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Review: Jade Montserrat, Instituting Care

Review: Jade Montserrat, Instituting Care

“The quiet in this library is a sound in itself.” A statement scrawled across the walls of the gallery seems to pour into your head as you try to take in the gallery. A statement probably just as true of the gallery as the library it references.

Libraries are spaces to discover new knowledge, where collections of information are kept. Galleries, and this exhibition is a key example of this, are spaces where new knowledge has to be actively presented by an artist every few months. As an audience member in a gallery you have the opportunity to build a relationship not just with the work, but with the artist who created it. They’re beautiful things in that respect, galleries; they allow anyone to understand and engage in new ideas in ways that have never been seen before.

But being allowed to take part doesn’t mean you do.

So who gets to be an artist? Who gets to be a viewer? Who gets to experience this intimate new discovery by creative new minds? ‘Not everyone’ is the answer.

There are economic, cultural, racial, gender, and countless other barriers to the art world; a world too often presented in high school as offering no real career prospects. In other words, if you’re not born of privilege it can seem genuinely scary, the prospect of leaving university without a clear path; putting all that effort in, to enter a world where it’s not what you know, but who you know, and skills are hugely subjective things, grading is based on potential, and success is based on originality.

The challenge of all that is precisely why I entered the art world, and why I’m still part of it, the joy of not knowing what the next day would bring. Yet those things seem to be road blocks in making the art world more diverse and more visitor friendly.

Bluecoat’s latest exhibition, Instituting Care by Jade Montserrat addresses all of these questions, but without projecting any personal experience, or anything that might intimidate an audience. The soft shuffle of metallic curtains entices you into the gallery and around a series of words aimed at inviting a new understanding on who art education serves.

Using the exhibition as a loud speaker for information, quotations, and responses to key texts of decolonisation and decolonising knowledge, the artist, and the gallery in equal measure are not just setting a tone, but actively engaging artists in the discussion as part of the exhibition’s programme.

ROOT-ed zine founders and editors Amber Akaunu and Fauziya Johnson’s workshop on the language we use in art and politics is central to the exhibition’s calendar, on 7th February.

Using the exhibition’s glossary of terms – a very literal dissection of the language behind the project (often the main barrier to engagement) – the artists, both recent graduates, will help to deconstruct the exhibition through open and unbiased discussion.

The library continues inside the foil curtains, as a safe space to develop a new connection to globally significant information, without the pressure of a traditional library, research space or classroom. The gallery itself forces the quotes, and the carefully selected definitions on its occupants, but its central vide or the library give the space to escape and reflect.

The multitude of spaces in one room is ambitious, and the result is a venue that should allow anybody to feel comfortable, in this peaceful and welcoming space that takes Bluecoat into the New Year with a show that promises more of these questions in future.

Open at Bluecoat until 10 March 2019
Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith