Portfolio: A Question of Degrees
Four artists, themselves graduates of Scotland's art colleges, select work from the 2005 degree shows in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee—for art's sake. Photography by recent graduates
Artist and director of Glasgow's Mary, Mary gallery, Hannah Robinson returns to Glasgow School of Art. 'Degree shows are strange affairs: so much build-up and anticipation, only to find yourself at the Vic bar at the end of the night. The same routine practised to perfection over the last four years! I have never felt they are the best way in which to judge a student's achievements, putting a lot of pressure on at the last minute, when I suspect the decision has been made well in advance. But you can tell a lot from a degree show, with many of the interesting artists in Glasgow such as Henry Coombes, Lotte Gertz and Michael Stumpf, putting on intriguing final-year shows. These are two students from this year's show who I think show promise, having displayed different and confident work.'
A sculpture graduate, born in Glasgow, 1970, Ariki's plan is to stay on and look for a studio. She continues her collaboration with Circus Circus.
Amidst the flurry of proud, over-excited parents and relieved, capricious graduates, there was a calmness that welcomed anyone to Ariki Porteous' installation. Lying on a clean grey floor are what seem the remnants of a forgotten action, the leftovers from a larger, sturdier whole, skilfully and coolly amputated. Made from cast ceramic, the pieces are ordered and placed with a stillness that lends them a kind of stagnation, a feeling of apathy, as if controlled into inaction. This forced composure lends the work both a sadness and a frightening, uncanny fragility.
The sound of tapping comes from the works themselves, each part creating its own message to whomever may be listening. Each alone in its pursuit, the sound gives the work a humanistic stance, granting it an empathy and a questioning unease from the viewer.
A photography graduate, born 1982 in Southend on Sea, Vonna-Michell has enrolled with Frankfurt Academy to do the equivalent of an MFA.
Surrounded by slide cases, projectors and boxes of methodically collected and collated images and texts, Vonna-Michell invites us to understand or at least gain a slight insight into what he has experienced, all he wishes to experience and indeed all he wishes to cast aside. In the form of a presentation, complete with slides and podium, he tells the story of his quest to order his life and all its visual descriptions and accompanying texts.
As he enthusiastically discusses the restraints and rules he has placed upon himself and his daily routine and experience, eyes wander to suitcases full of shredded paper, projections of car bonnets and filed photographs in well-thumbed booklets.
It is as if Vonna-Michell is justifying himself not only to his audience, but to himself. Everything he is surrounded by has a purpose, a meaning that encompasses him and all he does. By reinventing them and their origin, he does the same to himself, and with each new project or visit, a new set is created, that in turn, he attempts to unravel and comprehend. The title of her degree show work is, 'It must so to speak, wax and wane as a whole' and 'Dog, logs and pecker' made of ceramic, natural linoleum, mahoghany, wax, wood and sound equipment.
Craig Barrowman is one half of Stray Dog, a collaborative practice formed in 2003 with David Downie. Together they have curated exhibitions with emerging artists in Aberdeen and work together on sculptures/ installations. Craig chooses two artists from Gray's School of Art degree show 2005.
Having just completed a BA(Hons) Fine Art in sculpture, MacRaild began a residency at Glenfiddich Distillery, Dufftown in July.
In 'Need Not Want Not', a collection of detritus from around his studio has been encased in a one-metre cube of translucent resin and placed on a wooden pallet. Paintbrushes, rags, cans and CDs float in and out of view as you move around it. The hand-truck nearby alludes to its status as a sort of cargo ready to be shipped off at any minute.
With this piece MacRaild cleverly undermines the 'artist factory' feel of most of this year's degree show, choosing to present what seem to be the left-overs of a more conventional sculptural effort in an attempt to explore the role of the artist in relation to the studio-gallery dynamic.
Admittedly, the idea of using discarded materials to form artworks is not new - one is left thinking of a Takahashi installation condensed in a garbage compactor - but this work stands out as one which questions the institution it is housed in while sitting uncomfortably well in it.
The Dunfermline artist graduated with a BA(Hons) Fine Art in painting, and will be travelling to Lyon, France in October to work on stencil street pieces.
The mammoth hand-cut stencils of Qasim Ashfaq are displayed unsprayed. They are highly accomplished, intricate pieces which hint at a future incarnation as yet unlived. Standing before them, one can't help imagining how the spray-painted works would look on the granite walls of some Aberdeen city centre location—a three-metre-high version of Michelangelo's 'Pieta' opposite a life-size rendering of a US fire-truck?
In a continuation of this exploration of the space between the idea and the finished work, Ashfaq also presents a scale model of the art school, illustrating his proposal, which was denied, for a huge stencilled text piece 'MENTAL INSTITUTION' on the modernist steel and glass frontage. This impressive body of work is a fine example of a practice rooted in street-art which manages to thrive in an inventive way in the gallery space.
Jenny Hogarth's film 'Pentland Rising' was screened at the RSA Building, Edinburgh in spring 2005, nearly a year after her eponymous performance work was mounted by the Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, at Hillend, the local ski slope. She selects four young graduates from the 2005 degree show of Edinburgh College of Art, where she herself graduated from in 2000.
From Gorebridge, Orton graduated with an MFA in sculpture. She plans to keep exhibiting in Scotland.
Orton recently started a fanzine, ZUG, which in German means a drag of a fag, a boozy swig or a move in a game. Her sculptures materialise these transciences, designating misspent time to handsome effect using pool-room upholstery and manipulated scale. On an ornamental plinth rests a pub table in the shape of an ashtray containing an even tinier ashtray with minute hands holding miniature cigarettes. This is about a life filling in time from cradle to grave with the length of a cigarette as the unit. On the wall a poster-style painting relates 'God Hates Fags'.
Katie gives a nod of respect to Robert Louis Stevenson with a brass rubbing taken from St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Originally RLS was depicted in the relief with a cigarette in his hand, however he has since had his fag confiscated and switched for a pen. A sculpture below the rubbing mimics this amendment with a plaster model hand holding a biro between middle and index finger out of which a fan of Lambert and Butler playing cards cascades.
From Dumfries, Ross graduated with an MFA in sculpture. He would like to create exhibitions in different environments, not relying on gallery spaces.
The myth of the angst-ridden artist links well to Ross Ingleson's installation in the same room and the two shows complement each other extremely well. The corner of the room is up in flames, immaculately stencil-sprayed. Ross lets us see the offending Molotov cocktail spinning in suspended animation on the smashed screen of an over-sized comedy pub TV.
Rioting sounds come through a broken and chip-boarded-up window - I'm told it's from The Football Factory mixed in with bits from The Prodigy's 'Music for the Jilted Generation'. There is definitely a narrative but more than that is a timely comment on activism/terrorism from a bad boy artist. Bright flames billowing from burnt-out, smashed-up filing cabinets are a slick operation and the smashed windows are too perfectly jaggy to be true. The rogues who hang out in the Orton/Ingleson joint say 'dinnae mess' but there seems to be stylised creativity at the heart of their diluted anarchist intention.
McNaught, graduated with a BA Hons in drawing and painting, is from Dunlop. He would like to exhibit for a year and move to London to study for an MA.
The shoddy workmanship and jauntily installed paintings in this show ooze love and ideology. Alistair's work looks, on first impression, a haphazard pastiche but he is exploring a complex combination of spiralling theories. Seventies psychedelic paintings and crafts in the form of spinning woven placemats hang next to meticulous teenage pencil illustrations of the Moon, an elephant balancing on a tortoise, and a four-dimensional wormhole.
The psychedelic theme is continued with a 'disco is dead' experience in a box.
The cabinet works bizarrely. The viewer is asked to enter the mirror-clad booth and pull a disco ball down; when the ball is released, it rises slowly back into position and from beyond the cupboard a spooky warbling flute noise can be heard. A mirrored room complete with hanging mirror ball could seem like a bit of a degree show clichŽ, but in the context of the overspill of ideas, fascinations and useless facts, a familiar concept becomes at once endearing and imaginatively fertile.
From Edinburgh, Eddie graduated with an MFA in painting and remains with the college to take up post-graduate studies in art, space and nature.
Eddie Simpson could be Alistair's more anal cousin. Simpson has transformed his space into the office of a fetishised architect. You can't help but browse through the annotated artists' books and enter his world, kept like an insect on a pin under felt protectors. In character, he is a visionary architect and self-styled member of the intelligentsia. The book contains grand proposals for transforming space but the impression is of a man in denial. A motivational banner hangs on the wall, reassuring him that 'Genius is in the intention'.
There is possibly too much in this show, but a number of choice items could not be ignored. One is a simple red cut-out circle attached to the wall at an angle and labelled below in a handwritten paint brush script 'Le Soleil'. I would prefer to have seen the work without the support of the Le Corbusier and Patrick Geddes books propping it up, but Simpson has created a complex space with more depth than the chairs in a circle/coffee table templates of 'relational aesthetics'.
Artist Michael Mallett, graduate of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Arts and Design's sculpture department in 1999, selects a group of four from his alma mater. His own work was shown in 'Some Measured Curiosities' at Changing Room, Stirling, 27 May-25 June, 2005. He says, 'The work shown here is a glimpse of the degree show. I'm involved in the making of artefacts that exist both in the language of the real and the imaginary. The work I've chosen made me ask questions and touched me. I'm an artist, not a critic'.
Born 1983 in the New Galloway village of Creetown, Stephenson graduated with a Fine Art degree. She plans to set up studio in Glasgow later this year.
From figuration to this. Down the corridor and then what? Softly, swaying—the giant sphere of dark space, tethered, alive. It's called 'Nowhere'. I can see myself reflected in its chamfered surfaces. I can hear it talk but I don't know what it says.
In the opposite corner, all in black, an illusion, a sphere, an eye, cleansing, spinning as if it will never stop. I lean and experience 'The Sound of a Sphere' and like a child, talk aloud.
'Void' invites you to look—nothingness, emptiness. Is it just me? When you look do you see creation, fecundity, life burning life, a gift from the sun? Or do
you see the void?
We live on a planet in space—do we recognise that fact, my friends, and treasure it? This show is simple, elegant in white and black, crafted and edited well.
A Fine Art graduate, Tolmie was born 1984 in Glasgow. She hopes to travel and work abroad, possibly in Germany.
I met someone in this work. She wants to talk, introduce herself. There's a warmth here, a humbleness, the possibility of meeting within the walls of our homes. There are pools everywhere, the safe, amniotic pools of our watery units.
In a video piece 'Auf dem Watter zu singen' (to sing on the water), the voice of an opera singer echoes into a decaying, algae-soaked, empty swimming pool. A woman walks into the pool and there's applause. There's a tender communication.
In other videos absurd, denied, frozen, repeated acts of communing occur and reaccur. 'OK,' she says, in one, all in red on a white winter day with a lone tree far behind—you can see the surprise in her face. Is it really her?
Originally from County Durham, Reeman was born in 1980 and graduates with a Fine Art degree. She is setting up her own darkroom and embarks on a documentary trip to South America soon.
Eva's space is lightly filled with a curious mixture of benevolent optimism and cold futility, born of a gaze that recognises one of man's dominant vices—the need to classify. Our world, your world, the natural world—we have catalogued the lot and kept it secret, as we look, grasp and eventually destroy everything we hold true.
The huge eyes of a nocturnal monkey—is it cute? Is it happy? Or is it evolution's algebraic solution? From a book on Canada, we see a world opened up where a horse can live out its life in the land of our dreams.
There are collages, hand-coloured photographs and unset prints—the solidity of books, blues, green, black and brown.
Eva's work sucked me in and left me feeling perturbed. Here are living creatures and facsimiles of them. There is a haunting quality about the imagery that Eva has seen and gathered—she highlights its essential difference—it is not us. We are outside nature now—all we want to do is control it.
Born 1983 in Kirkaldy, Cairns returns to Duncan of Jordanstone in the autumn to join the MFA course.
In film 1, 'Untitled', a stranger sings 'Hallelujah' on a two-minute loop - the beauty of it kick-starts everything for me.
'Barrier' makes us wait. Do we stop or do we go? It's big, bad, yellow and it's staying. On an elegant sloping plinth, there is tin and foil, an alpine landscape, a plant forming. Why look? Is there some slow surprise? Is imagination dead? Silent coloured lights search out what? The sublime, a moment in time?
Framed on the wall are texts of knowledge and belief in blue and in English, French and German. What do you know you believe and what do you believe you know? What does the singer believe and what has she known?
In the corner, a structure warns of the future, of a time of rest, of safety. Reflections push out and beyond into the world.