I’m pretty sure you’ve seen the following threads:
- Exquisite Corpse Exhibition on Miro
- Open Window Student Showcase on Miro
- Online Exhibition and Walkabout on Miro
Ever wondered what’s the story behind these online exhibitions? We did! That’s why we decided to talk with
Read on to learn more about Nina, Miro exhibitions, student art projects, and incredible boards.
First things first! Please introduce yourself
Hi, I’m Nina Torr, I’m an illustrator/artist from Pretoria, South Africa. I teach illustration at Open Window School of Visual Communication where I also run the campus gallery space, NOW Gallery.
I completed a BFA in Fine Arts at Parsons School of Design in New York in 2010 and a Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Johannesburg in 2020.
Tell us more about how you use Miro
I use Miro for online classes and exhibitions.
For classes, I create a project for each course and a board for each student. Each week the students upload their progress to their personal boards like a workbook/sketchbook. During class (Google Meet) we visit each student’s board for individual feedback. I draw into their work with the pen tool, add notes, references etc. You can get a sense of how the students populate their individual boards here and here and see one of our class workshop boards here.
I also run a campus gallery space (NOW Gallery). When the pandemic hit, we fiddled around with online approaches like everyone else. We first tried an Instagram exhibition, but there’s only so much you can do with that. It was around June last year that I started building up a pet peeve for all the solutions people were coming up with for ‘online exhibitions’. I couldn’t tell the difference between an ‘online viewing room’ and a gallery website. Some galleries would send out pdf catalogues and call them ‘online exhibitions’. Other galleries would attempt those 3D virtual spaces, which I found quite frustrating to navigate.
It must have been as a result of seeing Miro’s potential in the classroom that I realised we could use it for an online exhibition. A big thing lacking in online exhibitions, I thought, was the ability to see who else was there. The other major thing missing was spontaneity. Miro was the closest thing I could find that came close to catering to these needs. Viewers would be able to ‘see’ other viewers and navigate the exhibition on their own terms, as well as be able to zoom into the work and comment on it.
Our first Miro exhibition was Exquisite Corpse, a yearly exhibition based on the Surrealist game of collaboration. We went for a salon-style layout. This is what we came up with:
The layout was predominantly designed by honours students Mia Kuhn and Eileen Marais with help from Open Window colleagues Zinhle Zulu and Maaike Bakker. We realised that we didn’t need to conform to the traditional idea of an exhibition or website layout. It became an intersection between layout design, a curated gallery space and interaction design - curation in 2D. We only enabled comment access for this show. In hindsight I would have enabled edit access so that we could have seen the cursors, but we were still quite new to the platform, so we were not yet aware that you could lock objects, for instance. We embedded a Google Form for artwork orders, so we could add ‘sold’ and ‘reserved’ stickers in real time. We received more artwork orders for this show than we generally do at our physical openings.
Here is the recap video:
Student life is probably one of the biggest things the students are missing out on during the pandemic. So much of education is about what happens outside of class time. I wanted to see if I could enable even just a fragment of the student life that was being cut off, so next up we set about trying to simulate our yearly doodle event online with Creation Superstation. We created PNG fragments on Photoshop and Procreate that attendees could collage with. Alternatively, attendees could upload photos/screenshots of work that they created elsewhere. Here is what we came up with:
The board got so heavy I thought we were going to crash Miro’s servers. Recently I discovered that I could have optimised the show a lot better if we had created the fragments as vector SVGs rather.
Creation Superstation was predominantly designed by myself, honours students Mia Kuhn and Eileen Marais and fellow Open Window lecturer Carmen Koetje.
Here is a video recap of the event:
Next, we combined what we learned from Exquisite Corpse and Creation Superstation. We curated the online exhibition Viral with the collective Good on Paper. Here, we enabled edit access and arranged a live drawing session with some of the artists. We designed the exhibition as a floor plan reminiscent of a hospital or mental asylum, with a courtyard in the middle where we hosted the live drawing. The performing illustrators were comfortable on their drawing tablets, so they were able to create something incredible with Miro’s pen tool. The live drawings contained so many lines that I had to export and upload them back to the board as PNGs after the performance, otherwise the board loaded too slowly. We paired the exhibition opening with a Discord server and hosted an online ‘walkabout’ from there. You can find the board link and recap video (including snippets of the live drawing) here.
When this year came and the Covid waves calmed down we started hosting physical exhibitions again. It’s strange how I felt a pang of loss at the idea that online exhibitions might not be needed anymore, after we had learned so much. But South Africa is slow with vaccinations and the Delta variant put a new spin on things, so we decided to host this year’s Exquisite Corpse online again. This is the exhibition where I feel we most refined our approach. Based on past exhibitions we found that the mass of comments was overwhelming for new viewers so we designed the artwork comment sections with sticky notes instead. We again paired the show with a Discord server for the opening speech and informal discussions. We even created a game, a version of Snakes and Ladders called Cats and Ladders.
Exquisite Corpse 5.0 was predominantly designed by honours students Leandrie de Vos, Jade Rawson, Miriek Jansen van Rensburg, Chanel Slabbert, Iman Motani, Tamara Weetman and Robin Geyser. Here is the exhibition landing page which includes the board link and a recap video.
My partner introduced me to Realtime Board/Miro years ago, but I had only tried it as a personal mind mapping tool and never really thought much about it beyond that. The moment it came alive was last year when he was working on a board and someone else’s cursor appeared on screen. I had no idea this feature existed and from here on something clicked in my mind. One of the biggest things we were missing in our online classes was the ability for both parties to point at the same time.
When the pandemic hit last year Open Window transitioned to online teaching within the span of a few days. We tested out all sorts of platforms to try and find a comfortable way for the students to share their work each week. The school was already using GSuite, so I first tried Google Jamboard, but we eventually transitioned to Miro after we discovered Jamboard’s limitations and Miro’s potential.
The cursors freed us up from the frustration of only being able to share one screen at a time on a video call. Students are hesitant to put on their cameras, so the cursors soon became a proxy for body language. Suddenly I could draw on their work and make notes again. The students would also be shy to speak, but they would love adding comments. At the end of a lesson we would have a visual archive of what that had taken place during the lesson. It not only encouraged more personal accountability, but more interaction from the rest of the class than was possible before. It was magical. In a live class, all we would be left with were memories and private notes. This was something else.
I have slowly been encouraging more and more of my colleagues to use the platform, to the extent that they now make fun of me and call me the Miro guru! The response to our online exhibitions has been great. We actually sell more artworks at our online openings than at physical shows. Behind the scenes it’s also a great opportunity for the students and colleagues to build something together during a time when collaboration is so restricted. The openings take on a life of their own and often remain active for hours and days after the opening. In one of our online student showcases, for instance, the viewers took over the bottom section of the board with doodles and memes. In another show a viewer started doing a spontaneous drawing performance. We never quite know what’s going to happen.
What's next for art exhibitions? Do you plan other exciting projects in Miro?
Online exhibitions are becoming less and less necessary, so I don’t know how many more we will do. We are now in a strange position where we install the physical shows, but host the openings online. In the future we will probably have to double up. Miro allows us to create an interactive version of the exhibition that people can attend from all over the world. I imagine we will start developing this hybrid further as a kind of interactive catalogue in support of the physical exhibition. Nothing can quite replace the spontaneity of physical opening, but Miro has allowed us to come as close to it as possible under the circumstances, and in some cases, even opened up a few things that weren’t possible before.
We’re often just looking for an excuse to be in the same room together, but we don’t always know how to ask for it. The pandemic robbed us of so many of these spontaneous interactions. While setting up these online events I realised that it’s not just about the event itself, but the community that creates the event. The platform enabled students and colleagues to build something together from the safety of their homes. It also enabled large groups of people to ‘be in a room together’ and to share a creative space for a few hours during a time when we thought this wasn’t possible.
The boards are terrific!
If you have questions to Nina, please feel free to ask in the thread!