Heart­felt re­mem­brances

Art col­lege de­gree show is strong on tal­ent ...and emo­tion, finds Jan Pa­tience

The Herald - Arts - - VIS­UAL ART - Emerg­ing Tal­ent: Univer­sity of Dundee’s Art, De­sign & Ar­chi­tec­ture De­gree Show 2016 ends to­mor­row. Ad­mis­sion is free. www.dundee.ac.uk/dj­cad­de­greeshow2016

AL­MOST 120 years ago, nov­el­ist Joseph Con­rad wrote that “a work that as­pires, how­ever humbly, to the con­di­tion of art” should ap­peal to “our sense of pity and beauty, and pain; to the la­tent feel­ing of fel­low­ship with all cre­ation.” Look­ing around the light-filled nooks and cran­nies of Dun­can of Jor­dan­stone Col­lege of Art and De­sign (DJ­CAD ) in Dundee, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to be af­fected by the pow­er­ful mix of pity, beauty and pain laid bare.

A de­gree show is a height­ened, slightly skew-whiff ver­sion of Con­rad’s de­scrip­tion of what art should be, with bells on. Oc­ca­sion­ally cov­ered with yucky stuff (a pre­req­ui­site of any de­gree show – men­strual blood or rot­ting fruit any­one?)

For the last four years, around 300 stu­dents from DJ­CAD have been work­ing to­wards this mo­ment, which like a spring flower, blooms briefly be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing into the ether.

Art is so­ci­ety’s time-hon­oured way of catch­ing the mo­ment though and be­fore I had even started look­ing at this de­gree show, I was re­minded of this with a jolt.

A green skate­board lies on its side in a cor­ri­dor, sur­rounded by fad­ing blooms and a green note­book. Peo­ple have been asked to write in the note­book about Con­nor Craig, a 23-year-old Art, Phi­los­o­phy, Con­tem­po­rary Prac­tices stu­dent who died in March this year.

In the cat­a­logue to ac­com­pany the show, his course tu­tor, Philip Bra­ham writes: “His life was in full flow at the mo­ment of his pass­ing.” This was not the kind of fi­nal year as­sess­ment ei­ther of the two had in mind.

Af­ter four years of study, a De­gree Show is a Big Deal for any grad­u­at­ing artist. Last year, 15,000 vis­i­tors came to see the work from stu­dents in 11 un­der­grad­u­ate pro­grammes at DJ­CAD.

Ev­ery year, look­ing round de­gree shows, I tell my­self not to look for themes but it’s im­pos­si­ble not to.

For the record, in this show, there seemed to be a lot of text-based work and ex­plo­rations of how the nat­u­ral world sits along­side an in­creas­ingly dig­i­tal planet.

It’s a hu­man re­flex to seek con­nec­tion, but it’s also an artist’s job to seek out the themes which re­flect so­ci­ety at the time of mak­ing work. To this end, some shows are more suc­cess­ful than oth­ers. Two artists who stood out as catch­ing a zeit­geist and giv­ing it a good shake were Emily Ste­wart and Lili Cha­si­oti.

Ste­wart has made a series of minia­ture paint­ings set onto laser cut per­spex mounts the ex­act size of her iPhone 4s, which she used to con­tact each sub­ject and ac­quire their im­age. A sim­ple and ef­fec­tive con­cept, beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted.

Cha­si­oti’s work, The Gar­den of Evo­lu­tion, is based on an in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tion first made at Dundee Botanic Gar­dens, which in­cluded a series of QR codes made out of peb­bles. When scanned they lead to fa­mil­iar­sound­ing dis­em­bod­ied Siri-style ma­nip­u­lated sounds and mes­sages dis­cussing the evo­lu­tion of hu­mankind through tech­nol­ogy. Re­pro­duced in in one of the col­lege’s most beau­ti­ful stu­dio spa­ces, it has been re­formed, us­ing earth for the QR codes in­stead of peb­bles.

Else­where, not far from the homage to Con­nor Craig, in a stu­dio with a stun­ning view over he sil­very Tay and its iconic bridge, Gen­tian Meile­ham has cre­ated an in­stal­la­tion which is a di­rect re­sponse to the death of her brother Koan, who died aged 24 dur­ing her time at univer­sity. At the heart of this thought­ful in­stal­la­tion, two play­ground swings made of bone-white porce­lain and par­ian ce­ramic swing to a me­chan­i­cal beat.

Re­flec­tion was a theme which leaped out from sev­eral de­gree shows, in­clud­ing Jac­quetta Clark’s. The Fine Art stu­dent has used the ex­tremely rare heart con­di­tion from which she suf­fers as a start­ing point for a series of beau­ti­ful pho­to­graphs of the hu­man form. Clark suf­fers from dex­tro­car­dia. Her heart has formed on the right-hand side of her body; a per­fect mir­ror im­age of a reg­u­lar heart. The per­sonal touch in this show adds real depth.

An­other mes­meris­ing work which takes the idea of re­flec­tion and stops view­ers in their tracks is by Ta­mara Richard­son. The cen­tre­piece of her work is a floor-to-ceil­ing re­flec­tive hang­ing blind, which plays tricks with your per­cep­tion. Is it see-through, or is it re­flec­tive? Along­side other in­ter­ven­tions, such as the mir­ror-im­age Left with­out Con­text sign­post, this is a pow­er­ful, beau­ti­fully med­i­ta­tive piece of work.

THOMAS Stephen­son’s rather lovely wooden stove, with its snake-like fun­nel which bur­rows into a white­washed wall, is a sim­ple and in­spired yet sur­real piece of work­man­ship. It also asks deeper ques­tions of so­ci­ety’s reck­less­ness when it comes to dis­pos­ing of our planet’s nat­u­ral as­sets.

I also en­joyed the in­tel­lec­tual yet work­man­like ap­proach of Jamie Watt. In per­haps the dark­est, yet most play­ful show in town, he has cre­ated a makeshift guil­lo­tine with a mir­ror (more re­flec­tion) which al­lows you to see where you might fit into this ex­e­cu­tion scene. Around this, are sev­eral “in­ter­ven­tions”, such as a framed foot­ball shirt with the name Aitken­head above the num­ber “three”.

Based around the story of 20-year-old Ed­in­burgh med­i­cal stu­dent Thomas Aitken­head, the last per­son to be ex­e­cuted for the crime of blas­phemy in 1697, this is a stark trea­tise on free­dom of speech and sec­tar­i­an­ism as rel­e­vant to­day as it was over 400 years ago.

My com­pan­ion on this de­gree show fly-through laughed when I talked about root­ing out the “wall-based work”. Tra­di­tion­ally, DJ­CAD has pro­duced a wheen of fine painters but this year, only a hand­ful have cho­sen to con­cen­trate on pure draw­ing and paint­ing: no­tably Alis­tair Fraser and Gavin Don­ald­son, both worth seek­ing out. Rowan Rosie’s joy­ous neon ab­stracts paint­ings are also very easy-on-the-eye.

Thomas Stephen­son’s wooden stove, and Emily Ste­wart’s series of minia­ture paint­ings set onto per­spex mounts the same size as her iPhone

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