All work copyright the artist

Symbol Archive: Visual Language was developed as a commission for Engagement Network, working with Spacex Gallery, throughout the summer of 2013. A group of adults, both from visual art and non-visual art backgrounds, were invited to join Symbol Archive (2008-ongoing) as Contributors of knowledge. The Contributors were asked to respond in pairs to a number of tasks that considered visual language through platforms, shelters, symbols and exhibition spaces. Responses were made in shared notebooks and uploaded to a Drop Box to be shared amongst the group.

Tasks were developed with help from Emese Hall of University of Exeter, who provided guidance around visual language in education theory and practice. The first task asked the Contributors to look for platforms and shelters within the city of Exeter and discuss their responses to them. Above is visual document of the process, with links below to the poster and second, third and fourth tasks. The Contributors responses are not shared here, although you may contact me on if you are interested in learning more about their responses.

More information about Engagement Network can be found here!sovay-berriman--symbol-archive/ctar

Download the above poster with essay by Kirsty Lowry here>>>>> Engagement Network.pdf

Download three of the prompts given to Contributors below...

Prompt 2.pdf

Prompt 3.pdf

Prompt 4.pdf


Josie Bowler                        

Paula Crutchlow

Lucy Finchett-Maddock       

Ann Haycock

Rachael Marchant               

Simon Ripley

Bettina Schroeder               

Graham Seaton

Chris Turner

Text below by Kirsty Lowry, Engagement Network Project Co-ordinator, first published in a pamphlet, with the drawing above, as a document of the project.

Engagement Network is a partnership programme between engage South West and Visual Arts South West. This short-term, pilot project aimed to place artists at the centre of research to examine audience engagement and participation in the visual arts. The aim was to support a context for participation that could be led by and remain imbedded in the artists’ concerns and process, whilst opening up a transparent dialogue about the nature of the participatory process, its aims and usefulness.

Artist Sovay Berriman worked with Spacex, Exeter as part of Symbol Archive (2008–ongoing), a body of work within Berriman’s practice that considers the possibilities of research and learning occurring through layering ideas and collaborative enquiry. Berriman invited participants from both arts and non-arts backgrounds to act as fellow researchers and Contributors of knowledge in a shared enquiry around visual language development and our tendencies to engage with the visual arts.

Informed by existing research around visual language development and linked to the artist’s interests in education, boundaries of learning and delineation or definition of roles, the Contributors responded to a series of prompts and tasks. Over a three-month period, they worked in pairs to seek out platforms and shelters, manipulate form, endlessly scribble and question the boundaries of different art spaces.

This process gave the opportunity to make personal connections, exchange knowledge and question understanding, where the emphasis of the expertise lay in the hands of the participants. The result, thanks to the generosity and commitment of those involved, was the creation of a dynamic, three-dimensional relationship between the participants, the artist and the gallery, a context in which participants became a genuine part of the framework of enquiry in which contemporary art practice is produced.

This was a very personal and involved project for those that took part, but a context that raised challenging questions, particularly for Berriman herself, about where the artwork sits and how the process could be translated into form, or made tangible for others. This pamphlet acts, therefore, not as an artwork as such, but as a document of the project and those relationships that defined it - The Stage in which the activity took place, punctuated and affected by the movement of the Contributors/the players, the different roles, the shifting positions and the discussion.

As the traditional role of the gallery is now being questioned, it is no longer implicitly expected to present and interpret the artwork whilst the audience receives and consumes. Audiences do not have to be performing for them not to be passive, so what happens if we further nurture these altering expectations, to better acknowledge the insight and active contribution of audiences? Berriman’s work consistently considers our shifting states, that at one time or another we might become the object, the performer, the director or the viewer. This project attempted to make these role shifts more transparent and tangible. Those perceived or referred to as ‘audience’ or ‘the public’, are not outside or other to the artists or galleries, we are all the audience, looking and hopefully questioning, as an integral part of the whole event.