Student uses Luton's empty shopping centre as art gallery during lockdown
A final year art student from the University of Bedfordshire gained permission to utilise an empty shopping centre in Luton.
After noticing the abundance of free space available during his weekly food shop, Photography & Video Art student, Adrian Kotlarz, decided to take advantage of The Mall during lockdown.
Normally bustling with shoppers, a closed wing of Luton’s shopping centre provided the perfect wall and floor space for Adrian to stage his final year piece, which included a 360 degrees panoramic depiction of a forest printed on 10 metres of canvas.
His multi-disciplinary piece involved photography, animation and augmented reality (AR), as well as a light show emulating a ritual.
It featured illustrative elements inspired by Slavic folklore which can be ‘found’ by viewing the scene through AR mobile app, Artivive.
“I get genuine enjoyment in finding practical solutions so I treated lockdown as an opportunity rather than a hurdle,” said Adrian, who recently spoke to The Times about his experience of creating a ‘homemade’ degree show."
He added: "Having so much space to exhibit in was useful. Such public spaces feel eerie when they are no longer public, which was in keeping with the theme of my project – an interactive experience based on folklore mysticism using modern technology.”
After initially staging his artwork at The Mall, Adrian relocated his piece to his parents’ home due to sound and lighting issues.
He said: “I had to move out furniture and cover the kitchen entrance and the TV. I had to use ceiling hooks and fishing line to make a circular fixture to prevent the forest panorama from leaning.
“Despite the inconvenience, my family were impressed with my new ‘gallery’, especially with the size of the panorama and the augmented-reality animations.”
Praising his initiative, Nigel Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Visual Arts Practise, said: “Adrian has shown great ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit in rising to the challenges presented by the lockdown.
"He was determined to complete all his work on time, to allow him to apply to our Masters course in the autumn. He has been a model student and a pleasure to teach.”
Adrian’s project isn’t the first time The Mall has been utilised by local creatives and the arts industry.
Management staff have regularly provided empty shops and offices for students at the University’s School of Art and Design to turn into temporary pop-up galleries.
Community artist Nicole Mollett – who is part of the University’s Arts & Culture research and development programme, Test Beds – recently hosted her ‘Graphic Novel for Luton’ exhibition in a unit on the first floor of the shopping centre.
The Mall’s iconic Greenfields restaurant and outside shopping areas also featured in the Bruce Springsteen-inspired film, Blinded by the Light (2019).
The centre’s Business Manager, Tracey Bateman, helped co-ordinate Adrian’s use of The Mall.
She said: “The Mall physically sits in the heart of the local community, and is woven into the daily lives of people that live, work, study and visit the town.
"There is so much going on locally with arts and culture, and the University and its students play a big part of this.
“We always embrace opportunities to get involved with the community wherever we can, as we have the perfect central location for people to showcase their work to thousands of Mall visitors each day. Lockdown brought challenges to us all but we’re glad we were able to help Adrian during this unusual time.”
Adrian’s project can be discovered in full via his website, AK Perspective.
Videos from his project are also available to watch on YouTube.