MIMA curator Elinor Morgan on working with Aidan Moesby through the pandemic


Thresholds, a digital exhibition curated by Aidan Moesby as part of his DASH-initiated residency at Middlesbrough Institute for Modern Art (MIMA), launched on 16 October. MIMA’s Senior Curator, Elinor Morgan reflects on the process of working with Aidan so far and how they’ve had to adapt the programme to the context of Covid-19. A panel discussion featuring Aidan and the exhibiting artists, hosted by Disability Arts Online in partnership with MIMA, takes place on 28 October.

A night time sky with a plane flying in it, with the word thresholds in the corner

This week, Aidan Moesby, Associate Curator at MIMA, launched Thresholds, a digital exhibition of three newly commissioned artworks, an essay and a public event. Photographs by Sonia Boué and films by Lindsay Duncanson and Catriona Gallagher reflect relationships to home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Through its specificity and intimacy, each artists’ work maps onto wider experiences of this year’s crises.

Sonia, Lindsay and Catriona have laid themselves bare emotionally, a generous creative act at such an unsteady time. An essay by Jade French puts the work into a wider context and offers insights into the artists’ processes and a foreword by Aidan offers a personal angle on motivations behind the exhibition. Thresholds was deliberately made within a tight time-frame to capture and distil some of the emotions and sensations of the period following the national Covid lockdown that started in March 2020.

The MIMA team and I have had the pleasure of working with Aidan since January 2020. His role is part of the Curatorial Commissions programme, led by DASH with partners MIMA, Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Birmingham and Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridgeshire. The programme supports Deaf and Disabled curators to develop their practices and careers with the ultimate aim of changing the culture of the visual arts sector so it becomes more inclusive and accessible.

A white woman holding a mirror up against her face

Sonia Boué Safe as Houses (2020)

The focus of Aidan’s work at MIMA was initially on curating with the collection of modern and contemporary art and craft held at MIMA. Working with collections requires particular knowledge and experience which is hard to accrue without being part of an institution with collections and MIMA’s role as a collecting institution is unique amongst the Curatorial Commissions network. We worked with Aidan for a couple of months to provide training on particular aspects of caring for and managing a collection, as well as creating opportunities for tacit knowledge to develop through him observing work and being part of meetings, and joining in with the general life of MIMA. Aidan’s response to the first month from a blog entry for DASH can be seen below*.

Once MIMA closed and lockdown began, we realised that it would be challenging to continue our focus on the collection. This was partly because so much of working with a collection is about being with the objects, the materiality of them and seeing them in conversation with their surroundings. It is also because the information and systems we use to work with the collection remotely are dependent on a degree of existing familiarity with collection works and presented a number of access barriers for Aidan.

Aidan and I spent some time reflecting together on the implications of Covid for the arts and museums sectors, for access in a time dominated by digital, and on what he needed to continue to learn and grow as a curator. We decided to work from what we had at our disposal and to make a project that was flexible and robust – that would not need to be postponed and cancelled in the shifting sands of guidelines and stipulations.

Together we began to shape a programme that would build on the original project aims that we had mapped out at the start of the year. Making an online exhibition necessitated Aidan putting into practice new curatorial skills, including writing interpretation, working closely with a designer and commissioning a writer. It enabled him to commission three artists to make work in response to a particular curatorial framework for the first time.

Aidan is something of a thought-leader around equity in the arts, and traverses the often separate spheres of what he calls ‘Disability Arts’ and ‘the Mainstream’. While I am sure the sense of responsibility that accompanies this role is wearing, it gives him fascinating perspectives on artists’ and institutions’ practices and enables him to negotiate a range of contexts. While Aidan’s work is firmly part of the MIMA programme, Thresholds carries his distinct tone. His curatorial approach is spacious and generous; it hosts the ideas and voices of others – the artists, writer Jade French and designer Joanna Deans. Lindsey Duncanson sums it up well: “What a great exhibition, in format, content, concept and experience”.

Each of the project partners brings a different range of expertise to the table – from Corridor8’s experience of commissioning writers and profiling the North’s art scene through beautiful posts and social media presence, to Disability Arts Online’s incredible knowledge of access and facilitating online events. Aidan has connected MIMA with new conversations and brought artists’ work to the attention of the wider Curatorial Commissions network and hopefully broad audiences. He has developed space for others and worked with a range of publics in mind. I am grateful for the creative space that this project has carved out.

*“What a whirlwind! I am feasting on information, processes, practices, art chat, critical conversations – Tuesdays fill me up for the rest of the week. I know how incredibly fortunate and privileged I am to be in this position, to have an individually tailored programme of professional development.”

Although things have changed significantly, I hope that Thresholds has revived some of these sensations in Aidan.

Thresholds digital exhibition is available here, including audio described and captioned versions of both films.

Book for the Thresholds panel discussion on 28 October at 6 pm here.