Art review: ECA Degree Show 2014

Faith Elliott's universe inside a shed. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

Faith Elliott's universe inside a shed. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

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EDINBURGH College of Art and Edinburgh University have now been merged for several years. So far, reports from both sides are good. Certainly there are one or two examples in this year’s ECA degree show of graduating students taking advantage of the links with the university.

ECA Degree Show 2014 - Edinburgh College Of Art

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Sculpture student Holbie Clayton, for instance, has apparently worked with the engineers to try to understand better the materials he is using. In one work he balances a pile of breeze blocks on an inflatable cushion and it seems to be a demonstration of the Young’s Modulus, a mechanical principle governing elasticity. I doubt if the engineers would ever have come up with such an image. Timothea Armour has evidently worked with the vets, but they, too, may have been surprised at the spectacle of her dressed up as a bale of hay being nibbled by goats.

More traditional skills are also very much in evidence, however, and the college does still teach drawing. Anna Coburn has made beautiful drawings and indeed paintings from details of a disused industrial building. Deirdre Macleod makes delicate structures and draws them, or perhaps she makes drawings and turns them into delicate structures. Either way, they are beautiful. Jenny Drewitt thoughtfully explores the language of painting in a group of paintings in which very different abstract and figurative elements are layered together, one over the other with a satisfactorily unified result. Sophie Hopkinson demonstrates her command of a quite different kind of traditional skill, book-binders’ fore-edge painting, or the decoration of the edges of the pages of a closed book. She doesn’t make books however, just intricate abstract compositions using sheets of paper packed together as though in the pages of a book. On the wall next to her, Beverly Hughes does something equally intricate, but with black grains of rice on a black canvas. Jake Howe makes an equally black abstract. It appears to be in the style of Malevich, or Ad Reinhardt, but is made with the black fabric that usually covers loudspeakers, neatly framed as though an actual loudspeaker and with the maker’s name still on it. India Bunce makes straightforward, figurative paintings, but they are only an inch or two high and on the scale of the miniature painter. Indeed, she actually frames one or two in the style of miniatures.

Sarah Sheard’s show is presented as a colourful satire on the art market – it is run by artmongers she suggests – with brightly coloured variations on the art of several well-known painters including Matisse. She deploys Morris Louis stripes to make a Sunshade and a daub is defiantly labelled “This is a painting”. Catriona MacKenzie on the other hand restages historic paintings of the Repentant Magdalene and similar figures in rather beautiful photographs and photo-etchings derived from them. One of the boldest groups of paintings is by Tiinja Lilja, however. She works in the Pop tradition of Andy Warhol, but paints a can of Irn-Bru in place of Warhol’s tins of Campbell’s Soup. Her painting of a toy policeman and Spanish doll making a coy couple is a nice piece self-satirical kitsch.

One of the most original exhibitions is by Fiona Beveridge. She makes delicate, but surreal objects out of bright, self-coloured materials. Some of her pieces look like jellyfish or sea anemones, but in one of the best, which is also one of the simplest, two of those familiar green rubbers sit on a block of blue to make a surprising and very satisfactory object. Paloma Proudfoot deconstructs tailoring and dress-making to find the sculptural language implicit in these traditional skills. Charles Myatt, also a sculptor, follows an ingenious progression from landscape to sculptured image by way of photographs, but also uses very beautiful and rather painterly collages.

John Winslow makes a wry comment on the Referendum. In a film of a section of Hadrian’s Wall, a black dog occasionally changes sides while a voiceover repeats monotonously “England, Scotland”. One telling detail of a larger installation by Richard Phillips-Kerr is film of himself speaking, projected on to a static dummy. It has a disturbing effect. Nathan de Dieudonne echoes Carl Andre’s minimalism with a set of terracotta tiles arranged neatly on the floor, but their minimalism is only apparent. They carry the marks of a bouncing tennis ball. Equally bold and simple is a pair of scarlet theatre curtains by Emma Smith. They seem straightforward, but they are upside down.

The grotesque always enlivens things, and there are some good examples in the show. You are greeted in the entrance hall by bizarre, life-sized puppets made by Jack Wrigley. Go downstairs into an imaginary wine cellar and a male and female puppet are up to no good in the dark. He’s standing and she’s on her knees. The man’s dinner jacket suggests a backstage scene from Downton Abbey, unfit for broadcast.

The most bizarre objects of all, however, are made by Charlotte Nash. She pumps bubble-gum pink, synthetic filler into pairs of tights. The resulting forms, half-animate, but still showing the patterns woven into the tights, are very strange indeed.

• Until 1 June

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