I’m in a white waiting room, on a white swivel chair, there’s a white rug on the floor. I’m surrounded by white venetian blinds.
Degree show 2016, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee | Rating: ***
The light is a strange violet. I’m at some kind of threshold. This might be the waiting room for the dentist or, perhaps, for the afterlife. I can hear whispering. A woman’s voice. ‘Wake up,’ she insists. ‘Wake up.’
The annual degree shows do have a hallucinatory quality, like this all white work by Louise McCusker which evokes a waking dream. All that energy, all that emotion, all that hard work. It is heartening. And heart-breaking. When I visited Duncan of Jordanstone this year the students were on their own thresholds, receiving their final marks. I could hear the peals of laughter. I could see the tears.
But if the shows are dream-like in their intensity, this year they are not mere escapism. Amongst the hard subjects confronted in this year’s show are premature widowhood, war and the loss of a sibling.
Climb the stairs in Angela Alexander-Lloyd’s installation and you are caught between two monolithic cubes, one clad in rusting corten steel, the other in thickly smeared mud. On top are two images, one is a moving projection in which a woman tries to touch a photograph as though to reanimate it. On the other is a family photograph, with one figure cut out. Alexander-Lloyd is a young widow and in her work she has crafted a future for herself from her grief.
For Leda Solimonidou, it is collective grief that drives her presentation 1974. Solimonidou is from Cyprus and her wall of hundreds of protruding nails represent the 1,619 people who went missing in the conflict and who have never been found. The rest of her installation includes a number of traditional forms that have been reworked to represent the country’s divided history, a simple agriculture riddle that is studded with sharp tacks, traditional embroidery reworked to tell of historic trauma.
There is suffering in Jacquetta Clark’s presentation too, but she has overcome adversity to make an impressive show that is one of the clearest and strongest of the year. Clark was born with the rare condition of Dextrocardia, which means that the apex of her heart points to the right hand side of her body rather than her left. She has made a series of photoworks that echo the pioneering sculpture/photography works of the late Helen Chadwick, the influential British artist who dealt with body and identity in the 1980s, and the extra-ordinary deathbed photos of the late artist Jo Spence. Clark’s photographs are placed in simple but effective mirrored installations that fragment and replicate body parts so they become abstract and repetitive. Particularly effective is a mirror-lined cylinder that seem to shift and rotate as you approach it, evoking the dizzying experience of the body and of Clark’s individual experience of being at odds.
If many fine art students looked inwards, others have looked out. Lili Chasioti has placed pebbles in Dundee’s botanic Garden to create the pattern of QR codes that can be read on your smartphone. In her gallery space at the college the same images are created in bare earth. Both codes trigger sound and conversations, the environment comes to life.
There is gardening of sorts too in one of the most confident sculptural installations, Linda Bolsakova’s installation Spring Comes After Winter After Autumn. A clear garden hose runs in serpentine loops across the wall from a classroom sink towards a sheet of green turf that is hung on the wall like a glorious green tapestry. Seed forms and images of fecundity are created in wax and marble, the cycle of dormancy and renewal. However, nature doesn’t seem sentimental in Bolsakova’s work, rather it seems stern and ancient.
It is impossible to mention even a fraction of the dozens of excellent works on show this year, but it is notable that photographic works were strong including Becky Middleton’s giant and rather disarming images of tofu. Of the moving image works Sean Forsyth and Ewan Gibson’s film Crow and Fox moved between feeling interminable and weirdly compelling as furred and befeathered actors playing the two mystical creatures roamed the woodland of the shores of Loch Awe.
Much of the work this year dealt with with loss, with the air of finality that accompanies the time of year when students are like fledglings leaving the safety of home. Jamie Watt’s work exploring the martyrdom of Thomas Aikenhead, executed for blasphemy in 1697, is a full size guillotine with a mirrored blade, rather than sharpened steel. A sudden end. Or perhaps, for this promising young artist, a new beginning?
• Until tomorrow