Art review: Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design Degree Show

Craig Wright's commitment to his work included going to the extreme of having a gang 'tattoo' incised into his own flesh
Craig Wright's commitment to his work included going to the extreme of having a gang 'tattoo' incised into his own flesh
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ON THE opening night of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design’s 2014 Degree Show, unwitting visitors stepping into Ryan Esson’s mirrored cabinet found themselves surrounded by virtual flames, in a work that Esson had called The Void.

Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design Degree Show

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For students, the pressure of the degree shows must feel like a similar baptism of fire: the sense of relief and celebration tempered by the pressure of exposure and the knowledge that from here on it’s a leap into the unknown.

At this stage in the game what the visitor might hope to see is not brilliance or star quality, but a student who has a clear focus and a consistent project. Something like Emma Fortnum’s exploration of her dairy farming background, a somewhat arresting show which includes a full size milking stall in her studio surrounded by feeding trays and ear tags. You also hope, however, that students can hold their nerve. Fortnum’s striking presentation was somewhat diluted by the addition of visual imagery of cattle and farming. By exploring the look of her subject she blunted the sharp impact of a space that otherwise suggested what it might feel to be a cow.

One difficulty for students is often the mismatch between the labour involved in four years of study and the brief snapshot that their degree show affords. Jay Frazer has got round this the labour intensive way. Her installation consists of some 20,000 clay beads strung in a quasi-mystical circle. The installation might not be that innovative, but the fact that she made very single bead by hand surely impresses.

Often the most impressive shows are the least showy. I was very taken with Katy Christopher’s work, digital spaces created by projecting monochrome fractal shapes on screens installed on the floor. On the surface these looked simply like fancy visual tricks but alongside their undoubted technical accomplishment is a history that goes a back almost a century of optical experiments in art. Add that to their current virtual reality feel and one might have been transported into the matrix itself. I also liked the digital smartness of Abi Dryburgh’s project to render the Prince of Persia computer game in the ancient analogue medium of the Persian Rug.

There’s a clear project too in the work of Craig Wright whose Plotting Table looks likes something from the cabinet war rooms. It maps not foreign fields but the gang colours and gang territory of Dundee itself. Using constructivist style graphics he has imagined what a gang recruitment campaign might look like. And bravely, if his work is an exploration of how far loyalty can go, he has arranged to go the distance himself and had a small but rather brutal gang tattoo cut into his own flesh. If that makes you flinch, do remember these artists are young, brave and probably very tired. It may take another four years for their true colours to emerge.

Seen on 16.05.14

• Until 25 May