Art review: Degree Show 2022, Edinburgh College of Art

Perhaps because the pandemic kept them out of their studios for so long, many of the artists graduating from ECA this year seem focused on the physical side of making art, writes Duncan Macmillan

Installation view of work by Amelia Clark
Installation view of work by Amelia Clark

Degree Show 2022, Edinburgh College of Art ****

The pandemic and its lockdowns have been hard for everybody and tragic for too many. Nevertheless, one does have to feel for students who have had their education so badly disrupted at a critical moment in their lives. Art students have been particularly at a disadvantage. When so much of what they do is likely to be physical, Zoom doesn’t really help. One advantage they usually have over others is space – studios to work in – so it was correspondingly much harder for them when the art schools were closed and they had to find places to work where they could.

At Edinburgh College of Art, the principal purpose of the annual degree show is assessment, yet this year things still remained so uncertain that it had to be done differently, and so the current show is an optional extra. Not that they have skimped on it. There is a lot to see. I notice, too, that as in the Glasgow degree show, in Edinburgh there is a swing towards making things. Forced to be more cerebral by circumstance, perhaps in reaction the students turned to the hands-on and physical as soon as they got back into their studios.

Installation view of work by Hannah Grist

You can’t really get more physical than working in metal, and there are quite a few students, not necessarily sculptors either, who have done just that. Millie Player, for instance, has made what you really have to call drawings out of wrought iron, subtle, linear shapes, elegant knots and webs, all very unlikely in such a material. She has also thrown in a piece of wool crochet as some kind of reference perhaps. Maya Mackenzie works in cut steel and has made a tall tower and then hung a steel chandelier from it. She hasn’t softened the edges either and the results here and in her other works, like a glass topped table on a cut steel base, for instance, look uncomfortably sharp.

Tim Milner has used bits of old plumbing or machinery to make a tank, but its military ferocity is softened by an illuminated pool of water in its middle. His abstract figure in welded recycled steel has an echo of some of Paolozzi’s early pieces, and is none the worse for that. Hannah Grist has made imposing sculpture from recycled central heating radiators. She has also created a delightfully humorous image by mounting an old bath tub on bicycle wheels. Fernanda Zei also uses steel but in a gentler mode. She has projected a dancing figure, in negative, light against dark, on a big disk of rusty steel. The effect is rather poetic. Deliberately contrasting materials, perhaps, her projector is housed in a box made of undressed wooden planks.


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Others use wood in a rather similar way. Lucy Mulholland, for instance, has made a wooden cat ladder winding up and out of the high studio window, apparently into empty space. One of the most charming objects in the whole show, however, is her wooden musical wheelbarrow. Push it along and it plays a tune using the musical box principle. Matilda Bird has made plywood chairs that are equally quirky. They are two-sided so you can fold them over and sit facing either way. There may be an unseen catch however. The hinge of one of them is made of a row of rat-traps.

Wool is another natural material that makes an occasional appearance. It is its raw state in Angharad Franziksa’s work: she has draped a mass of wool over a frame. It is undressed straight from the sheep, but with the light shining through it, it is quite beautiful. Esme Binks also uses also wool but crocheted into hanging shapes. However, she then places this alongside freely painted abstract pictures to make an intriguing visual analogy.

Tank-Tank by Tim Milner

Others too have produced non-figurative paintings. Imogen Luczyc-Wyhowska paints big, impressive, abstract expressionist canvases, while Rose Hinton has tall, flat, free-standing paintings in pure, unmodulated colour. They are really beautiful, but apparently derive from an abstruse analysis of atomic structure. Most of the painting is more or less figurative, however. Mhairi Maxwell has recorded all the plant species she has identified along the Water of Leith. That is an interesting project itself, perhaps, but she has then turned some of her findings into four big, vividly coloured paintings.

Isabella Inskip has documented nature if a different way. She has collected flowers and plants and then reproduced them using a 3D printer. The results are surprisingly beautiful. Mhairi Maxwell’s journey down the river has a different echo in Lucas Priest’s School of Pedestrian Culture. He uses the word pedestrian literally. His school consists of a series of organised walks, all documented here.

Among the painters, Olivia-Anna Boden has filled a wall with small, wonderfully inventive paintings and cut-outs that appear to constitute a poetic reflection on the iconography of a young girl’s fictions and fantasies. It seems cheerful enough, but the introspection in the work of some other students seems to be much darker in mood. It is unsurprising perhaps given recent history. Normal student years and the transition from adolescent to adult that they cover are not always easy, but the shadow of the pandemic does seem to hang over some of the work here.


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There is a confessional note, even one of anguish is some of it. Phoebe Logan’s big, graffiti style pictures, for instance, have words like "puke” or “chaos” written among violent imagery. Amelia Morgan has painted a series of pictures which seem to represent death in the countryside with among them a naked, bird-headed female figure holding dead pheasants and actual bones hanging alongside for good measure. Though they are beautifully made, there is sexual violence implicit in Shawn Nayar’s series of cut-outs, which take advantage of the tall studio windows and their views of the Castle to present “views of the casstle” with the emphasis on the “ass”.

Chaotic Bored Meeting for Spiders, by Phoebe Logan

Using a mix of sculpture and projection Fred Connor’s Girl eating a flower is a rather beautiful silhouette of a woman and a flower, all in purple light and altogether more decorous. As you enter the exhibition, though, a dark mood is set by Amelia Clark’s big paintings of faces against black, draped loosely in the stair well. It sets the scene for a diverse and interesting show.

Until 12 June

Moon Shadow by Rose Hinton
Blade Chandelier by Maya Mackenzie