Art reviews: Glasgow School of Art Degree Show 2023 | Glasgow School of Art MFA Degree Show 2023
Glasgow School of Art Degree Show 2023, Stow Building, Glasgow ****
Glasgow School of Art MFA Degree Show 2023, Florence Street School, Glasgow ****
The art students who graduate this year were caught by the pandemic in the early stages of their training. Those who joined in second year, as many at GSA do, didn’t see a studio for a year.
However, this is no cautious re-emergence. These students have seized every opportunity with both hands, making bold, ambitious and, in some cases, technically demanding work and organising their own exhibitions. Some of the Sculpture and Environmental Art cohort have taken part in some 45 shows already, many of them self-organised, and have curated a small exhibition within the degree show.
Much energy, then, is contained in the close quarters of the Stow Building, where each graduate has a chicken coop’s worth of space in this year’s Degree Show. But the word which keeps recurring is “care”. Whether a result of the pandemic or not, many of these artists have thought deeply about what it means to care for yourself, for your community and for the planet.
Santiago Del Pozo’s oxygen cannister made of wood is a succinct image of much of this. Ted Tinkler talks about “reimagining care”, and works with crafts such as quilting and lace-knitting, hand-making their own wooden tools. Astrid Storgaard’s Kingdom of Caring is a satirical look at capitalism and climate change inspired by fairy tales and Disney marketing, and features some splendid hand-made costumes.
Some of the stand-out work takes particular care with materials, exploring their histories and presenting them thoughtfully. Felicity White works sensitively with sisal rope and seaweed, digging deep into the stories of both. Erin Frater does something similar with weaving and lace-making. Martha Williams takes a careful, restrained approach to her sculptures, some of which have moving parts.
April Lannigan works with leather, though her finished work doesn’t immediately suggest that; she works across casts and prints with a strong visual aesthetic in orange and black. Samantha Jackson critiques bureaucratic systems which work against self-care, painting and drawing on bus tickets, receipts and junk mail, and on a mattress.
Hannah Turner cares about family and community, making a very good film about the closure of diesel engine factory Cummins in the town of Shotts in 1998 which combines archival footage with interviews and family home videos. Molly Isabel Jack illuminates nine ordinary lives in film and text, adding a pair of shoes worn by each person.
Music builds community for Anna Shankie, who asked people around the Stow Building for their favourite karaoke songs, and sings them, inviting visitors to join in, running the gamut from Celine Dion to Boney M. Amielle Borgarve celebrates the role that music plays in their community with found objects and a CD featuring performances by seven musicians.
Several artists are interested in surveillance and CCTV. Alan Bell looks at how signage defines closed spaces, and makes playful “CCTV interventions” with signs of his own. There’s a camera in his degree show, too, so viewers can watch their visit on YouTube. Briony Godivala uses a network of cameras around the Stow Building and several latex hands to invite visitors to create their own stories.
Several students are negotiating the spaces between different cultures. Haneen Hadiy, born in Scotland to Iraqi parents, works out her relationship to her family’s homeland through a study of the date palm. Gabriel Christys mades an impressive large-scale pencil drawing exploring Cypriot culture, and Jiashan Li makes paintings which fuse the traditions of East and West.
Painting is very much back on the agenda this year, as it is at all the Scottish degree shows. Cat Tams’ still lifes are a highlight. She is interested in what paint can do, exploring light and colour through objects (she also makes ceramics). Lucy Olsen paints on a large-scale, evoking atmosphere and hinting at narrative in a Peter Doig-ish way.
Rebekah Clough paints with red wine, a medium which changes and fades as the wine oxidises, and also makes very fine pencil drawings. Both Molly Best and Chloe Calder work in watercolour in small scale. Best’s semi-abstract work is precise and quiet, and she has a fine sense of colour and pattern. Calder makes use of the natural flow of the paint and evokes domestic spaces, the extraordinary within the ordinary.
It’s a strong year for photography too: Turner, Bell and Hadiy are all photography students; Nikoline Hoberg Sonasson has made strong images of glaciers in Iceland which, she observes, could be gone in her lifetime. Luka Windsor makes sumptuous prints reminiscent of Dutch golden age still lifes. Eilidh Bell has made a moving elegy for her grandfather.
The MFA Degree Show is superb this year, taking over the former Florence Street School, and filling the classrooms and central hall. Many of these students clearly have a high degree of technical ability in their chosen fields, and also know how to curate their own work.
The international nature of the MFA cohort means that negotiating the territory between cultures is a common theme. Monya Riachi evokes her homeland, Lebanon, “a place / shaped by water and cut from salt / living in borrowed time…” with an ambitious installation using salt crystals and two video works.
Nanjoo Lee, from South Korea, is concerned with what is lost in translation. She has made a multi-panel painting of her mother, jumbling the panels in a metaphor for the gaps between languages. Fairouz El Tom has grown up between cultures in Sudan, India, Nepal, the USA and Switzerland, and her abstract, multi-layered pictures make use of maps, satellite images and macro photographs to reflect on the fluidity of borders.
Conor Martin O’Dowd is concerned with documenting and archiving queer spaces and experience, while Hayden Judd makes a record of his family’s maritime heritage on a sail which stretches up two storeys. After a family tree of ship’s carpenters and second mates, he finishes with his own name as an “unskilled worker” (though we might disagree).
In fact, this is a show brimming with skill. Painter Naomi Garriock is interested in art education, and has made a series of portraits of faces absorbed in the pleasure of art-making. James Epps’ free-standing sculptures of letters of the alphabet made from printed cardboard look like letters liberated from the page to form their own words and meanings.
Ali Farrelly picks up ordinary objects on websites such as Freecycle and disassembles and reassembles them, adding electrical components to give them a life of their own. Equipped with their own cameras, they also have a point of view, watching the audience and relaying the footage via CCTV.
Gregory Nachmanovitch works in the territory of games design, using these skills to make a film exploring appropriated texts from Donald Rumsfeld to Petrarch, and creating 3-D printed pieces on a gaming table to explore the history of his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Degree Show runs until 11 June; the MFA Degree Show runs until 10 June. Online showcase at www.gsashowcase.net