The Rembrandt Game was our third participatory exhibition to be held at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. As the name might suggest it was an exhibition concerned with portraiture and in particular self portraiture.
Rembrandt was the master of self-portraiture - creating some 60 self-portÂraits in approximately 40 years of painting.
But this was an invitation to create a self portrait with a difference. It started with an invitation to play games which tested the relative strengths/ abilities of the left hand side and the right hand side of the body. Then armed with this knowledge you were invited to create a self portrait.
The Rembrandt Game was first played at the Great Georges Project as part of the weekly games sessions for staff. The actual games were somewhat different from those played at The Walker and can be looked at by clicking the link above.
The Room Layout.
As you entered on the room there was an area on the RHS copies of self portraits (including Rembrandt) and a screen which showed a succession of self portraits by a range of artists from the very famous, (Van Gogh) to the less well known (Louis Corinth).
There was also a seating area with books on self portraiture & catalogues of past exhibitions. Considerable research went into this, and if self portraiture was something which interested you then a visit to this area alone would prove interesting.
The rest of the right hand side of the room was taken up with the Games.
On the LHS as you entered the room there was a 'shop' with replacement materials, wall space where finished works could be displayed, and a place to mount the 'blank canvases and log the works which were being taken away.
The rest of the left hand side of the room was taken up with the 'work stations'. Since this Exhibition included textiles There were tables for the looms and to provide a flat working surface for the collages.
Photograph of the room showing the work stations on the left
The games tested various skills and aptitudes of the right and left hand sides of the body. For the Rembrandt Game at the Walker we chose to test the strength, speed, steadiness and dexterity of the hands and arms; the speed and control of the legs and feet; the range of hearing of the left and right ears; and near and far sight of the eyes.
The ways of doing this ranged from the use of machinery (we used mechanical tests for both the ears, eyes and hand accuracy and stength) to playing jacks (hand speed), and pushing a switch with ones foot in response to a sound (leg speed). There were six or seven games available to be played. You didn't have to play all the games but you did have to play at least two.
For some of the games we devised our own methods of testing parts of the body,. placing marbles on the top of beer bottles to test foot control, and a frame to test arm speed.
The frame for the arm game being prepared and used
And as can be seen from the photographs the games were such that they could be played by people of all ages.
Once you had played a game you received a card with your results on it. Equipped with this information you could then move on to creating your self portrait.
The Work Stations
As with all previous exhibitions we provided blank 'canvases' on which people could create their works (in this case a self portrait) and boxes of appropriate artists' materials.
Overall there were 15 work stations, each of them dedicated to the use of different sorts of artists materials. These included 1 station for charcoal & pencil, 1 for pen & ink, 1 for water colour, 2 for gouache, 2 for acrylic paints and 3 for oil paints. And for the first time in a Blackie Particiaptory exhibition there was an opportunity to work with textiles, using both a simple upright and a flat bed loom, and a tapestry frame. There was also 2 collage stations, 1 based round string and 1 based round drawing. Below are photos of people at work on their portraits.
Each of the boxes contained information on its contents and you could get additional materials from the 'shop' and seek advice from the artists running the exhibition.
Once you had completed your portrait you could take your work home with you or it would be displayed for visiters who also had the choice of selecting one of them and taking it home.
The finished works being hung
Over the 5 days of the exhibition 1,396 people visited of which 632 were adults and 764 were young people. 316 of these created works (of which approximately 89 were by young people and 227 by adults).
People's responses to the challenge varied enormously, ranging from straight portraits where the differences were portrayed by emphasising aspects of the figure to impressionistic portraits. Some works works divided the body in half focusing on the fdifferences, others consisted only of the tested body parts. And some created surreal portraits in which the differences changed the actual shape of the body. We have uploaded a number of portraits to illustrate the wide range of the responses.
Behind The Scenes
In describing these exhibitions we have focused on what happened at the event but they were backed up a by a lot of work by a lot of people.
The Rembrandt Game not only required research on the nature of self portraiture, but also research on how we could easily test sight & hearing. There was also the necessary work of deciding what materials would be needed - and then getting as many of them as possible as donations.
So we would like to thank the many companies and organisations which donated materials and lent us equipment: H.G.Benwell & Co. (Surrey); Bulmer & Lumb Ltd.(Radford); Copydex Ltd. (London) ; John Crossley Ltd. (Halifax); Dollond & Aitchison Ltd; Douglas and Walls Ltd; Dylon International Ltd; Ellis Jones; Emu Wools Ltd .(Bradford); T.J.Hughes Ltd; Hutchison & Pollack Ltd; H & J Jones Ltd; Kosset Carpets Ltd.)(Brighouse); George Henry Lee Ltd; Littlewoods Organisation Ltd; Liverpool Polytechnic (the depts of Physics and Physical Education); Merseyside Visual Communications Unit; Merseyside Play Action Council; F.S.Owen Ltd; Seel House Press; A Titherley Ltd; J Walton Ltd.(Glossop); D & P Watson; Wiggins Teape Group; Winsor & Newton;
and those firms which gave us considerable reductions: The Acrylic Paint Company (London); Boots the Chemist; Daler Boards Ltd. (Dorset); J Davey & Sons Ltd.(Manchester); O.H.Evans Ltd. (Manchester); L.G.Harris Ltd; George Rowney Ltd. (Bracknell).
And then there was the actual move in to the Walker itself and the task of turning an empty room into a functioning exhibition area. The lists of materials and equipment for the move normally ran to 20 plus pages all of which had to be checked out of the Blackie and into the Walker.
For the creation of the room and the hanging of the 'blank canvases' we were lucky to have the help of the Walker staff. The pictures below show you the transformation both they and the Blackie brought about in the room..
Since this was our third exhibition - though the first not associated with a Peter Moores Exhibition - we had a substantial mailing list from previous exhibitions. We designed both an invitation, which was mailed out, and a porgramme which had a square piece of reflective foil which acted as a mirror. Sadly as you can see below when photographed the redlective square turns out black!
The Rembrandt Game was conceived by Bill Harpe and was first played at the Great Georges Project as part of the weekly games sessions for staff.
The Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery was created by Wendy Harpe, Judy Bates, Vi Caffery, Joanna Cooper, Bill Harpe, Gitte Holte, Philip Hyde, Sarah Ingle, Rob van den Oever, Marion Parker, Jo Polak, Caroline Pye, Hanne Nielsen, Moshe Saleh, Eddie Tagoe, Dorothy Williams, and staged by the above with Steve Bennett, Martin Brems, Duncan Curtis, Ronit Chacham-Herson, Stephanie Dodds, Chris Furby, Simon Holland, Neil Johnson, Vivi Mitts, Tim Munday, Ronnie Oliveira, Frank Pike, Radio Doom, John Steedman, Howard Steel, Pamela Williams and Dave Ward.
And of course with the help of the staff at the Walker Art Gallery
The room in operation