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Reflections on Collect Art Fair 24

Collect Art Fair is a bit like Christmas, the anticipation and buildup goes on for months, then it happens and then it's all over! 3 weeks have passed since setup day and I’m finally starting to feel recovered from it all. It was EPIC!

Back when I visited Lustre in Nottingham last November I was asked by the Design-Nation team if I would like to work part time on Exhibitions and Events. The offer came at a good time for me as my filmmaking work had all gone quiet. So I mulled it over and later accepted and began the handover process just before Christmas. First show up was Collect, the biggy!

Getting my head around it has been a steep learning curve and it’s been a baptism of fire! A close friend of mine Jess recently said that she knew me first as a bringer together of creative people and for setting up exhibitions long before I started making films, something I’d kind of forgotten. 

As I took over part way through I wasn’t involved in the initial application process and all that goes with that. I knew we had 10 makers from different disciplines from across the country to coordinate. It was great to be reacquainted with Liz Cooper who I’d not seen in years and over the first few months of the year we’ve had a lot of early morning or evening zoom calls as she is over in New Zealand.

These calls were to plan out our room E7, a small room in the East Wing of Somerset House. Being a grade 1 listed building there are various rules and regulations as to what you can and can’t do. I was warned that there was an extensive Exhibitor Manual to wade through. I soon realised reading through that it was slightly less daunting than I’d thought and lots of it didn’t apply in the room we were in.

During January Liz and I spoke with the 10 makers individually to understand what they were showing and how ideally they wanted the work to be displayed. From those conversations we curated the space as best we could, not all the work was finished and so sizes and space wasn’t completely known. 

I managed to go and visit 4 of the artists before the show to see how they were getting on and make sure they were ok and on track. On a very cold couple of days I stayed with my friend and NW Design-Nation coordinator Julie Fewster and went to Liverpool to see Chris Turrell, followed the next day by a trip to Manchester to see Tone von Krogh and Ella McIntosh. I later visited Karina Thompson over in Birmingham to see her Quilt and studio as well.

There are a series of deadlines when certain things need to be done, including the risk assessment and health & Safety forms, the guest list for exclusive VIP tickets, marketing images and the main one being the Permission to Fix form. Lots of the rooms are lined with MDF panelling to protect the original walls and so there is a maximum length of screw you can use. In my mind they didn’t seem long enough to hang things with but they were fine. We indicated on the plan where screws were needed with an X marks the spot adding the weights of the pieces too. 

Another feature of Somerset House is its access for vehicles which is tricky. You can’t just rock up and drop stuff off, unless it's jewellery or something small. The show uses a logistics firm to gather the boxes of work at their depot in West London and then bring them into the courtyard and deliver your work into your stand ready for setup day. They then take away your boxes for storage during the show, at a cost of course. 

There were various stressful moments along the way, how to pay for things now Design-Nation is connected to a University. The director Clare is now much more familiar with the system having gone round the houses trying to figure it out with University colleagues.

We ended up buying some new display furniture from the Hairpin Leg Company which look slick and then had to work out where they would go afterwards. I offered to pick up the furniture from the logistics company after the show and take it over to the HUB in Lincolnshire. I had many sleepless nights wondering if the furniture would fit in the back of my car. I measured it and took the back seats out of my car to get more space but still there was a nagging doubt. It definitely didn’t do my anxiety any good. 

With the show getting closer lots of the pieces started to fall into place, information from the artists, logistics and the layout plan. It was a constantly evolving thing. 

Then it was time! I was away for 9 days in total. On the Monday I drove to my friends in Surrey, the Wondiferous Hannah Gibson, where I would leave my car for the week. Then got the train into Waterloo and lugged my bags over to the Premier Inn. One of the things I had to consider was how to pack light. I needed to take tools. I needed to take clothes and my new suit. It was a bit like backpacking, especially as I would move around a few times during my time away. 

I met my colleague Hayley Banks later that evening off the tube and had a meal in anticipation of the long setup day on the Tuesday. We arrived at 8am and met Sarah Dormer the Fair manager to get our passes and welcome pack and then headed to room E7.This was the first time we’d seen the room and the large pile of boxes containing the work.

I’d spent quite a lot of time drawing up hanging plans with measurements which did pay off. For most of it, it was about locating the starting point and the rest was straight forward. I invested in a 1m long metal ruler with spirit levels which helped greatly in lining things up. I did have to put bubble wrap and a small cardboard box from zip lock bags over the end so as not to poke someone's eye out when it was in my backpack, as it stuck out the top. I did bash a tree and a tunnel roof along the way.

Hayley and I systematically put up the wall pieces first, a large Quilt by Karina Thompson, 6 glass panels by Susan Kinley and 13 ceramic panels by Chris Turrell. Then we built the tables and started arranging the pieces of glass and ceramics on them. There were some breakages to a couple of ceramic pieces, one discovered in unwrapping and one was in the moving of one. I used my model making skills and superglue to temporarily fix them. It was a bit of a heart wrenching moment!  Our two jewellers then came and dropped off their work. We were there for the best part of 12 hours, it was a tiring day! 

On Wednesday morning all the boxes had gone and Clare Edwards arrived with the labels and postcards and barring a few tweeks we were ready for the first round of VIP Previews. I had no idea what to expect as I’d only visited before on the public days. There were some small tours with guides and lots of people who didn’t really want to talk, just look. Today was the day of the ‘High Net Worth’ people! The evening drinks reception was a little more relaxed, partly because of the fizz! It was nice to see some familiar faces including good friends the Bonners and Zoe Laughlin from the Institute of Making.

Technically Thursday was my day off, but a busy one. I met friend Susan Swales and went to an exhibition of sculpture at the Hayward gallery, 2 Temple Row for a glass exhibition then a hop over to the V&A for lunch and to see Jacqui Ramrayka who is currently doing a residency there in the ceramics department. After that it was a stop off to see the marvellous exhibition of glass by Kira Phoenix K’inan before heading back to Collect for the evening drinks round 2. 

Friday was the first public day and it was busy and lots of makers visited and I got to meet lots more DN members. I went to a Craft UK networking event and saw lots of show and organisation staff, I love a schmooze :) 

The next couple of days were similar in lots of conversations and seeing familiar faces. My accommodation moved a few times thanks to Bridget Bailey and Emily Jo Gibbs. The commutes from South London were enjoyable, I do like an urban train journey although they were a bit wet!

By Sunday Hayley and I were bracing ourselves for the packdown that evening. It was another later one and as soon as the public had left we could start dismantling things but not before the boxes and packaging arrived back. It was slightly chaotic to say the least. All our boxes were dropped outside and so we ended up getting them ourselves so we could get on with things. 

It was largely a repeat and reverse of the install. Chris’s work was first off the wall. It had sold and needed to go via another gallery to be delivered. By about 9.20pm Hayley and I had run out of steam. So we retired to the Premier Inn and collapsed. 

We were back bright and early Monday to finish off packing ready for the logistics company to take the work back to the depot. A few other sold pieces had new homes to go to in London so Hayley and I offered to drop off work using an Uber. A combination of tiredness, Hayley needing to get a train home and trying to direct an Uber to come into the courtyard of Somerset House really stressed me out. 

Finally the guy dealing with traffic on the Strand entrance talked a driver in through the bollarded entrance and in and we could then load up and head to the posh end of Marylebone and Wimple Street the Dentistry equivalent of what Harley Street is to Doctors. 

Job done and it was time to say goodbye to Hayley to get her train home and as I was still in Marylebone I realised I wasn’t far from the CAA Gallery where Emily Jo Gibbs was helping unload their work so I met her there as I was staying at hers that night. It all worked out rather well in the end. Having got back to hers I had a bath and a lay down!

The final day was meandering across south London on the overground over to Clapham Junction and catching a train back to Surrey and Hannah Gibsons. Seeing her was the icing on the cake of the week as I’d missed her when I first arrived. It was lovely to catch up with her! I then made the short hop over to the logistics depot a few junctions round the M25 to pick up the furniture. I still had a nagging doubt in my mind but it fitted absolutely fine and with room to spare. Phew! Then it was just a 3 hour drive home ever so slightly squished in.  

Collect, it was Epic, Knackering, Enjoyable, Sociable, Painful (my feet hurt and my body ached) and it felt like I saw EVERYONE

There are definitely things I would look at doing differently next time and some things I’d not worry so much about. I’ve learnt a lot over these few months that is for sure! 

The next show is Craftworks in May during London Craft Week!  

Until next time, mind how you go 🧡

19 Mar 24

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