Natalie Lee: A Year as an Invisible Dust Young Curator

Posted on 30.04.2019

Young Curator Natalie Lee shares her experiences working with Invisible Dust.

In March 2018 at the start of the Young Curators Programme, I was in my final year of writing up my PhD thesis at the University of Hull, and making art work that engaged with themes of place, cultural representation, and identity. My research explored our relationship with the built environment and I was, at the time, working on an outdoor, green project as part of my art practice. However, working with specifically environmental themes and from a scientific angle was not something I had done before in my research, art practice or professional working life. I was very interested in gaining experience working in an interconnected, cross-disciplinary way and exploring new ways of thinking and doing than I was used to.

I got to work with Invisible Dust on various occasions throughout the year-long project alongside fellow Young Curator, Layla Hendow. These events included a pupil engagement event at a secondary school in Scarborough, Under Her Eye; a conference and art festival in London, Encounters; a series of exhibitions that ran alongside the Cook Festival in Whitby, Scarborough Science and Engineering Fair, and an Invisible Dust ‘takeover’ at North Lincolnshire museum. Layla and I also delivered a talk at the British Science Festival on the topic of women, art and climate change communication.

For me personally, some key highlights of the Young Curators Programme were the involvement in the Under Her Eye event in June, as well as an on-going project that Layla and I have developed entitled Many Hands. The Under Her Eye conference and festival was so great to be part of – in the lead up to it I attended an intensive training weekend, meeting some incredible people and learning new skills in public speaking, communication, and collaborative practice. The conference itself was an amazing thing to witness and help out with. I also wrote a review of the weekend which was great experience for my writing in covering a multifaceted event.

Many Hands is a project that uses hand portrait photography by Yasmine Akim alongside environmental pledges submitted by participants. The idea for the Many Hands project emerged during the intensive training weekend for Under Her Eye, and our first participation workshop was at the event itself. Since then we have also done further workshops in Whitby and Scarborough with children and families. As a way of disseminating the work, the project has now developed into a zine publication which will be launched at a conference event in Leeds, April 2019, where we will also exhibit some of the hand portraits. This project is something tangible that will extend beyond the year-long programme and I’m really happy and proud to be part of it.

During the Young Curators Programme I have honed skills in public engagement, event coordination and had some really good hands on observation of how a major arts organisation works. I have become much more aware of the environmental issues that we face as a planet and gained insight into innovative ways of discussing these complex issues through art, creativity, and interdisciplinarity. It was a new experience to approach projects from a curatorial position as opposed to from a position solely as an artist and maker. This is something I’ve found rewarding in the sense that it has made me look at the making of my own work from different angles; seeing it from a wider viewpoint almost.

It has been a very busy year during the time I have been working with Invisible Dust on this project. I have since submitted and successfully defended my thesis, and have been working in Blackpool as artist-in-residence with Creative People and Places partner, LeftCoast. In July, once this commission reaches its conclusion, I will be heading back to the world of research as an associate at Manchester Metropolitan University. I am very happy to still be collaborating with Layla on the Many Hands project and I am looking forward to seeing where this leads in the future.

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