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The Art Society Macabre Exhibition: Interview With Curator Elizabeth Wu Yang

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

This autumn, the Art Society is organising an exhibition entitled Macabre: A Halloween Exhibition from Monday, the 30th of October to Sunday, the 5th of November at the St Andrews Heritage Museum. It explores Halloween and related themes, including the morbid, the mystical, the mysterious, and the macabre. 

With the exhibition opening to the public on Wednesday, I had the opportunity to chat to the exhibition’s curator, Elizabeth Wu Yang, about her curation journey, her thought process behind curating this exhibition, and her favourite moments in curating this exhibition. She has also kindly given us exclusive access to descriptions of two of the artworks that will be on display (written by the artists themselves), which you can read about after the interview.

Elizabeth Wu Yang (she/her/hers) is a third year Art History and Modern History student, and has been the Exhibitions Coordinator for the Art Society since September 2022.

Tell me a bit about the work you’ve done as a curator for the Art Society.

This is my second year as an exhibition coordinator and my first year doing it without a second coordinator on the team. It’s been a lot of fun but also a lot of work, and I’ve learned a lot about the practicalities of organising an exhibition in a small town like St Andrews. It’s definitely super challenging trying to come up with new ideas every semester, but it also gives me a chance to constantly adapt and improve my process. It takes a lot of organisation and teamwork, and I definitely would not be able to do it without the help of the other members on the committee. 

What was the initial concept or inspiration behind this exhibition, and what inspired you to decide on the theme?

We had a venue and dates confirmed almost a year ago, and unlike previous exhibitions this one will be held in a dedicated gallery space rather than in a cafe. This made it easy to plan in advance, and I really wanted to do something that worked well with the space. St Andrews is quite small but quite saturated with events and art groups, so it’s always been quite a delicate balance between being niche enough to generate interest and excitement, but still being general enough to make sure we can reach a wide audience. It was coincidentally set for the week of Halloween, so we decided to work with that and go for a spooky theme.

What was your favourite part of curating this exhibition?

I’m really excited to see it all come together in the gallery. I always love the installation process, and since we’re doing it in an actual gallery this time rather than just in a cafe, I’m just super excited to see it all go up in a more formal setting. I love that final moment where the exhibition isn’t done yet but it’s just coming together, and all of the work you’ve been doing for weeks and months is finally going up. 

How did you go about selecting and curating the artworks for this exhibition? Was there any specific criteria, themes, or ideas that guided your decisions?

The theme is just Halloween-themed, so that’s something we put out in the submission forms and submission details for artists before they submit. A lot of the criteria and selection process almost happens before I even get the pieces, because you need to communicate to the artists what you’re looking for, so they can figure out whether their art fits the criteria before they submit. I try to encourage lots of different mediums, so that we have a lot of variety, but I also like for things to be cohesive, so it’s nice to have a theme that brings everything together. 

Did you face any challenges when curating this exhibition? If so, what was the biggest one?

There have been quite a few challenges. Every semester, we have a hard time finding a venue, so I’ve had to change my approach this year, where I try to set the venue and the date before I even think about things like themes. That was a really big challenge that I thankfully was able to get out of the way last year, because we booked this venue a year in advance. There’s also the challenge of making sure that the word gets out there and generating interest, because there are always so many events happening in this town, and it’s not the easiest to stand out. So driving up interest and finding a venue are probably the two biggest challenges when working on this exhibition. 

What do you hope people visiting will take away after seeing this exhibition?

My biggest hope for people who come to see the exhibition is just to be able to see student art in a gallery and to celebrate Halloween in a fun way. I also want the artists to feel a sense of pride and achievement in their work, and give the Art Society a way to come together and show off the great talent we have in our society and in this town. We will be hosting an exhibition next semester, so keep an eye on our social media for that!

Read about two of the artworks that will be on display in “Macabre: A Halloween Exhibition” in an exclusive preview below. Unfortunately, we were unable to include photos of the art themselves, but you can see them in person in the St Andrews Heritage Museum on Monday, the 30th of October to Sunday, the 5th of November!  

The Harvest by Andy Coker (medium linoprint)

The Harvest (2021) was inspired by tarot cards, Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man, and the concept of Death being a caretaker rather than someone who’s ambivalent. The notion of Death-as-Bill-Door in Reaper Man cutting each stalk of wheat individually resonated with me a lot. Much of the imagery in this piece is also inspired by mediaeval woodcuts.

Study of a Skull by Andreas Klein (medium graphite and white chalk on toned paper)

This piece alludes to the artistic theme of Memento Mori (remember that you will die). Common in European art from the 16th to the 18th century, the realistic depiction of objects related to death symbolised mortality, leading viewers towards a life of greater humility and devotion. My version is single focused: it includes only the skull. It also restrains from an overly explicit realism by idealising some of the forms, omitting certain details and not placing the skull in an actual environment.

Find out more about the Art Society!

See the exhibition!

  • When: Monday, the 30th of October to Sunday, the 5th of November
  • Where: St Andrews Heritage Museum, 12 North St, St Andrews KY16 9PW 
Taasia Thong

St. Andrews '25

I'm a third-year Malaysian-Singaporean studying Modern History and IR (I use she/her/hers pronouns). I've lived in six countries, so I'm passionate about multiculturalism and diversity, and love meeting and interacting with new people and cultures! My other interests include legal affairs, East Asian history, global politics, literature, journalism and fashion. You can often find me drinking unreasonable amounts of green tea, (struggling) to solve the NYT crossword and trying to make the perfect chicken katsu.