Show and Tell
By Jan Patience
Summer’s lease has all too short a date – particularly in Scotland – but the first sign that it’s here is the annual art school degree show jamboree.
This weekend, Glasgow School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art open their doors and invite the world in to see the work of hundreds of final year art students.
For some visitors, it’s a chance to view, and perhaps buy, the work of tomorrow’s contemporary art stars. For others, it’s an opportunity to become immersed in the mad, the bad, the bonkers and the totally inspired. It’s all there with knobs on. And it’s free…
Glasgow School of Art
As you wander round a degree show, it’s tempting to pick out emerging themes. Early on in my sneak preview of this year’s show at Glasgow School of Art, I appear to be writing down the words ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘bleak’ in my notebook more times than seems healthy.
Possibly I’ve lost the plot by reading too many artists statements, or maybe Fiona Brown Hovelt’s arresting image, staring scarily at me with its one eye from this year’s Degree Show literature has influenced me from the off.
Whatever. I’m seeing bleakness in all directions.
In The Mackintosh Gallery, Rachel Wright has used the cold unforgiving stone carvings of Glasgow’s Necropolis as an eerie backdrop to her paintings, which are almost hallucinogenic in their ferocity. Next to her, Eleanor Royle has produced a series of starkly beautiful photographic etchings incorporating metal plates used to board up doors on disused buildings.
Upstairs, Jen White, influenced by Kafka and HG Wells has been doing dystopia too, collaging and merging machinery like a woman possessed while Julia Heslop has been exploring the ‘legacy of de-industrialisation’, separating bleak from dispiriting in loosely painted scenes which convey a real sense of place. In another room, Amy Birchard’s powerful paintings are a mix of Hitchcock meets Freud in a particularly disturbing dream.
It took a laugh to lift the spirits and that came from Harriet Lowther’s ‘Big Thank You’ project, profiled in yesterday’s Herald, which walks a fine line between entertaining and pertinent.
Behind Lowther’s installation, Simon Gowing’s Resign of The Times neon signage made me do a double take. There are a good few conceptual layers to his neon ‘resign’ signage at the end of a darkened corridor, but it works. Does this mean there is light at the end of the tunnel?
All the Fine Art stutents’ work is to be found in the famous ‘Mac’ building and adjacent McLellan Galleries.
It’s impossible to view everything in one take and bleakness aside, I found genuinely fresh and interesting work here, particularly in fine art photography and printmaking – always strong subjects at GSA. In fine art photography, Yngvild Mehren’s crystal clear Norwegian landscapes still linger in my memory while Merry Swarbrick’s playful use of language to explore past events is worth taking time over.
I also detected a real will to get back into the medium of paint this year. Louis Guy’s Breughel-inspired narratives on the excesses of military heroism and Beijing artist Yuan Wang, painting from life and memory, reinforce this point.
Before you head over the road to Textiles, Jewellery & Silversmithing, Visual Communications, Product Design Engineering and Product Design, keep an eye out for the bike inlaid into the famous Mackintosh railings which is by sculpture graduate, George Thompson.
There are some gems to be found in the soon-to-be-no-more buildings opposite The Mac, from Sarah Brown’s jewellery based on the coastline of her native Islay to textile student Paul Roden’s interiors inspired by fairgrounds from the 1930s and the 1970s.
In Product Design, Niall Slater’s ingenious Brailleband allows the visually impaired to type as they go, while James Brown’s Medicool device lets health workers in developing countries to keep vaccines at safe temperatures for longer.
Although comfortable with technology, art students are clearly gravitating to traditional skills. This was evidenced by Alida Sager’s 3d paper and text models inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Sandy McInnes’ otherworldly etchings, Joe Mann’s sublime modelling and stop frame animation and Bill Goldsmith’s storyboarding, which despite its Eastern Block setting is anything but bleak.
Eleanor Stewart’s short film of a rodeo animated to music stood out from the crowd. A keen musician, Stewart’s delicate models of gun toting, lasso wielding cowboys, wagons and horses made out of sheets of music are exquisite as is her short film, which starts with an open score, gradually invaded page by page by the rodeo until it comes to a gentle stop.
GSA Degree Show 2009
167 Renfrew Street, Glasgow
0141 353 4500
Saturday June 13 - Saturday June 20
Sat & Sun, 10am-5pm, Mon-Thur, 10am-9pm, Fri 10am-7pm
Edinburgh College of Art
Design is a focus of Edinburgh College of Art this year, following on from the formation last year of a new School of Design. The school claims to have the ‘broadest portfolio’ of design courses across the UK and it certainly strides like a colossus across Fashion, Visual Communication, Design and Applied Arts.
From what I could see from an early walk-through of ECA’s degree show, method, discovery, form and function seem to be uppermost in young artists’ minds as they attempt to communicate a personal vision.
The Internet publishing phenomenon blurb.com has also made a few bob out of these visions, as custom-made books showcasing individual student’s work are everywhere.
I started my walk-through in the main building’s neo-classical sculpture court, where following on from a headline grabbing fashion show last month, performance costume, textile and fashion designers have turned the space into a strangely alluring and hugely theatrical car boot sale.
Most of the School of Design students are showing their work in nearby Evolution House and if you are looking for original work to buy, this is the place to come.
Edinburgh is the only art school to teach glassmaking and the glasswork here is outstanding. The work of Ramon Beaskoetxea and Ida Wieth-Knudsen sit side by side in satisfying contrast. Beaskoetxea’s hauntingly curvaceous, seemingly anatomically perfect male arm and intricate lace-covered hand in glass and copper asks questions about the gender divide while Wieth-Knudsen’s solid chunks of colour atop concrete plinths hold you in the moment.
In product design, Matthew Coombes sympathetic yet cerebral approach has led to the creation of ‘non-therapeutic tools for grieving’, including a Tear Catcher and Husband Stilts to allow widows to reach up to top shelves, while Tom Harper has approached mundane objects, such as brooms and dustpans and given them the design once-over to great effect. Take note, IKEA.
Over in illustration, there’s some incredibly strong work. I’d be scuttling in to buy work by Lizzy Stewart as her exquisite drawings and prints are outstanding.
In jewellery, there are treasures aplenty. Karen Mabon’s ‘living curiosity’ cocks a snook at pop culture while Gwen Hosker has etched handwriting onto small pieces of bone to great effect.
Examining contemporary culture is a big part of this year’s show across all the disciplines, be it interior designer Sam Hosker’s plans to convert a recycling dump in the Borders as a hostel for mountain bikers, or photographer Anna Claire Saunders arresting exploration of the decline of anonymity in her film Voyeur.
Talking of contemporary culture, Rachel Maclean has taken the theme of Homecoming and strangled it with a copy of the People’s Friend. Her drawings, models and installations create a nightmarishly kitsch world in which Fran and Anna appear to have joined the cast of Braveheart along with Britney Spears and then stopped off at every tourist tat shop on The Royal Mile for a quick costume change. I have no idea where it’s going, but it’s a work of incredible imagination.
Other names to look out for in Drawing and Painting include Toby Cooke, currently on the shortlist for the Jolomo Landscape Awards, armchair traveller Erika Stevenson who takes us on a photographic journey on her doorstep, Sarah Muirhead, whose touching figurative paintings of peripheral figures in our society avoid tricksy pretension, Alison Dick with her vision of a blue-skied Utopia and Samuel Connor, who takes ordinary everyday objects such as ironing boards and flags and imbues them with deeper meaning relating back to his upbringing in a Unionist heartland of Northern Ireland. Liam Allan’s delicately searching drawings and photographs also stood out among the crowd.
It’s very strong year for Sculpture, with big ideas underpinning much of the work. I really liked Stefanie Ferguson mix of found objects and photography and Horatio Lawson’s attempts to visualise sound using four loud speakers and a box covered in tiny polystyrene balls.
Finally, Tobias Houlton re-enters the imaginary world of a child to great effect with his miniature pieces. Keep your eyes raised skywards or you’ll miss my favourite piece of sculpture – a tiny bed.
Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show 2009 Edinburgh College of Art, Lauriston Place, Edinburgh
0131 221 6000
Mon – Thurs 10am to 8pm Fri – Sun 10am – 5pm
- The story so far
- I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org (All work © Jan Patience)