alone the idea that they’d be able to get their work to York in time. But with the help of the incredible committee at the gallery, it became clear that Norman Rea had the whole thing nailed. The wonderful directors Emily Quli and Mariah Chuan guided us through the process from start to finish, from the first point of contacting artists to the final deliveries of their art, so that it was as streamlined as possible. The congregation of everyone’s hard work meant that opening night was the perfect opportunity to sit back and celebrate in a gallery every bit as ethereal as a Rossetti painting. I would recommend the experience to anyone who has ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in a gallery - and if you’re interested, to get involved with the next exhibition!

I might be a bit biased, having located the artwork myself, but Matilda Herd’s textile work is a favourite of mine. It’s not the dreamy cherubs you’d find in a Renaissance painting, nor the tender flowers of an Impressionist piece, but a modern tale of otherworldliness. In a time where ‘beauty’ supposedly circulates on Instagram stories and Pinterest boards, she takes the selfie and spins it into one huge parody of itself. The title, ‘why be me when you can be you?’ is an ode to individualism, to the beauty that emerges from what we’ve come to fear the most: the abnormal. Even its size is unapologetically larger-than-life. If you visit the gallery you’ll see the huge swathes of colourful fabric detailed with intricate stitches and vibrant portraits. Artificial teardrops and grotesque teeth satirise the contemporary desire to perfect every facet of our bodies. Herd’s work is beautiful because of its vulgarity. Which might sound grandiose, but it’s true. She takes textiles to the most extreme form of self expression, knitting something that is truly strange and stunning."

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Image credit: Maya Bewley

The Norman Rea Gallery often focuses on expanding our definition of what art is, and ‘Dreamland’ is no different.  Featuring videos, graphic design, textile work and sculptures, ‘Dreamland’ exposes the fact that we all hold different meanings of beauty too.  Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the Gallery itself was objectively beautiful on ‘Dreamland’s' opening night: stars were beamed up on the ceiling with clouds seemingly floating above visitors’ heads, and garlands of flowers and fairy lights were hanging down to create a wonderland of art and music.  Quite frankly, the exhibition is not to be missed.

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