AboutThis spring, MK Gallery presents Rise Early, Be Industrious the first survey exhibition by British artist Olivia Plender, co-produced with Arnolfini, Bristol and Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. Characterised as a âmuseum of communication', four room-sized installations trace a line between a selection of Plender's past projects, focussing on historical and contemporary forms of communication and education. Plender's research-based practice explores numerous educational models, including educational games, world fairs, television and the internet, looking at how attitudes towards education have evolved over time. She also questions how official historical narratives are constructed, looking at the hierarchies behind the âvoice of authority' that is traditionally produced by educational institutions within the public sphere, such as the museum, the academy, the national library and the media.
The Cube Gallery presents the installation Words and Laws (Whose Shoulder to Which Wheel?) which revolves around games, architecture and politics. This room includes several toys encouraging public participation, such as the board game Set Sail for the Levant (based on a sixteenth century original) and an architectural toy (based on a nineteenth century model developed by German educational reformer Friedrich Froebel) inviting visitors to assemble civic buildings from wooden blocks. It also presents a newly commissioned hanging mobile and various allegorical and satirical objects, including a wicker beehive (symbolic in the Victorian period of the perfect industrious society) and a Stockholm Duck House (a replica of a duck house which became the media's symbol for the MPs' expenses scandal in 2009).
The New Jerusalem installation in the Middle Gallery explores the relations between labour, economy and religion. A new model made by Plender represents a scene from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the most widely-read book in the UK after the bible between the seventeenth and early twentieth centuries. This publication was instrumental in educating new factory workers of the industrial revolution, stating that the only route to paradise was through hard work. Another, earlier, model is related to the British Empire exhibition of 1924 and how citizens were educated about the economic relations within the Empire, offering a precedent for today's leisure and tourism industries. The installation also includes two new banners: Britannia Receiving her Newest Institution, an image of Britannia holding Selfridges Department Store; and How Paul's Penny Became a Pound, based on a nineteenth century book that taught children the value of saving money.
The Long Gallery re-creates a 1970s style TV studio titled Open Forum. While offering a platform for further discussion, Plender uses this installation to consider mass education and the Reithian idea of television as a âcommon culture'. The installation contains research related to experimental art education in the UK including archive material from the MK-based Open University's controversial, interdisciplinary Art and Environment course. Begun in 1976, the influential course's chief agenda was to rethink the relation between art and society, leading to the Art and Social context course at Dartington College (1978-85) and also influencing Environmental Arts at Glasgow School of Art.
Finally, MK Gallery's Foyer is transformed into an Entrepreneurial Garden that imitates a Google style working environment with relaxed seating, a coffee machine, plants, table football and basketball hoop, along with motivational prints. This installation seeks to explore how distinctions between work and leisure, public and private have been collapsed in recent times. Plender draws parallels between Google's stated mission to âorganize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful' with the claims to universality of the national library, or enlightenment museum, to ask what kind of knowledge and information is privileged by these different frameworks?
With its strong architectural dimension, involving the construction of platforms and architectural models and a deliberate emphasis on play and pedagogical, game-like structures, the exhibition invites visitors to participate and âperform' while considering how social roles and models of society have been constructed over the last few hundred years.
'Olivia Plender: Rise Early, Be Industrious', is an exhibition in three episodes presented in association with Arnolfini, Bristol and Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. The exhibition will evolve over the three galleries, with different works included at each venue.
About the Artist
Olivia Plender (b.1977) lives and works in Berlin and has exhibited worldwide. Her research-based practice varies from graphic novels to performance, video and installation. Recent solo exhibitions include: Aadieu Adieu Apa (2009), Gasworks, London; Information, Education, Entertainment (2007), Marabouparken, Stockholm and The Folly of Man Exposed or the World Turned Upside Down (2006) at Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt. Selected group exhibitions include: British Art Show 7 (2011), Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham and Hayward Gallery, London; Newspeak: British Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London (2011); Taipei Biennial, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan (2010); Altermodern: Tate Triennial, Tate Britain, London, (2009); Art Now Live, (2007) Tate Britain, London (performance) ; Athens Biennial: How to Endure, Athens, Greece (2007); Tate Triennial, Tate Britain, London, (2006); Busan Biennial, Busan, South Korea (2006); BMW - 1X Baltic Triennale of International Art, CAC, Vilnius, Lithuania (2005); Romantic Detachment, PS1/ MoMA, New York, USA (2004).
An exhibition catalogue, co-produced by MK Gallery, Arnolfini and Centre for Contemporary Arts will incorporate installation documentation from the three venues, alongside research material and be published later this year.
MK Gallery, Milton Keynes 20 April 17 Jun 2012
Arnolfini, Bristol 14 July 9 September 2012
Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow 13 October 15 December 2012