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Ode to Technicians – a Fine Art exhibition

BA (Hons) Fine Art student and East GalleryNUA Assistant, Maddie Exton curated her own exhibition all about our workshop technicians. Our technicians work across all of our courses to support students in their studies and their practice. Maddie decided to recognise the technicians in an exhibition, read on for a short blog on this process.

Installing the exhibition

I walk to my studio on the top floor of St George’s, I’ve just bought a basic kitchen table cover, white, 3 metres square. I cut the packaging off, lay it on the floor and I spray “HERE”, jet black and bold.

It’s a statement, but all the more striking for the rebellious black dripping. The 3D Workshop is autonomous, used by all, fashion and fine-art alike, but tucked away at the side of the Guntons Building. I hammer the flag to a wooden spike and prop it up in the centre of the show, a proposal for the recognition that the 3D Workshop deserves.

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Why I celebrate the NUA technicians

I like to think of the 3D Workshop as a studio of leftovers. Scraps. Not works, and things in progress. The purpose of this show was to make that labour visible. What I wanted to do was highlight the knowledge, and switch the spaces of making and showing.

They make more than any of the students, and yet the student work is the labour with perceived value.

“The technicians are in that workshop making, all day, five days a week.”

The exhibition itself

Focusing specifically and non-specifically on three technicians, and using the workshop as a sort of residency space, I made a show’s worth of work from sculptures (of plinths), to drawings (of every workshop window), to films.

I also curated it, wrote supporting texts and designed the poster. This was one of the shows I used for my first Year 3 submission.

The show looked behind closed doors, and although it didn’t get the 35 million views Kylie Jenner’s A Day In The Life has, using my role as an artist to showcase the technicians invites us to the infinitely interesting world of people-that-aren’t-us.

These are the people to thank for degree show’s professionalism (plinths, crisp white walls and shopfitting).

Their knowledge (artists and specialists in their own right) is what allows the construction of so many works, the 30-odd proposal drawings displayed in the show, are a fraction of artworks birthed from the workshop. Like ghosts, they remember things made and gone.

Visible and invisible is a theme throughout, I collaborated with photography student Sasha Washington to take portraits of the technicians in which they are obscured by their medium – seen simply as “the metal guy” or “the wood guy”, you see their material and not them.

Plinth, my attempt at a plinth displayed next to one made by the technicians points at the difference between the two and says look how lucky we are, and look what we take for granted.

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The show was about three technicians in a sculpture workshop, but it was also about my dad. My dad is good at making stuff. It’s his job.

He builds the spoilers for lorries and he has worked in the same factory since he was 15. When I need something made, I go to my dad. We go to the garage and we get some tools and we talk about how it’s cool that when you drill into metal, the temperature rises? The same thing (kind of) happens with the technicians.

Somehow, at 21, the things I make are so visible — made to be shown. And yet nothing my dad has made has landed in a gallery, despite the obvious skill, activity and capability.

When discussing this show with Fine Art Lecturer Desmond Brett, he asked “when you look at a building do you thank the bricklayer or the architect?”

So I asked my dad, and he recognised the bricklayer.

This show waves a flag for technicians in all their forms; from sculpture workshops to dads.

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