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Synechdoche, Upstairs Gallery

During the planning workshops, students engaged with the history of the site and became interested in drawing the viewers’ attention to the structure of the space itself. When they discovered that Nadja Daehnke –curator of the Michaelis Galleries- was planning to remove a set of dry walls on the landing outside the gallery, they requested that she delay completing the renovations of space until after their show. Hence, they were able to incorporate the residue of marks and paint layers left behind after the removal of the drywalls. The curious holes and odd patches of mismatching wall paint and a missing section of the banister alluded to flux and layers of history.

Attention was also drawn to the sloping ceiling of this small foyer space by sheets of white paper taped roughly in tiers onto its surface. These pages displayed students planning notes, drawings, significant quotes and photographs of key contemporary and historic curators and exhibitions. Historic information and images about the gallery building were also on display. The site was originally the place of a Slave Lodge, later replaced by the current structure. Over the years it has been used, amongst other things, as a boarding school, a medical school, janitor's accommodation, private studios and a drawing room.

Also on display in this foyer area was a small plywood scale-model of the gallery space, its dimensions highlighted with bright international/safety orange tape. The use of this tape as highlighting device was echoed in gallery space itself, where the edges of the room where also outlined using this tape. The orange motif was also carried into the marketing for the show, a parody of the traditional gallery label. Instead of a red dot usually signifying "sold", the poster/ invite for Synechdoche, Upstairs Gallery displayed a international/safety orange dot, suggesting danger, attention and a 'setting apart from'.

The students decided to leave the main space of the Upper gallery as sparse as possible in order to allow the space itself to be seen. Their ten scale models of the space were displayed symmetrically on two rows of trestle tables to the one end of the space. Trestles are used as work areas, used here to underpin the idea of curatorship as creative work, akin to art making. These ten scale models are all made from matching plywood, creating a visual uniformity, but each contained a different proposal of an exhibition for the Upper Gallery, in scale form. Additional information was provided in a limited edition Xerox book, given out for free at the opening.

The space also contained a set of spotlights turned towards a point on the wall. Here the students were playing with conventions of gallery lighting by over exaggerating and flooding a wall that displayed nothing but the wall itself. A tall ladder with orange markings stood to centre left of the space, inviting viewers to climb up to look through the trap door into the ceiling. Through this open trap, the old wooden roof beam structure of this historic building could be seen, lit by lights placed by the curators in the roof. From the high vantage point at the top of the ladder, the viewer could also look down on the gallery as a whole, echoing the sensation of viewing the scale-models.

Against the far wall of the space, a mountain of plinth had been constructed, lit by the natural light from the small windows flanking either side. This pile subverted the traditional function and use of a plinth, turning them into an abstract, architectonic mass and also a place for visitors to sit or stand during the opening performance or while they perused a pile of student notebooks displayed on the pinnacle plinth.

The opening performance –a play on the traditional opening speech- was sung by a Karaoke performer, who was procured through the Internet. Dressed as a "sunglasses" curator, in black suit and tie, Des Meyer sung "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (Procul Harem), reading the words phrase by phrase forma karaoke track displayed on a small tv set on the floor. The students chose this song specifically because of its resonance with the trope of gallery 'white cube'.

The students also created a large cake, in the shape of the gallery. This too contained layers of orange icing and was completely devoured, along with cups of beer, by visitors to the opening event, which turned out to be a great success.

The show was curated by: Esmeralda Brettenny, Kerry Chaloner, Casey Driver, Roxy Kaczmarek, Roxy Kawitzky, Siobhan Keam, Hannah Lewis, Karena Liebetrau, Katie Muller and Chris Van Eeden under the guidance of Julia Rosa Clark .

All photographs by James King

Synechdoche, Upstairs Gallery Part 1
Synechdoche, Upstairs Gallery Part 2
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