A fellowship project at Kingston University’s Stanley Picker Gallery, which brought Kingston School of Art students and community groups together, culminates in a final exhibition over the next few weeks.
The Origin project, developed by Stanley Picker Fellow in Art and Design and London-based artist Ben Judd, sought to connect different groups, such as Kingston University students and academics, residents, and charities, to imagine a fictional community which inhabited an island on the Hogsmill River where the gallery stands. The imagined community represented a society based on a common ownership, with strong links to the river surrounding it.
Over the past two years, the project has involved collaborations with Kingston School of Art students from a variety of disciplines, including dance, music, fashion, interior design, and architecture. Community groups have included The Grange Centre in Bookham, Surrey, which provides support to people with learning difficulties, Cadbury and Riverside Association, Refugee Action Kingston and the Bradbury (Staywell) Centre, and Writers’ Kingston.
Visitors to the exhibition will see a large free-standing boat-like structure which acts as a focal point for both the fictional community and the project’s real-life participants. This was co-created with Kingston University architecture graduates from 121 Collective design studio and includes ‘sails’ and costumes designed by Kingston School of Art fashion students and alumni. Also on view are small maquettes, or models, of the inside of the boat designed by interior design students.
The structure contains objects and images related to the imagined community such as artefacts from Kingston University Archives and Special Collections and ceramic objects discovered along the River Thames. As part of the wider project, Judd wanted visitors to consider the natural environment in a city such as London with references to the River Thames and communities that might live on or alongside it.
The live exhibition follows online collaboration last year and live workshops and a dance performance this summer, when Kingston School of Art dance students imagined how members of the community might move and interact, accompanied by a beautiful score composed by music students from Kingston School of Art.
A similar dance and music performance is taking place at the gallery (on Thursday 30th September) followed by a discussion involving students and other collaborators on the project to celebrate its completion.
Reflecting on the project’s progress over the past year, Judd said it was an achievement to involve students from so many disciplines as well community groups at such a challenging time. “When the pandemic struck, it threw up a lot of potential challenges for The Origin, which essentially was about bringing people together to imagine this community and how they looked, sounded and lived.
“If anything, with so much on hold, the pandemic gave people more impetus to get involved. We kept the momentum of the project going despite the challenges and everything came together this summer when everyone could meet in person. Now I hope the project’s legacy will be for these collaborations between students and different community groups to continue after I finish my fellowship,” the artist added.
Judd also acknowledged the benefit to Kingston School of Art students who took part. “There was a lot of cross-pollination of ideas between students from different disciplines, and they gained valuable experience working in the wider world and with different community groups,” he said.
Visitors to the exhibition will be able to hear the musical score as well as view a short film of the project, captured by w.in.c films, a collective of Kingston School of Art MA Filmmaking graduates.
With little text accompanying the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to use their imagination and create their own interpretation of how the fictional community lived and interacted.
“I would like visitors to feel there is space in the work where they can use their own imagination and reach their own conclusions,” added Judd. “I have set the ball rolling and I am interested to see what people will make of it.”