Visual art review: GSA Degree Show | GSA MFA Degree Show

Scott Rogers` creation titled `Midnight Sun Drinking Buddy` (GSA Degree Show)
Scott Rogers` creation titled `Midnight Sun Drinking Buddy` (GSA Degree Show)
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TWO degree shows in Glasgow share a common theme – a return to a hands-on sense of making things and an exploration of the diverse materials we make them with.

If you’re an annual visitor to Glasgow School of Art for the Degree Show, you’re going to notice a few changes this year. Chiefly that the row of buildings which held last year’s Applied Arts shows have been razed to the ground to make room for the promised new development. Meanwhile, this year’s shows have been despatched to a temporary location at Skypark.

Across the road in the Macintosh Building, everything is much as usual, but some of the students have found ways of addressing the changes in their work. Karina Baillie’s show is a kind of tribute to the Vic Bar, the much-loved student haunt which has been left standing as a shell, awaiting incorporation into the new development. She has been archiving its contribution to the history of live music in Glasgow, and has converted part of her space into a recreation of it’s dingy, beery-smelling dance floor. Hans Petter Yxell has made a plaster cast of the Vic building, a doppelganger to the building itself which is clearly visible through the window beyond. Sam de Santis has collected dust from the demolition site and mixed it with the paint used on the walls of his space.

De Santis’ show is a good example of a concern with materials which runs through much of the undergraduate show. He is a photography student, but he deconstructs his art form into its component parts: photographic papers, light sensitive dust and so on. It seems to be part of an earnest questioning which is happening across many departments: why do we make things? What to we make them with?

It’s a quieter show this year, with fewer obvious stand-outs and comparatively few gimicks. Taken as a whole, the painting is not particularly strong, and neither is photography: too many Wolfgang Tillmans wannabes. Many of those who do paint lack confidence in the medium. Robin Everett is an exception. His landscape painting is bold and ambitious, balanced by more experimental paintings on glass.

Elsewhere, there is a return to a hands-on sense of making things. Hannah Reilly’s cloth figures are beautifully made and powerfully resonant. Karina Maksimiuk’s big red furry monster, gazing into a furry cradle-like hammock, is both sweet and sad. Rosemary Shepley makes strange and exquisite little sculptures out of feathers. A handful of students are incorporating elements of ceramics and glass, and there is small but significant revival in printmaking. It’s encouraging to see students making use of the full range of media available to them, including those which can be dismissed as traditional.

Several students have been investigating the possibilities of waxes and resins. Gail McLintock has a bit of fun with materials, casting soft seats in concrete and knickers in plaster. Stephen Grainger’s work combines objects – anything from a pile of avocados to a roll of steel wool – and traditional crafts, and Mollye Bendell’s use of “used wedding dresses” (one careful owner, presumably) brings a strong emotional resonance to her work. Both Jack Farrell and Scott Brotherton are keenly aware of how small sculptural interventions or arrangements of objects can begin to transform a space.

Even among those working with electronic technologies, there is a retro feel. Thomas Leyland-Collins uses radio technology to create a three-way system through which viewers can talk and listen from different parts of the college through a central controller. At the centre of Annie Crabtree’s show about place and land ownership is a record player, from which sounds the words of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Ours. Crabtree is one of a small but significant number of students engaging with issues from the wider world. This tends to be unusual at art school, perhaps because the process of self-discovery is, by necessity, inward-looking. Clare Reid uses board games to look at the economic situation – “Monopoly” becomes “Mortgaged” – and asks where homeless people find a “free resting place”.

Calum Matheson’s paintings look like romantic views of clouds in the tradition of Constable, but in fact they are abstracted images of terrorist and other atrocities from around the world. Aileen Mcewen’s paintings of grand but empty interiors ask quite questions about wealth and wastefulness and our current obsession with interior design. They are the kind of evocative spaces which Moyna Flannigan’s strange, sad characters might inhabit.

Michael Jelski revisits Edward Steichen’s idealistic 1955 exhibition The Family of Man, testing out how it sits in the contemporary world. Eileen Daily’s films of young people from different backgrounds trying to play along to Shakira on their violins are an elegant juxtaposition of the airbrushed ideal and the most prosaic reality. Ming Chen is one of several Chinese students graduating this year through a new scholarship programme. Chen has interviewed Chinese artists about works they would like to make but can’t, because of the country’s censorship laws, and makes a version of them.

Jack Saunders has built a nine-seater cinema in his space, but no sooner are you comfortable on your bench with your headphones on than the action freezes and a voice drones on about McDonald’s or the iPod or the X-box: an astute look at product placement. Emma Reid’s show looks minimal in the extreme, but in fact her cunningly placed cameras and tiny screens give us cheeky little insights into the most human of behaviours.

Many students combine hand-made and electronic elements in their shows. It can feel like a mish-mash, but at best shows energy and versatility. Jeremy Dowd’s sculptures in concrete show a strong awareness of form as well as a quirky sense of humour, the latter also obvious in his film about a driver driving round and round a roundabout. Hans Peter Auken Beck charts his journeys as a rickshaw puller in Glasgow (choose your fantasy location, from Helsinki to Kabul, but you have to make your own way home), collects recipes for seagull, and attempts to buy a bicycle in China. David Sampethai creates an elaborate fictional world of gods and goddesses in words, pictures and sculpture, fusing comic books and ancient myths.

Meanwhile, the MFA students are wrestling with the semi-derelict premises of the Glue Factory in Maryhill. It’s brighter upper floor and dark, cavernous lower reaches suit some students better than others. There are echoes of what’s going on at the Mackintosh Building: a concern with materials, and working and craft. Josee Ouellette makes sculptures which have a strong sense of materiality and contained drama. Urara Tsuchiya makes an impressively huge Venus flytrap made out of cloth. Scott Rogers’ hand-crafted machine, Midnight Sun Drinking Buddy, meticulous in its chiselled wood, string, wooden spoons and beer bottles, looks like it might be able to spring to life, though its process is entirely circular.

Zoe Williams manages to carve out a corner amongst the dereliction which feels quite luxurious for the presentation of her hypnotic film Drench, while Erik Osberg does something quite clever with technology to create a convincing film of him being pursued through Glasgow by his doppelganger. Claire Moore’s paintings on board, taken from old photographs of Alexei Romanov in uniform, a Polish cavalry charge, the young Mountbattens, looked pre-aged, but that might just be the surroundings.

Aideen Doran’s poetic and engaged film Acute Disaster brings together archive film of Trades Union demonstrations in Scotland for Chilean solidarity, while the voiceover reads from a book on Disaster Management for Libraries. Chun Soo Kim works with computer code, taking a digital photograph of an ordinary bungalow in Lockerbie and inserting the word “bomb” into its code. The disrupted photograph is the result. It’s a clever combination of an artist working with digital technology at its most technical, while keeping an eye on the world beyond the studio.

GSA Degree Show 2012

Glasgow School of Art

Rating: ***

GSA MFA Degree Show 2012

Glasgow Glue Factory

Rating: ****

• Both shows run until 16 June