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Aberdeen art school show sees 300% rise in visitors after going digital
Hannah Nelson's work. Gray's School of Art/Supplied
Education & Skills

Aberdeen art school show sees 300% rise in visitors after going digital 

An Aberdeen art school’s degree show – forced to go online for the second year running due to Covid restrictions – has been hailed a success after attracting more than 8,000 art fans from across the globe.

The Gray’s School of Art event, which is normally enjoyed by some 2,000 visitors when it runs in-person – drew interest from as far afield as Malaysia, Brazil, Kenya, Panama, Russia, Columbia and Serbia. 

Over 150 designers and artists showcased their work at the 10-day exhibition across a range of mediums including painting, contemporary art practice, 3D design, communication design, fashion and textiles and photography.  

The ‘Onwards’ degree show, organised by Robort Gordon University’s (RGU) art school, ran from 9-19 July.

The digital exhibition was a collaborative effort between Gray’s students, Gray’s School of Art’s creative unit Look Again, and design agency Design and Code. The team built the site in four months.

Expanding on the success of last year’s online format, the show was updated and further developed with new additions for “the best user experience”.

Visitors were able to engage with work in a traditional 2D format through new search options, allowing them to explore students’ work according to course and theme. Audio descriptions and visual images from all the artists were also included.

Additionally, there was the option to go on an “immersive journey” and to explore the show through a series of 3D virtual spaces. 

The online event included interactive Q&A sessions, music events and an exclusive fashion show.

Paul Nicol’s exhibition. Gray’s School of Art/Supplied

Libby Curtis, head of Gray’s School of Art, said: “We really didn’t think we would be doing a second Digital Degree Show 15 months on from the first Covid Lockdown however both our staff and students, and the creative partnership we have with design agency, Design and Code, have risen to the challenge and the success of this year’s digital degree show is a testament to all their hard work.

“Our graduates have had to be adaptive and flexible; they have created home studios, developed new ways of working, re-inventing through the imposed limitations, and in doing so, have shown their determination to succeed and achieve. The sustained personal and professional resilience demonstrated by our students during this difficult time has been, and is, truly outstanding.  

“‘Onwards’, the title of our Show this year, speaks to the optimism, resilience and continued professionalism that our students exhibit through their work. I am delighted with the success of this year’s event and that we are able to showcase our student’s work to a global online audience.”

Organisers of the exhibition say they are considering using an online platform to complement a physical degree show in future. A spokesperson said: “The success of ‘Onwards’, in terms of its reach and visitor numbers, has demonstrated how effective an online platform can be. We would hope to build upon the success of the past two year’s digital shows, to support a physical degree show, to best showcase our student’s work.”

One of the students exhibiting her work was 21-year-old painting graduate Scarlet Keiller from Forres, whose project, ‘Lost in Translation’, explores a post-apocalyptic world where earth’s civilisation has collapsed and humans are extinct.     

Keiller said the pandemic has greatly influenced her work. “Last year, when the studios closed and we had to work from home, I found it liberating and the quality of my work skyrocketed from there. This year, I chose to create work exclusively in a digital format as this was accessible for me to do from home. If it weren’t for Covid I’m not sure I would have made this kind of work.      

“The mural I painted in my studio space felt like a natural extension of the themes I was exploring – invading an otherwise pristine environment and disrupting it – but if I had been in the studio all year with no restrictions, I imagine I would have gone in a very different direction.” 

Another painting graduate at this year’s show was Faye Woods from the west coast.

She said: “Covid forced me to work from home in my mum’s utility room. My studio mates were quickly replaced by a freezer and tumble drier. I had to work on a smaller scale and adapt to no longer using copious amount of turps in my work! Despite this, the tutors have been the most supportive and caring people I’ve ever met in education and the course has constantly challenged me into striving for more in my work.” 

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