Art review: Degree Show 2022, Glasgow School of Art

The success of this year’s GSA Degree Show is all the more remarkable when you consider that the artists behind it have been forced to work remotely for much of the last two years, writes Duncan Macmillan

Detail from Can You See My Disguise Part II by Ruby Kuye-Kline
Detail from Can You See My Disguise Part II by Ruby Kuye-Kline

Degree Show 2022, Glasgow School of Art ****

With the loss of its glorious Mackintosh building, architecturally-speaking Glasgow School of Art has moved a long way downmarket. In Look Back in Anger, Jimmy Porter recalls bitterly that the university he had briefly attended was “not even red brick, but white tile.” The part of the GSA that was in the Mack is now housed in the Stow College building, a former FE college, and its interior is indeed white tile. Never mind the loss of architectural glory, however, because I was assured that it works very well. Nobody would say it, but maybe even better than the school’s quirky former home. Certainly its plan is straightforward and the degree show, distributed in small studios over five-and-a-bit floors, is easy to see.

From the students’ point of view, however, bringing it all off was not easy. This graduating generation was badly hit by lockdown. It took most of two years out of the four years of their courses. They were working as best they could for some of that time, on the kitchen table, or wherever else they could find space, so it is remarkable that they have managed to put together such a lively show.

Embroidery by Nuala Abramson

Considering that they were working apart for much of the time, it is intriguing too that there seems to be quite a lot of crossover. This is particularly striking in the range of craft skills deployed, but also in the interest in materials. It is as though the students wanted to get away from the cerebral and conceptual to something more tangible. One skill that kept recurring, for instance, was weaving, sewing, or at least dealing with wool, thread and fabric. A striking example is an exquisite set of embroidered objects made by Nuala Abramson. She has embroidered what looks like a Renaissance doublet in scarlet and gold, but actually seems to be a golden rib cage with a bird in negative flying out of it. She has also made a beautiful miniature in needlework of a woman beneath a multicoloured dome. Meadhbh Corrigan has made patchwork quilts while Matilda Glancy has stitched an amazing installation with a patchwork image of the sun and beneath it laid out a cloth with what seems to be a kind of zodiac in needlework and appliqué. There is also a charming rag book.

Enterprisingly, Kitty Glover has got together with a knitting bee called the Clack and Yak group to produce a phantasmagoria of knitted animals, snakes and dinosaurs all tumbling out across the floor. Lily Garget is interested in dyeing fabric and has created some beautiful dyes from natural materials like red cabbage, lichen and onion skins. There are poetic instructions how to make them and some rather lovely cloths printed with the shadow of a mushroom. Sophie Minervini has doubled up her craft skills to combine a nicely embroidered cloth with some beautifully made glazed ceramic pots. Amber Jones’s show, fastidiously put together, is on the theme of seeds and includes some very nice ceramics. Among other things, Rosa Gally has also made ceramic pots which seem to be deliberately wonky. Another object is an elegant watering can made from welded mild steel. The point is in the title of the show: Failing to Serve. I may be wrong, but it seems to be a rather charming anti-Duchamp statement: you can’t simply translate an object from ordinary reality to an “art reality” by putting it in a gallery. It has an existence of its own.

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Emily Wood uses natural materials to represent a “Material Ecology in the Symbiocene.” At the centre is a solid-looking piece of furniture made largely from dried fungi and lichen. She also uses wood and it is another natural material much in evidence here. Its use seems to be a reflection on sustainability and our relationship to the environment, a frequent theme in the show. Sasha Ballon, for instance, is apparently a trained tree surgeon and so uses trees and bits of trees to make sculpture. Gus Rushin displays the natural beauty of wood and woodgrain in sculptures composed of a single piece of timber cut into thin layers. He has also turned the cross-sections of trees into striking prints. One piece of woodwork by Amy Strzoda is on the face of it more conventional. It is a nicely made, wooden, two seat kissing-chair, but it also revolves for added excitement.

Dealing with nature, there is earth, fire and water too. Jospeh Weisberg has an actual pile of earth to illustrate the theme of his photos of piles of earth. Lily Krempel has made an ingenious and large-scale version of the revolving candle chimes on the Christmas table. It requires a full bonfire to work, but fortunately has no fire, only symbolic burnt sticks beneath it. Water is represented by Laurie Carter with a bucket with a hole in it hanging over a bowl. Every time a drip falls it makes an amplified sound while the patterns of disturbance on the surface the water is projected above. Josie Swift has made a sofa out of concrete and seems to have managed to match its texture in make-up. And then there is rubbish. Ciaran Cannon recycles rusting metal into sculptural shapes while Alfie Keenan gives rubbish back its dignity in some rather beautiful plaster reliefs

The Object Lives, by Alfie Keenan

There is of course some painting too, and some of it is very good. Mia Kokkoni paints small, magical landscapes with figures that manage to be at once reminiscent of Chagall and Van Gogh. Rebecca McCormack-Haigh’s work is more austere, a whole installation made out of striking black and white Op Art imagery. There is also a rather beautiful “op” transparency. Scott Jaffrey makes pastels, some abstract, others made into sea-pieces by the addition of a sailing ship. He seems to have worked by reducing pastels to dust and then letting gravity run them across the paper. The results are very beautiful.

Rowan Bazley mixes free abstraction with enigmatic inscriptions in runny paint – “Take the last train home”, for instance, or “No Chemistry, no Future” – but also paints some attractive straightforward abstract pictures. Such hints at the personal find echoes elsewhere too. Kathleen Lodge has made a touching display of things like mugs and other matter-of-fact objects printed with inscriptions like “Call My Mum”, or “Have a Cup of Tea”, and also bottles of beer labelled “Pray to a Higher Power” or “Get My Nails Done” – the texture of life, really. There is of course much more of interest, but as a coda to the whole thing there is an enormous and wonderfully wild charcoal drawing by Ruby Kuye-Kline on the fourth floor.

Until 19 June, with a virtual showcase at https://gsashowcase.net/

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Vital invertebrates at the Hidden Gardens, by Ciaran Cannon
Rubble Mound with installation, by Joseph Weisberg