IN OUR second round-up of Scotland’s degree shows, our critic find that the collegiate ethos of the newly subsumed ECA has produced an atmosphere of collaboration with interesting results.
The degree shows come round again, but in Edinburgh things have changed. Students who entered the College of Art four years ago have ended up in the University. It is now eight months since the merger of the two institutions and the first first degree shows under the new dispensation have opened. The sign at the entrance to the College of Art now carries the University of Edinburgh logo and, in case there were any doubt, the university’s name is also placed firmly at the top.
At least the college name is there too, however. It carries its old identity into the university as part of a new unit combining its original disciplines of art, design, architecture and landscape architecture with the university’s two subject areas of history of art and music.
In the university structure, which a little confusingly puts a college within a college, this new unit is part of the College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences. There will certainly be challenges. Maintaining the creative ethos of ECA in competition with heavy-hitting subjects like science and medicine, not obviously disposed to encourage the individualistic, the flaky and even the outrageous, will not always be easy.
There will be practical challenges, too. The generous amount of space given to individual art students, rightly regarded as essential to their development, will be looked at jealously by others not so favoured.
Writing in the catalogue of this year’s degree shows Gordon Brennan, head of painting, gives a nice sense of the collegiate ethos this system creates by comparing the arrangement of individual and often idiosyncratic student work spaces to the cheerfully chaotic situation in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. The individual degree shows reflect the way this environment of clamorous individualism paradoxically generates a remarkable degree of cooperation, however; proof of the anarchist argument perhaps that left to themselves, autonomous individuals will co-operate. Certainly the students seem to work very well together curating their work themselves in a series of group shows in the studios.
In an environment where individuality is the educational goal, if the teaching is successful, generalisation about the results should be impossible. There is certainly no sameness about the work on view, but there are nevertheless perhaps one or two unifying characteristics. In the disciplines I looked at, painting, sculpture, the bizarrely named intermedia which was once tapestry, and photography, out on its own for the first time, it is a relief that the shows are more often of things made than of things that have to be switched on.
This does not mean that it’s a bunch of academic works, however. Far from it. There seems to be a real drive to rediscover and start a afresh with the business of making things. In painting especially, there is a lot of drawing that is not so much drawing of things as drawing for its own sake, students discovering for themselves the excitement of following a pencil where it can lead, in Paul Klee’s phrase, “taking a line for a walk”.
It is back to basics, almost. Annie Tate, for instance, who makes abstract but organic compositions, describes how “line and mark are used to investigate the natural world”. Polly Mills makes beautiful, abstract shapes from innumerable tiny marks that look overall like the patterns of iridescence on water although working with just a pencil, they are strictly black-and-white.
Laura Mortimer, who creates intricate overall patterns of grey, sums it up when she describes the minute shapes she makes and repeats over and over as “not quite a square, a circle or an oval, but just a shape and a squiggle”. Alexa Thomson’s method is similar as she builds up big images from small marks. She does have subject matter, however. The forms she creates are apparently microscopic images of things like cell structures and seed pods.
Justine King goes further and makes intricate drawings which although black-and-white she describes as an exploration of the nature of painting. Hannah Mott really does take painting itself as her subject. She starts with a freely painted mark, with all the casualness that comes from the viscous quality of paint, then by ingenious digital manipulation she turns it into something ordered and symmetrical.
Alison van Loo creates a similar intricate overall surface by using old-fashioned stone lithography and allowing the stone to make its own patterns with very satisfying results. Katie Rowland uses woodblock-printing with similar ingenuity to create big, delicate prints that are some of the most beautiful works in the whole show. In in her statement accompanying them she describes what she does as “traces of the imagination crafted into objects”. You might have thought that such a sense of the made object as an imaginative vehicle was a thing of the past. How encouraging to see that for these students at least it is not.
It is not all quite so abstract. Eleanor Cottrill has spent days drawing the Gregg’s potato processing plant, faithfully recording the people and the processes in a kind of Ruskinian hymn to the dignity of labour. Imogen Lloyd’s show is a wall hung with random images, only united apparently by her detestation of Bernie Ecclestone and his views on women might, but some of the individual drawings are quite brilliant.
The same is true of Liam Walker whose show consists of hundreds of tiny but vivid comic drawings, organised on the wall like the letters in a crossword puzzle. (The clue is in a pile of newspapers in the corner open at the crossword page.) There is some good straightforward painting too. Wilby Wyndham’s big figure paintings are well constructed and carried off with the sort of sustained verve that is essential to make such an approach work.
Darren Duddy’s towerblocks, both painted and constructed, are direct and unsentimental. So are Bernadette Kandakar’s abstract paintings which offer a mediation on the likes of Fernand Léger and Paul Klee. Lucinda Cook’s 72 multicoloured disks which, as they spin, become an almost neutral monochrome are on their own, however. So are Rebecca Fraser’s mute libraries of anonymous books.
Painting is by far the largest group, but there is work to commend in sculpture too, although some of it is quite dotty. William Darrell, for instance, has created a sort of travelling showman’s set-up with a sleeping pod and a musical fountain powered by water-filled balloons and he drags it all around the country too. Owen Ramsay’s Occasional Showers is a wind and rain machine that spatters you with rain as you peer in at miniature landscapes. Marta Poprawa also creates miniature landscapes, but you can only see them by gazing through holes in a vast steel structure which subverts our sense of scale. Benjamin Cocker celebrates the sculptural form of Victorian radiators by painting them bright yellow. Lendita Xhemajli has created a world of white by emptying sacks of plaster with a scoop. Plaster is a traditional sculptor’s medium. Exploring its formless state is a bit like the painters’ return to the origins of mark making.
In intermedia, Hazel France has gone one better than Douglas Gordon’s Twenty Four Hour Psycho by breaking a piece of film down into individual, static slides. Renzo Pedreschi has built miniature walls out of tiny clay bricks, certainly pointless, but quite charming.
It is good to see photography as a wholly independent discipline. Among the photographers, James Kirk has made a time-lapse exploration of a Highland landscape as lights move up a hillside. Michael Daniels professes a concern with death in a series of pictures of innocent-looking substances that are harmless in small quantities, but which in greater amounts become toxic. The images of neat little piles seem to represent those toxic quantities.
Degree Show 2012
Edinburgh College of Art
• ECA’s 2012 Degree Show continues until Monday 11 June. See next Thursday’s The Arts magazine for a review of Glasgow School of Art’s 2012 degree show.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east