Pop Up Creators: Curating illustration from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania & UK

We recently co-curated an exhibition (on until 20 May) showcasing the results of a year-long, international illustration exchange run by Pop Up. Mehnaz Mia, a House of Illustration volunteer who is currently doing an MA in History of Art at SOAS, was Curatorial Assistant on the project which involved 150 young artists and 18 professional illustrators...

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  • Mehnaz Mia
  • Feature

It quickly became clear that a mighty task lay ahead for the Pop Up Projects and House of Illustration curatorial team. A flood of creatively ingenious and varied submissions jostled for a position within the ROSL (Royal Over-Seas League) exhibition space. And every piece revealed an intriguing new approach to the task.

Having seen the creative process behind the final pieces it was decided that an ‘original works’ section should be incorporated into the show. It was at this point that I came into the process. Tasked with selecting works that showcased the enormous variety of techniques, personalities and thought-processes that built the final leporellos, I was excited to give audiences a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at the minds and works of the young contributing artists.

Warned that co-ordinating deliveries in time for the exhibition from all three participating countries might prove difficult, I was pleased (and somewhat daunted) to see around 30 packaged artworks waiting for me at House of Illustration.

I was blown away by the detail. The whacky, wonderful plans and the creativity in the original works made selection difficult. Most were not neat, some were ripped and others had notes scribbled all over them with a few showing the most basic sketches, done in rough lines and smudged pencil. In their raw, unfinished glory these really allowed an insight into the development stages. I wanted to give these originals a second life: to be able to tell a story and reveal the trial and error that goes into every creative process.

There were many examples of aspects of the design being evident in the original artwork that would be missed in the final, beautifully printed leporellos: Blots of colour on a sheet revealed the process of elimination used by Austeja Dzikaraite to create her stunning colour palette; a clear character development could be seen in Anna Readman’s multiple sketches and notes surrounding her male protagonist; Dominyka Stanaitite handstitched and woven detail could be truly appreciated in her original artwork and Laima Matuzonyte's incredible pencil work could be seen at its best. 

Every piece not only told a story of an artist’s labour, but allowed us to understand the works in a new way.On the walls of ROSL, the works often seem inaccessibly brilliant; the original works break down that façade.

Challenges faced us not only in selection, but in the process of framing and organising. These works were – after all – intended for print, not presentation. But by showing the work behind the towering leporellos we see the works in a way they weren’t necessarily intended to be seen and an important story is told not just of talent but of hard work, guesswork and experimentation.

Pop Up Creators has been co-curated by House of Illustration and Pop Up Projects, funded by Arts Council England (Ambition for Excellence award)Lithuanian Council for Culture, Latvia's International Writers and Translators House and the Ministry of Culture of Estonia, as well as a number of other partners in each country. The stories have been published by Päike Ja Pilv in Estonia, kuš! in Latvia, Vilnius Academy of Arts Press in Lithuania and Nobrow Press in the UK. They were launched alongside the exhibition, 'Baltic Countries Market Focus'.

See the exhibition until 20 May 2018. Find out more.