Since 1986 when I packed my crimpers, hairspray and black eyeliner and headed South to study Fine Art (at what was then Trent Polytechnic now Nottingham Trent University – NTU) I’ve lived in Nottingham. Not the only student to settle in their student city I’m sure.
My claims to fame from my time at NTU (apart from overuse of the photo booth in the days before the “selfie” was so simple!) are only by association Tim Noble and Sue Webster were in my year and I briefly went out with a guy called Paul Smith who was from Nottingham, but not THE Paul Smith
Over the 170 years of Nottingham Trent’s Art and Design history some fellow students have become rather more famous and pursued their careers somewhat further a field! This year Nottingham Trent University celebrates some of them with a range of events and the current Bonington Gallery exhibition entitled “Since 1843:In The making” featuring selected works from alumni (though none from me).
Attending the exhibition launch prompted an indulgent and rather convoluted trip down memory lane, or more precisely a rummage in my box of sketch books and photographs (I am a consummate and unashamed hoarder) and the unearthing of Diana “The Goth” from the 80s!
I also took the opportunity to catch up with Stella Couloutbanis who co-curated the exhibition.
Creative Notts (CN): First of all Stella, tell us a bit about you
Stella Couloutbanis (SC): I’ve been an arts professional for over 25 years, working as a curator, project manager and supporter of Visual Arts and Crafts, mainly in the East
For the last 7 years I’ve been freelancing on various projects including an Art in Empty Shops scheme in Erewash, Project Managing Sculpture in the Garden at the University of Leicester (last 5 years), mentoring artists and makers for Nottinghamshire County Council and curating exhibitions for Embrace Arts, Creative Greenhouse and Rufford Craft Centre.
I am Co Director of Wash Arts, a participatory organisation and work for dance performance company Salamanda Tandem. I offer support to individual artists including help with grant applications and project managing their exhibitions.
CN: What’s the idea behind since 1873?
SC: Since1973: In the Making was originally conceived by the Head of College of the School of Art and Design at Nottingham Trent University Ann Priest and Professor Simon Lewis (the previous Head of College). The show is a celebration of 170 years of art education in Nottingham, all the work by alumni.
CN: When did you first start planning this exhibition?
SC: I was invited by Professor Lewis and Ann Priest to join the Steering Group in May 2013, having joined the team I successfully tendered for the role of Co Project Manager and curator of the exhibition.
It was lovely to go back to Bonington; I previously spent 18 years running the Gallery so it was like coming home! It was great to see my past colleagues and work with them again. It was a great team!
Working with nearly 100 artists was a mammoth and at times daunting task, particularly as I corresponded with them all individually! The School of Art and Design made first contact inviting the artists to be part of the show, then I started liaising with the majority of them on what work we could have from them – I worked very closely with a colleague within the school who helped me with the coordination of the show.
The experience of working with all the artists and designers was fantastic many of whom I knew from my working days at Bonington so it was great to catch up with them on personal basis. Some I never met, but feel I’ve got to know them – they were all extremely lovely! It was a fantastic opportunity to work with some famous people.
It was great to get loans from various galleries around the country and from our own doorstep – Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery; we really appreciate all their support.
CN: The exhibition takes over the Bonington Gallery, the atrium of the building and spaces in the Newton building. How did you choose what went where?
SC: We decided from the beginning we would keep the visual arts together and design separate. Bonington Gallery was the key venue for the visual arts; we were very specific that the historical works would be displayed here and the key major work such as Webster and Noble, Nigel Cook, David Bachelor, Lucy Orta, Keith Piper – lighting was a key part to the display of the work.
CN: I noticed that the light and shade in the gallery is used to show pieces at their best. The strong shadow lighting is essential for “Double Negative” the work of Webster and Noble. My quick picture doesn’t really capture it; the atmosphere in that part of the gallery is wonderful. Couldn’t help steal an image of their work as they were in the same year as me!
SC: I have fond memories of them showing in the Bonington Gallery when they were students!
CN: Finally if you could take some of these works home which would you pick and why?
SC: Difficult, several I’d like! The Webster and Noble for the fond memories and Hancock and Kelly because that reminds me of performance days at Bonington Gallery as well as Hetain Patel…. Andy Earl’s photograph for Pink Floyd’s album – great photograph and great band! …. I’d also love to have Richard Brown’s interactive piece, could play with that all day….and the beautiful sculptures by Wolfgang Buttress and Richard Trupp – I think I need a bigger house!