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Unique virtual art and design exhibition attracts hundreds of online visitors during Lockdown

6th Jul 2020

Over 50 Art Foundation students and staff from Abingdon & Witney College have contributed to a special virtual exhibition, called UNLOCKED, which seeks to celebrate the empowering sense of community during these uncertain times.

With many of the students going on to prestigious art schools across the UK after their term finishes, this was their final opportunity to showcase their college work to the wider public.

This is despite demanding commitments pulling many of the students away, such as work, parents who are key workers and teaching younger siblings.

Visitors from as far as Australia, the United States and Singapore have been rubbing virtual shoulders with fellow guests whilst navigating the corridors and cubbyholes of the exhibition. More than 300 attended the grand opening of the private viewing on 19th June, with the current total of visitors now well over 600.

The architect of the exhibition’s one-of-a-kind environment is student Will Westwood, who after 500 hours and 3,000 lines of code managed to replicate the Boros Bunker, located in Berlin and built in WW2 to protect the local inhabitants during air raids.

This was a place that the students visited back in February, pre-Coronavirus, and which holds a strong affinity amongst them all.

Will said: “Initially, as part of my Final Major Project, I was going to create several hyper realistic environments using Blender, including a vending machine in a bunker. The idea spun from that, to figuring out how to host everyone’s work remotely.

I built a 3D space using Javascript, Unity, Jquery and other tools. It took just over 3000 lines of code and 500 hours of long days and late evenings to get it all finished.”

The students were heavily involved in all aspects of the exhibition. The website where the virtual bunker is hosted was created by Juliet Gaskell, whilst the e-invites were design by Sam Harper.

Agata Genissel, 18, who helped to promote the event said: ““The virtual exhibition totally made up for the lack of a physical one. Once the virtual space took its physical form - with endless rooms to explore in its maze-like structure - it was soon clear that with a shift in approach, we would each be granted an unprecedented level of freedom. Our tutors encouraged us to pursue our artistic goals and with the limitations of scale and space in a physical exhibition far removed, the process of creation was given the focus it needs.

Regarding my work in the exhibition, I want it to retain its interpretative quality; with emphasis on feeling and perception, rather than listing the ideological notes behind the visual. Focusing on the canine symbol, recursion and found images, it is the metamorphosis of these elements in skittish light, colour and sound which compels the viewer to embark on a bewildering post-internet Rorschach test.”

It’s a sentiment mutually shared across the department.

Fellow student Bessie Kirkham, 19 from Oxford, said: “I feel quite lucky. There was a sudden sense of loss once we realised we wouldn’t be going into College and seeing each other again, but we all got such a focus, it really kept me going. I shall be walking around the exhibition again!

“It’s something completely new and exciting,” says Art & Design lecturer, Emma Baldwin, “yet also familiar to all of us. The feedback we have been getting has been fantastic; for example, some of our former students attended the private viewing and hadn't seen a degree-level show at that level of quality and organisation. University of Arts London have also showcased the exhibition on their Origins Creative website.

I’m incredibly proud of the determination shown by the students, and what was produced, some in particularly difficult circumstances. More than that – the whole experience has been inspiring and I’m blown away from what they have achieved.

It’s the role of a creative to respond to the environment you’re in, and that’s exactly what the students and staff have done here. Once we saw where we could exhibit, Will’s incredible labyrinthian bunker, it spurred the whole department on to go above and beyond.

This exhibition is going to have a lasting impact, as a marker of this period of history in isolation.”

Fellow lecturer Paul Kilsby said:

“Even though the students knew University of Arts London awarding body wouldn’t be marking their final term’s work, they were entirely self-motivated. We feel very proud of them; it’s been a lot of fun along the way and a strong feeling of solidarity and community has resulted from this.

Our students will successfully go on to be artists and designers, and they know it’s more than just about a living, it’s a part of their life. No other reason than that they love it.”

“This is an appropriate response in what is an unexpected situation,” says lecturer Danny Burchell. “The discipline they have shown is staggering; by doing work that is entirely self-initiated, it will set them up as professionals. Overall, it is a very strong, committed professional response from all of them, and I’m so impressed by the level of maturity and standard of the work.”

In addition to viewing the students’ work, there is an opportunity in the bunker’s virtual gift shop to donate to the Black Lives Matter cause as well as to provide funds towards the Yemen Crisis.

You can explore the exhibition here.