What Is It Like To Be A Textile Art Exhibitor?


Ailish Henderson shares her view on the world of embroidery - it's the Ailist!

As an artist, often we get to see the polished, finished view of an art exhibition – very little of the behind the scenes areas, the parts which divulge the true story. So I thought it fitting having held my own solo exhibitions, to reveal a little of what it is truly like so you can gain a little insight if you plan to have your own in the future. It may make you appreciate the effort and planning too which goes on – it is not all sitting pretty getting praised for ones’ work! Here is my very own step my step, image led guide! 😉

I will use an exhibition I had in London as a working model here….

The journey begins at home. After decisions are made as to what will be exhibited, how much to put on show and plans are put into place digitally in order to comprehend what will fit in the space, all work is packaged ready for its journey to the gallery / show holding the exhibition.

First, you angst for months as to how to pack your work…

It is true that the concern lasts for many months beforehand – will this work show off my style? Will it be understood? Will it be appreciated?

Then the vans arrive to collect the work – a feeling of loss and a bare room envelops the studio – a positive of course!

You then watch as a van drives away, with you hoping it doesn’t get lost along the way.

As an artist, travel wise I take a solo path down to London, with only basic needs with me (I have packed all my clothes with my body of work – so lets’ hope it ends up at the destination each time!)

When finally artist and artwork meet again, it is in the gallery setting. Suddenly the walls I have put up in a digital AutoCAD style format are a reality – for this particular exhibition I had the privilege of controlling the whole process – even the wall sizes and colour.

You then set it all up…thanking every box you open that you haven’t forgotten anything massive.

At 5ft 2″ I can only reach so far, so I have two men on hand at the gallery to set up my work – all I have to do is shout and pretend to look important!

There is a moment of emotion inside – seeing my work in its dreamed setting – this is my own creation – my baby.

Woo! All set up….the relaxing stage, at this point as long as you smile and talk your face off, you’ve won!

Once the set up is over (obviously at this stage there are no audience members allowed on site) I leave, ready for a night in London, ready to welcome observers on opening day.

One of the first to appear on opening is Jamie Chalmers, AKA Mr X Stitch – a feeing of slight ‘is this really happening?’ is normal – all that planning and suddenly crowds are coming at me.

Mr X Stitch and I on his visit…as you can tell I had had a few sleepless nights before open day. Lets not try to caption this photo.

At this particular exhibition, I had created a desk area, where I could highlight my ranges of printed textiles as well as be on hand to answer visitors questions. If you are planning your own exhibition and need to man in at all times, I would recommend having friends or family or employees on board to take shifts for you. I chose to be solo for this one and loved every minute; however familiar faces helped for short breaks!

The best thing about being stuck behind a desk is….the audience watching (spying). All those wonderful quirky outfits all come out to play….

Very soon it will be over – so I would tell you to enjoy it, yes it is hard work, but work you should be proud of – make sure you get plenty of photos too. You will want the memories to reflect upon. Looking back, I only wish I had invested in professional photography for this exhibition.

By the last day you basically feel as spaced out as one of my sculptures.

Whether you are planning your own exhibition or you are a regular visitor, I hope that this has given you a little real insight into what it is like to set up and exhibition and all the feeling you may have surrounding it! Of course everyone is different and will have a different experience – the main thing to remember is to enjoy it and remember to take photos! Oh and smile plenty – these visitors are your visitors, so make them feel welcome!

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