How can I number the worlds to which the eye gives me entry? The world of light, of colour, of shape, of shadow.
It has been a major honour and privilege to be elected by my fellow Academicians as Convenor of the 197th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture this year. I have vivid memories of showing my work in the Student Exhibition in 1983 when I was a final-year student at Edinburgh College of Art. It was an incredible experience to exhibit work with the highly- gifted students from all the Scottish Art institutions in the iconic William Henry Playfair building. I never imagined that one day I would be convening the Annual Exhibition and showing work alongside esteemed Academicians including my eminent peers and former distinguished tutors.
I met with Colin Greenslade, the Director of the Academy, and Amy Cameron, the Programme Coordinator, in the autumn of 2022 when they kindly invited me to visit the Academy to discuss my thoughts on the 2023 exhibition. This was a very constructive conversation and helped me to develop and consolidate my thoughts in the coming months. This year’s exhibition has focused on the Academy itself, showcasing the work of elected and Honorary Members, memorial works by Academicians that we have very sadly lost, and artists that have been selected from the open submission. This has resulted in a robust and richly-varied exhibition showcasing the breadth, quality and diversity within our membership whilst embracing the Academy’s commitment to supporting the broader community through the open submission. This year witnessed the largest open submission to date, which is extremely encouraging and exciting. It was a very special for me to be part of the Committee of Arrangements that made the initial selection and to work with the Committee and the RSA Council on the final selection.
This has been an incredibly rewarding experience and a demanding one for everyone concerned. Making final decisions is always very difficult when the quality of the submission is of such a high order. Special congratulations go to the artists who were selected for the exhibition and congratulations should also go to all the artists who submitted their work. We are all very aware of the commitment involved in maintaining a dedicated art practice.
The RSA Annual Exhibition is the largest and longest-running exhibition of contemporary art and architecture in Scotland. Splendidly showcased in its 197th edition, the Annual Exhibition embraces the breadth and diversity of contemporary art practice and architecture. Inclusivity and democracy are at the very heart and essence of the Royal Scottish Academy.
The installation week was very exciting. It was breath-taking to see the richness of work that we, the Committee of Arrangements, with the invaluable support of the staff and the hanging team, would engage with complete focus and dedication to ensure, arrange and install a very memorable exhibition. The most important thing in all of this was open and transparent dialogue: every single person involved worked with diligence and sensitivity, respecting each other and the work we were engaging with, we were all equals. Teamwork was the key. This monumental activity morphed and shifted on a daily basis, gradually synthesising and becoming the final exhibition which you are now all able to experience. The entire process was made possible by the combination of the quality of the work and the commitment and dedication of everyone involved in making and realising the exhibition.
Following on from last year, there will be an online exhibition running in tandem with the live work shown in the gallery. This is a brilliant initiative and allows artists, both national and international, to have the option to show work digitally or in a gallery environment. Learning from the success from last year’s show, digital works informing the physical works will be part of the exhibition as there are works that can only be seen on the web format. The RSA’s new website is hugely important in reaching a much wider audience and attracting an ever-growing number of artists, both national and international.
There are so many elements involved in an exhibition of this magnitude and every part has to work cohesively to make everything coalesce in the final hang. There is a huge amount of organisation and correspondence involved in the months leading up to the opening of the exhibition and during its run and conclusion. This involves the diligence and expertise of many gifted people with a broad range of highly honed skill sets. Every single person involved can’t be thanked enough and the exhibition is testament to the effort that everyone involved has made. The brilliant group of Academicians that formed the Committee of Arrangements – Elspeth Lamb, Henry Kondracki, Leena Nammari, Michael Visocchi and Philip Braham – worked meticulously and with complete professionalism. Their collaborative spirit, vision and creativity contributed massively to in the organisation and installation of the exhibition.
This journey would not have been possible without the invaluable and inspiring support and expertise of Colin Greenslade, the RSA Director. Amy Cameron, the Programme Coordinator, has been phenomenal. Her guidance, organisation and orchestration has been crucial every step of the way and on a daily basis, she is a tour de force. I would also wish to very sincerely thank Flora La Thangue Gallery Manager whose advice, support and incredible curatorial insight have been superb. Emily Randall, Derek Sutherland, Rachel Bibby, Martin McKenna, Romey Clark and the extended staff involved in the handling, moving and placing of work have been exceptional. I would also like to give heartfelt thanks to Matt Hill, Academy Coordinator, and Bet McLeod for their exceptional and stellar administrational support. It is of the very utmost importance to give massive thanks to the Neil McIntosh and family team whose expertise and ability to install an exhibition of this significance and scale has to be seen to be believed. Poetry in motion. We must also be deeply grateful to the professional carriers, Stuart Horsburgh being a notable example, who ensure the safe transportation of artworks, and to the printers involved in decimating crucial information about the exhibition and for the invitation cards, advertising and catalogue.
It has been an absolute privilege to work with architects Paul Stallan RSA (Elect), Deputy Convenor, with the brilliant support of Henry McKeown RSA. I learnt a great deal through our communication and observing how Paul and Henry installed the dynamic and varied work in the galleries involving the work of architect Members and from the open selection. The context of landscape forms the structure and catalyst for the fascinating play on many different levels within the space embracing two and three dimensionality installed beautifully, one space celebrating dada and the monochromatic. The results are poetic, sensitive and powerful and very memorable.
This has been a hugely inspiring, enriching experience and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am deeply grateful to be part of the incredible family of the Royal Scottish Academy.
It is impossible to do a thing the way I see it because the closer I get the more differently I see.
Stuart Mackenzie RSA
Convenor of the 197th Annual Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy
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