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  • Writer's pictureBen Jenner


I have recently been fortunate enough to feature in two exhibitions in the space of two weeks. After an extremely anti-climatic end of degree exhibition, which was showcased online, my peer group took the leap to put on a show away from a university setting.

Opening night at Centrespace Gallery, April 2022

We managed to book ourselves into a slot at the gallery space run by the Centrespace co-operative in the centre of Bristol. The gallery is a traditional white-wall space situated down an alleyway that is adorned with local street art and murals. Though initially hesitant to show work in this exhibition, knowing that I had an exhibition the following week, I did not want my time at university to be summed up by a corner of the internet that would eventually disappear. The ritual of the end of degree exhibition is one that every art student should experience. It is not only a rite of passage in to our time post university, but an event wherein which our family, friends and loved ones who have supported us throughout can also acknowledge our successes.

Ultimately, there were twelve of us exhibiting, all with our own unique creative voice and outlook. The range of work was vast, but curating the show was effortless. No two artists’ work were the same, ranging from conceptual artists’ books to interior design but the rhythm that guided the audience around the space made for a seamless transition from artist to artist.

I opted to exhibit works that I made in my second year of study. The process led lithographs were initially to be shown in a gallery situation for a university module, but due to lockdown restrictions this plan was cut short. The prints have featured in a number of digital shows, but this marked the first time that anyone would experience them in the physical sense. Additionally, I offered free copies of my visual poetry publications for visitors to take away and refer to at their own pace.

The MA Print Alumni show made for a celebration of what has been a very unique university experience, and many thought provoking conversations were had across the four days. I am truly grateful for the friendships that I made throughout my time as a postgraduate student, and this exhibition reassured me that these relationships will long continue.

‘But why is it? (That you don’t love me)’ was a two-person show between myself and Emily Lucas at The Vestibules, an events space housed at Bristol City Hall. I had booked the space for a solo show in 2019 to use for the aforementioned university project, but after a chat with Emily it became apparent that we were both making work that would offer an interesting conversation about love and loss and so decided to share the space.

We offered a selection of prints and drawings that were curated in such a way that would encourage the audience to take time and contemplate the inner dialogues that we were reflecting on. In contrast to the celebratory ambience of the alumni exhibit, the tone of this show was empathetically quiet and as a result the pace was unhurried and composed.

The prints that I hung in this exhibit were about the age-old predicament of unrequited love. Two asemic love letters were displayed as diptychs, as well as an additional selection of three smaller pieces wherein which I devised formulas for what love is. These formulas are part of a larger series that echo the same sentiment, but displayed individually as no two ways of loving are the same.

It has been roughly a year since I was due to hand in the final assignment on my Masters’ course. I had spent the last year and a half of the degree living with varying degrees of lockdown or restrictions of some description, and so I had a lot of time to sit at the desk in the corner of my bedroom and make a plan of action for how I’d take the art world by storm once COVID-19 had subsided.

The final lockdown in the U.K. ended in the summer of 2021, with restrictions continuing until the end of the year. I finished the degree and went straight back to full time work in the hospitality sector, aiming to give myself a breather from my studies before knuckling down and writing a PhD proposal. Obviously life doesn’t always happen that way, and all the plans and strategies I had formulated fell by the weigh side in favour of going out and attempting to grasp the normality that had been taken from us since the beginning of 2020.

I have lost track of the amount of times I have told myself I’d sit down on my next day off work with my laptop and a stack of books nearby, with a view to start writing again. It just never happened. Working forty hours a week in a mentally and physically demanding job leaves you exhausted in every possible way, and I’ve beaten myself up and admitted defeat on more than one occasion.

I have come to realise that having this break has been absolutely necessary, and the reality of the situation is that there is no rush to read, write, print, or do anything creative at all. Sometimes life gets in the way and that is just the way it goes. We have all experienced something that very few people in history have experienced, and that in itself takes a toll. On top of that there is working full time, maintaining relationships outside of work, as well as the mundane life administration that we shoehorn in to the spare hour we get in the week to do so.

Having two exhibitions back to back has been incredibly exhausting, but has been the perfect way to draw a line under my respite from the arts and begin to move forwards. I won’t pretend that I have a notebook full of ideas and sketches of potential pathways, but I do have a reignited spark that I am reluctant to let life smother this time.


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