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Discover and respond to an imaginative and hopeful presentation of art projects created during the coronavirus pandemic.

Responsive Space features work from Breathworks, a digital project sharing creative approaches to breathing, Activating our Archives, an exploration of storytelling through images, and a presentation from Making Space Safe, our workshops with asylum seekers and refugees in Oxford.

And take part in Made with MAO, a new interactive activity exploring the architecture of the gallery spaces.

This exhibition has been made possible with Art Fund support.


MAO Assembly: My Response

Would you like to shape our Responsive Space conversations?


Inspired by the creative communities presented in our exhibition Responsive Space, My Response initiates individual and collective responses to recent world events through a series of open questions.

“Has your experience of breathing changed since the pandemic, and if so, how?”

This first question comes from our Creative Associate (Digital) Lucy Sabin, who created Breathworks. Share a response to our first question, or ask your own. Tag @mao_gallery on Instagram along with the hashtag #MyResponse and we’ll share as many responses as we can.

My Response is part of MAO Assembly, Modern Art Oxford’s mission to ensure you continue to shape our digital conversations, based on what’s important to you. Discover more about MAO Assembly.


Breathworks: Your creative responses to breathing

Activating our Archives: Community Dialogues, 2020


Activating our Archives video transcript

Sunil: When we think of archives, what exists as archives, what we discover as an archive of sorts, or what we create as archives. We might imagine for the purposes of our creative intervention that the archive in question is a visual one. It might be photographic. This is what has been concerning us, or at least has been our primary focus on Activating our Archives.

Sunil Shah: Really what I wanted to draw attention to is that kind of transition between the physical and the digital. That’s kind of what we’re finding ourselves in the midst of now, is a very much digital, visual culture where we are going online to store our images, we’re sharing our images online and people are able to comment and interact with those images in a much more broader way than if they were just pictures that were held in a family album, and they were only dug out when people came round for tea. There is a huge change that’s happened.

Rhita O: You said Sunil about the identity behind Instagram, I think it’s a platform of choice, because you chose to show the identity you want, because Instagram can be so different depending on people. Of course you have the aesthetic part with photography and art, but you also have people that watch, that look for a lot of football games, sneakers and all of those things, and everyone can feel really close to that, but you can also show an identity of who you wish to be or who you wish that people think you are, so that’s what is tricky as well. I don’t think there is something bad about that. Either you want to stay true to yourself and show something raw and pure or show something a bit like a fantasy you have about what identity you want to show, and that’s the good and bad part of Instagram I think.

David Murray: It seems to me that the possible stealing of images on Instagram and the rest, is simply the working out of the logic of the infinite replicability of images and there’s nothing to be done about it. There’s a certain irony in that it’s the megacorporation who are using that.

Sunil Shah: You know, when you’re collecting images, sometimes an image doesn’t make any sense and then over time then another image comes into light and then you’re like ‘ohh there’s a relationship there’, and then something grows out of it over a period of time. Especially when you’re looking at old images, especially when it comes to family images, there tends to be certain formats you’ll see a picture being taken in. Especially pictures of people facing the camera, groups of people, that kind of stuff, but then you also get real oddities. You’ll get accidents and mishaps, or mishaps in the chemical process which are quite aesthetically interesting to look at.

Amanda Denny: I mean I find it really helpful, that I find that I’m beginning to collect quite disparate types of information and they don’t necessarily sit well together with each other.

Bharat Patel: Because I come from a background of a certain type of photography, visual photography, real photography, and I have a problem relating my photography to something abstract, I’ve not been taking anything abstract so that is the transition that I feel that I lack. You mention a lot of projects here that you could do, all imaginary projects, my photography is not very imaginary if you like.

Sunil Shah: This program, I always intended it to be a little bit pushing the boundaries of photography. I always wanted it to be something that’s not about photography per se, but it’s about what comes out of photography and visual culture. Its not a focus on the photographer, not too much focus on the practice, but more focus on what the images do and the currency they have when they are distributed, where they go. What are the possibilities of image making?

Sofia Rodr: Obviously most of the pictures I know are my closest family, but my Granddad used to do a huge collection of other people, so there is a lot of families in the other albums that I actually don’t know a lot about so I can always create other stories on it and I can push myself to recreate a different story about the other random pictures in the albums.

Katya Mora: I explored how it is difficult for me to manage this information from the last session when you spoke about how to build an archive I was asking if my body, in this moment, could be a kind of archive.

Ania Ready: I had a different idea of what to do during these sessions, but obviously with the outbreak of the virus it made any travelling and going out impossible. And then quite early on the British government advised pregnant women to self isolate so I've been in my own house which has become my own castle for a number of weeks now probably since the beginning of march kind of dealing with getting quite heavily pregnant, I’m probably 7, 7 ½ months, although the weeks kind of blend together and its quite difficult to differentiate them. But initially I was working from home and it was fine, then the schools closed down so we had two weeks where the children - so we’ve go two daughters and are expecting a third one - when the children were doing some sort of home schooling so then the dynamics in the house at home changed quite significantly. So instead of having this kind of homely space where we would meet in the afternoon or in the evenings, we were constantly, constantly in the same space sometimes on top of each other, and trying to blend the working, schooling and homely space together, so that has been challenging.

Thomas Nicolaou: I wanted this object just to, I suppose, to be a bit of reflection, because of the time we’re going through. I thought it’s a bit nostalgic obviously, but I thought maybe that’s not a bad thing as we’re all reflecting going through our photo archives. But also, the idea of a city changes as you grow up obviously and your relationship to the city changes. So I have a lot of friends in some of these photos as well, in this one that you’re showing now. You have an idea of a city, and the city of oxford especially, it’s not, as you know, you’ve got to have a bit of money to live inside the city. So it’s a very transitory place and the act of going to the concerts obviously it was a social thing, and we all took that for granted and I’m just working around looking at some other pictures, I don’t really want this to be about rock photography, even though I’ve started the project like that looking at some other spaces and places that I’ve inhabited that might mean something to some people, it might not. But also how the city, it’s not an easy city to stay in an established community because it’s so transitory. I love Oxford, but I also find it quite an annoying city.

Ania Ready: at the same time, in the environment that we are now, where our lives simply have been cancelled we are no longer able to work, we are no longer able to socialise, so we have kind of been drawn into the homely space ourselves. But at the same time there is something paradoxical that there is a new life taking place, we are waiting for this new baby to arrive in the time where so many lives are lost, and suddenly and unexpectedly. I mean this week we went for, one of my colleges at work died because of Covid 19 so it’s a really difficult kind of mentally difficult time to be pregnant, although there are obviously kind of similarities in it as well, so I’m trying o explore that parallel. And also the kind of dynamics at home, home as a space, as a kind of living and creative space is of interest to me. I’m not quite sure where this projects going to go and how I’m going to kind of, how I’m going to find a frame for it but these are the kind of themes I’m thinking of.

Pelicula Vintage: it was my last opportunity to shoot my grandma and well for this project I am exploring my archives and remaining my archive and when I saw these portraits I recognise a connection with the isolation that we are under, we are suffering now.

Sunil Shah: These images say a lot because obviously we’re all were separated from a lot of our families and especially elderly parents and relatives who are more vulnerable and it’s a very difficult time for a lot of people and I think these images are very powerful, as a reflection on that sense of isolation that a lot of people face.

Julie Couzens: I’ve actually been working with a few things, sort of revisiting some family memories about my father and also keeping alive, I guess, the archive of my families images. So I’ve been sort of just going through them and that’s been bringing up a lot of memories of my father, we’re just coming up to 6 years of losing him so its just going back and looking how much everybody in our family sort of almost mirrors him it’s been quite interesting just going through the photos with my brother and also my own children. So that’s sort of been interesting and also a bit confronting for me I guess as I haven’t looked that closely for quite some time. And also finding our journey from the UK to Australia, and then my journey back again, has been very interesting so I’m still working on that and how I actually am going to put them together.

Sarah Cassidy: There’s loads more, there’s so many, so basically they’re all photos from my grannies house. And the link to now is that for the first time she is in that house on her own, and is feeling a bit like a prisoner in a place that’s really been shaped up until now by the people that fill it, its just one of those houses that’s always full. So I was trying to think spatially, because I thought that was something that was interesting in terms of, you know, for 73 years it’s been the same space, it’s had many generations of family in it. To think about how I could organise it in that way, but I thought it would be easier than it’s turned out to be, it’s quite tricky actually to show where those similarities are sometimes. So it’s not the full set but yeah this is as far as I’ve got so far really.

Sunil Shah: Well they certainly take on a great, sort of, deal of importance now don’t they, because it’s how families are so used to being together in the previous times, where now I know that people are separated and it’s difficult to see your folks or your relatives. These pictures have a vital importance in a way. They remind us of those times - what we may have taken for granted, of being together, they’re lovely images they really are.

And if you think of the house as being a metaphor for the containment that were within, right now, and you think about the way - that way that we can’t connect to each other, they take on a new resonance and importance now, don’t they? They really feel important now.

Sarah Cassidy: Yeah, they do and it’s not as aesthetically in-keeping with the others, but it’s one of my granny inside the house, my uncle took it when he went to visit her the other day, and it made me sad because it’s just her through the glass. They do feel important at the moment.

Lou Tay: I don’t know what to say. I’m, working on a bigger archive project. That has reel to reel, cassette and family archive.

Ayelén: It’s kind of challenging me at the moment, because we’re still in the middle of it. Trying to do a retrospective, when you need some time for that to happen. To activate an archive and to actually curate it, you also need a little bit of time and retrospective.

Sunil Shah: This is a period of time that you were in hospital, right David? Is that correct?

David Murray: About trying to relate to that time which I find quite difficult to relate to, because I’m cured - almost certainly.

Amanda Denny: In all of these responses. My isolation, my physical exercise – but because I’m using film that isn’t reliable, I get all these aberrations, and they’re misty, and it’s like the fog that we have around us at the moment. And I love that ethereal quality. Although I’ve got other parts for this project - that are not the look and feel of this, I wanted to craft this in a way, so they spoke to each other, and visually look as though they are part of one body.

Kevin Burrell: So, these are in a sense very domestic photographs, most of them are taken in the house, but I’ve also mixed in a couple of texts.
They’re in the house or in the garden. But I guess like all of us, we’ve become very aware that while we’re fortunate enough to be having a very comfortable time in the house, that actually the world just over the road from us is a very different place. We’ve got the John Radcliffe hospital entrance opposite us. So, I was trying to capture that tension between the fact that, what we’re experiencing as a family is quite a pleasant and privileged time. We’re having good time together as a family, we’re having time to do things and it’s quite calm in our house - with the fact that over the road, there’s the J.R. hospital where both patients and employees are suffering terrible times and terrible stress.

Sofia Rodr: For me it’s a challenge that I’m cutting images in a digital way. I wrote about it because for me, it’s really sensitive still, cutting these images - because I still feel connected with it. And so, I feel that it’s a slow process, but I’m starting to be more confident in cutting and creating a different narrative about it.
And so, in this previous picture I feel as though I should start including myself in these pictures. That’s why on the previous ones, I like to put my hands in, because I’m writing about my granddad but it’s a story about me.

Ania Ready: It kind of comes as an appreciation of the domestic space, and the fact that it’s, you know, almost like a castle for us. It’s safe, it keeps us safe. It gives us safety and light. And I was trying to reflect that. Because whenever I go out, especially if I go to hospital - what it does to your mental state. It’s quite a strong reaction to find yourself in an environment where there are so many new warnings and so many new rules. We are social animals, humans, but in those environments, you really have to be far away from each other and you can see the members of staff, doing scans and so on – they’re not very comfortable in what they’re doing but they have to do it.
But the human contact, which is normally very pleasant, this time around becomes a kind of danger. That’s why it’s a relief, to come back home and feel right, and know that this is the space where we are all fine.

Anonymous: I wanted to keep doing things that are tactile and not just virtual or digital at the moment. To break away from looking at screens and not being able to feel things or experience things in the same way.

Bharat Patel: Yeah so this has really been working with two things - one of them is trying to dig up all the archives of my grandfather and my family which actually moved from India to Uganda in the 1920’s or 30’s.

David Murray: Well the first one is to bring in together, which is a found archive, which initially was separated but then I thought that the two halves needed to be together.
The first part of the archive were family holiday snapshots in Germany in the 1930’s. And the 2nd part were photographs taken in a Nazi death camp.

Francesco Pennacchio: As I started, I started to trying to compare all the archives of the Spanish flu. And the first thing that actually came into my mind, as a stronger thing is that I discovered is that actually the Spanish flue doesn’t have anything to do with Spain, other than the fact that the Spanish newspapers were the only ones reporting on it.

Etain O Carroll: The thing that really struck me was that the statistics are now meaningless also, it tells us nothing about each one of those individuals and the circle of friends and family, and how that has affected them.
And the second image is my grandfather who dies when my mother was four. And my brother died when his daughter was four and I can see from my others life what an influence that was on her, and he felt that loss until she died.

Julie Couzens: I’ve got a number of things on the go which I still haven’t added yet, from my walks and rides of people throwing things away. Which is an interesting thing, this throw-away society that we seem to have, and how much fly-tipping is around even though everyone is isolating which I find interesting.

Katie Francis: So, I’ve sort of gone back to the idea about my Granddad, archiving his history, it’s quite current because we’ve just lost him and I’M staying in his house, so I’m surrounded by all of his memories. I’ve discovered that he meticulously archived his photographs, some of them have time stamps on them, not just dates. So, there is a heck of a lot to go through.
It’s been quite a journey, emotional in some ways as well, but sort of discovering how similar we were and I’m not sure he ever realised that.

Katya Mora: A new form of colonialism, the exploration of the body as archive as well, the privacy, invasion - the colonialism of the bodies, these are the different topics.
I would like to make more videos, because I like this way to work, I can relax and don’t have the pressure to save something special. In another way, I am saying something that is very important for me.

Rhita O: Could you explore a lot of sources online, like library that gathers completely, turns up different materials and I liked the random facts that I used - I don’t know what I’m looking for but I’m exploring - I’m hunting in a way.

Thomas Nicolaou: How we used to socialise going to concerts and obviously we don’t know when that occasion will happen again – I can’t quite imagine going to a gig when that could happen, I don’t know that could be 2 years away?

Sofia Rodr: I have this feeling that I kind of want to go back home and recreate more things that we have with the archive in Portugal in my parents’ house, but for now I will keep creating with what I have because I definitely want to do more things, and I would say I have a second idea for another project, based on what you said at the last workshop - something that would include more of my body in the project. But for now, I think I should just keep on creating with the collages.

Katie Francis: It’s just been really good to have something to take my mind off of things, so thank you for still hosting it.

Tao: You can see with the latest pictures, I’m focusing on pictures that I’ve taken into Oxford. It still ties in to anywhere but here, because nice weather in Oxford doesn’t usually last too long – because you can see with the ducks and flowers. There are more pictures that I have taken in Oxford and in Yarnton, and connect to how I still wish I was anywhere but here, especially now, every day, this lockdown is still making me wish that I was back in Japan, Turkey or Vienna. I’ve never been on holiday before.

Sunil Shah: What we want to do is to thank you for engaging with the project and for all your work. It’s appreciated by me, Modern Art Oxford, and Fusion arts – and we want you to continue posting onto Instagram with the hashtag over the summer and also on the Padlet, developing your own stories, sharing stories with each other and commenting on each - others ideas. So that it is this idea of community that’s really come out from all of this. The community started last year, with Activating our Archives, and it’s continued this year, and so many of you who participated last year, have stayed on this year as well, so it feels like this is almost like a continuation of last year, something that’s growing as well, and I’m really pleased about that.
That community is not only confined to just here in Oxford, but it’s reached out to different parts of the world as well, so we’re really happy that we’ve been able to interest people in different parts.

Thank you everyone,
Thank you.
Thank you Sunil, have a good summer.
Thank you Sunil, Thank you Najia.
Look forward to seeing you.
Thanks David.
It was great.
Thank you Leo.
Have a great Summer, Have a great Summer, bye bye.

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