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A Retrospective view of AAS 2022

by | Aug 22, 2022 | News, Reflections

Aberdeen Artists Society’s 2022 Exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery

Aberdeen Artists Society is one of Scotland’s longest-established artist-led membership bodies, dating from 1827, and since Aberdeen Art Gallery opened in 1885, the Society has regularly exhibited here.

After a break during the redevelopment of the Art Gallery and then the lockdown during the first stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are delighted to present our 2022 Exhibition in this beautifully re-imagined exhibition space, filled with new artworks: paintings, prints, three-dimensional works, silverware, jewellery, videos and more. We continue to live through extraordinarily dark times, but human creativity burns ever more brightly, and AAS 2022 represents an enduring illumination from the combined light of 178 creative minds.

A great deal of careful preparation is necessary to succeed in making a major exhibition.
AAS Council  spent over a year planning the event, based on knowledge from past times and the techniques and traditions left to us by the people who organised exhibitions throughout the 1980s and 1990s and beyond. Not many of these major figures are still available, and so the process entailed a steep learning curve for our tiny band of volunteers.

Fortunately modern IT is a lot more flexible and generally accepted than it was 30 years ago, when during my first tour of duty as AAS President, with the help of Christine Leith I introduced the use of spreadsheets and once-only entry (on an early laptop computer) at hand-in, making possible information-flow direct to the catalogue and creating a letter to entrants without transcription. In those days it wasn’t always easy to convince creative people that computers might have a useful role in their lives, but the potential of IT systems to reduce both workload and transcription errors did in time become evident to a number of people, and for me personally in my parallel existence as a medical specialist and budding information systems originator in the NHS, this experience was very helpful. By then, though, along with my colleague Dr Pradeep Ramayya, I’d already designed a prototype bedside patient-record system and installed it in the intensive care unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ABICUS, 1984) which led to us publishing many research papers on computing in medicine and anaesthesia, and subsequently to my participation in a European Community funded international project studying artificial intelligence in Medicine.

In a further parallel existence, in 1985 I became involved in setting up Grampian Hospitals Art Trust, assisting Norman Matheson, Arthur Watson, Ian McKenzie Smith, Andrew Dewar, Syd Burnett, Sandy Fraser and other eminent artists. This was a transformative series of events in which professional artist members of AAS donated more than 100 artworks to kick-start the GHAT collection, and led to solid and enduring links between Aberdeen Artists Society, Grampian Hospitals Art Trust, Aberdeen Art Gallery, RGU / Gray’s School of Art, the NHS in Grampian, and Peacock Printmakers. Many individuals played major roles within and across these organisations, but the transformative catalyst who provided the central vision and drive was Arthur Watson. We were thrilled that Arthur was able to speak at the opening of our 2022 exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery.

I hope this brief background illustrates how a shared vision can create cooperative working between disparate groups to the advantage of everyone.

At the same time it might be worth observing how skills developed specifically in one area of life can readily be transferred from one situation to benefit another elsewhere; and actually this goes to the heart of how volunteer organisations work, where everyone in the team, whatever their background and life-experience, brings what they know and can do in service to the community, unified by a vision and a common set of values.

Long before selection, hand-in and hanging, the entire process has to be planned meticulously. In everyday life, usually subconsciously, we all use mental modelling all the time from moment to moment, but when it comes to more complex tasks which will play out over many months, effective software tools are readily available to help simplify and build these mental models in a form which can be shared, critiqued and redesigned.

There is an infinite number of ways of hanging an exhibition, and for the best impact how to layout the artworks is of vital importance to the curators and their team. Of course, the final result is what actually matters, and all theoretical considerations are cast to the winds once the layout commences. An arrangement will invariably start off with quite a lot of conscious thought, but over the course of many hours everything gradually changes, so that in the end it’s the combination of intuition and feeling which are the deciding factors. “Seeing with the heart”; and Mono no aware, as the Japanese say.

Dr. Donnie Ross

President, Aberdeen Artists Society