This week The Crypt Gallery welcomes an exciting exhibition, Thoughts from a Sleepless Night by Connor Coulston. Curated by Caroline Fisher, the exhibition runs from 13 May to 28 May, open Tuesday to Saturday, 12 noon to 4pm. We caught up with Caroline to find out a little bit more about the exhibition and also learn more about what the work of a curator involves….
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role within the arts community.
I am a curator, gallerist, arts educator and artist based in Norwich. I came to Norfolk 20 years ago and have become very much involved in the artistic life of the city. In 2018 I set up my community interest company—Caroline Fisher Projects—which has a physical gallery space on Upper St Giles Street, hosting exhibitions and events. My aim is to support contemporary artists working in ceramics, and this often involves site related projects and exhibitions in pop up locations around the Norwich and beyond.
The other hats that I wear include freelance curatorial work, for example for the Broads Authority, teaching at Norwich University of the Arts and I am a trustee of the Assembly House and Norfolk Contemporary Art Society.
Norwich is a very welcoming city - when I arrived from London in 2002, I was amazed by the democratic nature of the arts scene is here. People are genuinely supportive and curious about contemporary art and want artists to succeed - there is a generosity of artistic spirit that larger cities lack. The presence of two universities, numerous festivals, studio complexes and well-supported public and private galleries makes for a diverse artistic landscape with something for everyone.
Tell us a bit about your career journey so far and how you have got to where you are today.
I have had quite a diverse career path - I started out training and practising as a doctor, but I always wanted to do something creative, so I went to Central St Martin’s in the 1990s and followed that with an MA in Museum Studies at the University of East Anglia.
Using my medical as well as my artistic training, I worked as a curator in London for Wellcome Collection and the Royal College of Physicians and spent some fascinating time at the British Museum in their Interpretation Department. Working directly with artists has always been important for me - I ran an artists’ residency project called Bolwick Arts for a number of years and always like to create opportunities for artists to make work in relation to place.
In 2016 I took up a post as Curator of the newly reopened East Gallery at Norwich University of the Arts and was involved in British Art Show 8 and numerous contemporary art exhibitions there, as well as the restoration of the University’s collection of Alfred Munnings drawings. I left East Gallery to set up my own venture in 2019, though I still teach on the MA in Curation at the University.
In 2021 I worked with ceramic artist, Katie Spragg on a project entitled Plants, Porcelain, People where the artist became involved with a charity supporting refugees and asylum seekers in Norwich. This was a milestone exhibition for me as it was the first time I initiated a project where an artist worked in relation to the community over a period of time and then showed the results. It is a way of working that I would love to develop in the future.
What can you tell us about the upcoming exhibition ‘Thoughts from a sleepless night’?
Thoughts from a sleepless night is an exhibition of new ceramic work by artist, Connor Coulston and is part of Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2022. The sculpture is conceived to relate to the exhibition space of the Crypt Gallery and explores night-time thoughts, sleeplessness, dreams and nightmares- it also has a strong dose of humour and a nod to celebrity culture.
Connor bases his sculptures on ceramic pieces he finds in charity shops and on historical ceramic forms such as Toby jugs. He has recently started combining the clay with coloured neon light which will be very atmospheric in the darkened Crypt Gallery.
I don’t want to say too much more about the exhibition because I think everyone should come and experience it for themselves. In particular, I very much want art students at Norwich School to come and see the work. Maybe it will inspire a few pupils to try making ceramic sculpture?
How did you hear about the Crypt gallery?
I had visited exhibitions at the Crypt Gallery in the past and love the space. It is so calm and has a wonderful sense of the ancient which is very well complemented by contemporary art. I was delighted when Mr Campbell approached me with the idea of a ceramics exhibition in the space and it has been a pleasure planning ‘Thoughts from a sleepless night’ with Connor Coulston, who has responded to the gallery space by thinking about the spooky connotations of gothic architecture.
What does being a curator involve?
Working as a curator means different things in different contexts. Curators can be found in museums and galleries and sometimes work in extremely specialist fields, other curators work in a more project-based manner, as I do. The work is very diverse, I might be installing an exhibition, visiting an artist’s studio, doing a site visit or photoshoot, or ploughing through admin or writing a funding application. You have to think on your feet and be organised and adaptable, but I love the variety and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
The other thing to say is that the term, ‘curator’ is used in so many varying contexts now and the word and role have been used in many inappropriate contexts (I’m always amused by ‘Curator’s Pork Puffs’, that widely available snack!) As a result, I use different terminology depending on what sort of work I’m doing- so ‘gallery director’ or ‘exhibition co-ordinator’ are sometimes more appropriate terms.
'Thoughts from a sleepless night' runs from 13 May to 28 May, open Tuesday to Saturday, 12 noon to 4pm.
For more, follow @carolinefisherprojects
Images courtesy of the artist, photography by Denisa Ilie.