Visual art review: Dundee Degree Show 2011

Plenty to intrigue as students seek to engage with the world

Dundee Degree Show 2011

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design ****

DUNDEE opens the degree show season, as ever, in fine form; the labyrinth that is Duncan of Jordanstone seeing almost 300 students across 11 disciplines launch themselves on the world.

There is plenty of interesting work here, some fully realised, some still striving towards that, but this year Dundee lacked a real firecracker of a talent, a daring stand-out in either quality or ambition. The mood was serious, engaged, questioning. And the dominant questions were about how art relates to the world - an actual physical world, with a past and a present, in which real things happen.

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Nowhere is that more clear than in Holly Keasey's work. She is drawn to water, and her exhibition space is several inches deep in it. On her private ocean, an artist's book floats, attached to a raft, which explores the relationship of Dundee to its river, the Tay. In the adjacent room, with its splendid fifth floor views over the Tay, she pulls together (should that be "pools"?) a series of investigations into the city and its industrial past.

Yvonne Billimore's show investigates a different kind of landscape: a wintry, desolate moorland. As well as evocative photographs and prints, she weaves a "blanket" of stones and wire, an improbable but intriguing artefact. Katherine Adamson is concerned with our relationship with animals, from the salmon's leap to the flight of wild geese to the skin of deer, spilling necklaces of rowan berries.

Others seek to interact with the environment more directly. Hannah Imlach has designed a portable, eco-friendly shelter inspired by origami, and parked it in the middle of Rannoch Moor. Ben Reid understands the world by climbing on it - he has already climbed on his degree show paintings, and his centrepiece is a climbing wall featuring sculpted hands and feet for hand- and foot-holds. Claire McDonald's interest is in wood, and her thoughtful prints made using the grains of wood are well worth seeing.

Others are more interested in engaging with the human environment. Danielle Gowie, who has an interest in archiving and recording, counted up the number of deaths in the registered place of her birth in that year, and has made an installation of 320 infants' white dresses, a poignant reminder of the shortness of the distance between birth and death.

In a set of works he calls Absence/Presence, James Mitchell makes a poignant study of family. His focus is the figure of an elderly man (perhaps a grandfather?), and both his photographs and paintings of his subject are worth seeing. Meanwhile, Claire Reid uses objects such as child-sized furniture to create a sense of absence within a household.

Clive Cuthbertson is a photographer whose subjects are people with disabilities whom he has met while doing voluntary work, and he sets out to tackle the notion of why they are not more often represented in art. Holly Yeoman also uses her experiences as a volunteer to ask questions about how the digital revolution includes some and alienates others.

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Karen Simpson collects objects and images, creating collages of moods and memories. Julia Reilly substitutes objects for people in her "portraits" but creates a feeling of nostalgia by painting on backgrounds made to look like old paper.

Neil Nodzak's interest is in the built environment, from finely executed pencil drawings to scale models and multi-sided wooded sculptures. Titus Scott charts a similar progression, from pencil drawings of landscapes to collages and finally into three-dimensional sculptures. Lisadora Mason-Chadburn, with a more abstract aesthetic, moves freely between painting and sculpture and finally adds two mirrors to knit the whole space into a single installation.

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Suzanna Clark is interested in the act of seeing, taking her audience into a space where the lighting is limited and reminding us that darkness is also a crucial component of sight. Louise Pearson, a pianist and composer as well as an artist, set herself the challenge of communicating music in a visual art form, by creating her own graphic score. The resulting works are both musical scores and abstract artworks.

Ailidh MacGregor - who was the highlight of the Time-based Art and Digital Film course display this year - takes a closer look at conversation by putting the words of adults into the mouths of children, with some revealing results.

Katie Reid and Rebecca Jones both explore knitting as a fine-art medium. Rosemary Head is unusual and welcome by choosing to work in ceramics, Kathryn Mackintosh is a fine hyperrealist painter, though so far her talents appears to have been confined to vegetables and fruit. Daniel Cook's photographic prints repay scrutiny, as do Heather Walker's understated landscapes from around Dunoon.

Harvey Dellanzo, meanwhile, isn't making anything. His exhibition space refutes the capitalist principles on which art is bought and sold ("I refuse to furnish the world with more useless objects and commodities") and proposes a period of interventions - digging a hole in the ground, campaigning for a pay equaliser at the University of Dundee - so all full-time workers would earn 25,000. It's the kind of creative trouble-making worthy of a young David Sherry. Whether his protest is a heartfelt farewell to the art world, or a tongue-in-cheek contribution to it, remains to be seen.

• Until 29 May