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Glas­gow School of Art’s on­line de­gree show fea­tures work by more than 600 stu­dents, but some have cho­sen not to take part in what can only be a pale im­i­ta­tion of the real thing

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Su­san Mans­field re­views the 2020 Glas­gow School of Art de­gree show, which this year will be tak­ing place ex­clu­sively on­line

Ilike to drink tea from a mug I bought at the de­gree show at Dun­can of Jor­dan­stone Col­lege of Art & De­sign in 2018, made by an artist called Ciara Neufeldt. That mug seems to en­cap­su­late what we’re all miss­ing in de­gree show sea­son in this pan­demic year: the tan­gi­ble con­tact with the work, each artist’s stu­dio bring­ing fresh rev­e­la­tions.

The art schools are do­ing what they can, with most mount­ing on­line show­cases of stu­dents’ work. The GSA Grad­u­ate Show­case – a mam­moth plat­form fea­tur­ing the work of more than 600 stu­dents across fine art and ap­plied arts – will be live for a year and can be added to through­out this time.

But feel­ings are mixed, with sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of stu­dents in fine art dis­ci­plines back­ing the “Pause or Pay” cam­paign, started by art stu­dents in Lon­don, which asked art schools to pause tu­ition un­til it was safe to re­turn to stu­dio prac­tice and cre­ate a phys­i­cal de­gree show af­ter lock­down, or have a pro­por­tion of their fees re­funded. Some un­der­grad­u­ates and all but one on the Master of Fine Art pro­gramme have de­clined to show their work on­line.

The fact is that lock­down will hurt some more than oth­ers, de­pend­ing on their work­ing prac­tice and their need to ac­cess stu­dios and equip­ment. All will suf­fer from the ab­sence of a phys­i­cal de­gree show, and the role this has as a fit­ting cli­max for years of study. Some works suit the dig­i­tal plat­form bet­ter than oth­ers, and some stu­dents have had to be in­ven­tive, us­ing sketches, mock­ups and vir­tual walk-throughs to con­vey what they had been hop­ing to do.

How­ever, what is clear is that the fine art year group are as colour­ful and di­verse as ever. Mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary prac­tice is all the rage, with work rang­ing across (to give one ex­am­ple) “draw­ing, writ­ing, paint­ing, book-mak­ing, sculp­ture, mu­sic and fash­ion.” But, in con­trast, there are other stu­dents who are de­ter­minedly com­mit­ted to paint­ing or print­mak­ing or stitch­ing or ce­ram­ics (the craft vibe is still much in ev­i­dence).

A num­ber are blur­ring the boundaries be­tween ana­logue and dig­i­tal me­dia, questionin­g what is gained or lost when mov­ing from one to the other. In Paint­ing and Print­mak­ing, An­gus Macdon­ald com­bines paint­ing and an­i­ma­tion with en­gag­ing re­sults, mak­ing a film which seems to be be­ing painted as we watch. Jackie Hoef­nagels projects Javascript code struc­tures onto oil paint­ings: three-di­men­sional bod­ies placed in two-di­men­sional land­scapes. Luca Guar­ino plays with di­men­sions too, bring­ing paint­ings into dig­i­tally built video col­lages to cre­ate highly ef­fec­tive se­quences.

Paint­ing – par­tic­u­larly fig­u­ra­tive paint­ing – is in good health, with artists such as An­ton­ina Kul­masova and Emma Clark cre­at­ing ac­com­plished work and Mor­ven Dou­glas, who draws on a wide range of sto­ries and sym­bols, cre­at­ing pic­tures with more than a hint of sur­re­al­ism. Jiyoung Kim’s mul­ti­pan­elled ab­stracts in bold colours sit be­tween paint­ing and sculp­ture, while Rosa Park makes paint­ings and an­i­ma­tions which skil­fully bal­ance dark themes with a chil­dren’s book aes­thetic.

There is some fine fig­u­ra­tive draw­ing by Chris­tian Kerr, while Me­gan Swire works in wa­ter sol­u­ble oil paint to cre­ate sub­tle de­pic­tions of an­thro­po­mor­phic vases and jugs. Max­ine Keenan’s pen­cil draw­ings, pre­sented with­out state­ment or ex­pla­na­tion, are be­guil­ing and un­der­stated.

Print­maker Alis­tair Bam­forth has made a se­ries of un­set­tling works based on sketches made dur­ing Scot­tish Bal­let’s pro­duc­tion of The Cru­cible, draw­ing on his own study of the tran­scripts from the Mccarthy tri­als. Flora Rob­son com­bines print-mak­ing with tree-plant­ing, plant­ing 45 na­tive Scot­tish saplings at GSA’S For­res cam­pus in a “nat­u­ral per­for­mance piece” and mak­ing a se­ries of etch­ings show­ing their pro­jected growth.

If a good many paint­ing stu­dents are paint­ing, a good pro­por­tion of the Sculp­ture and En­vi­ron­men­tal Art co­hort are mak­ing and build­ing, dis­play­ing a sen­si­tiv­ity to ma­te­ri­als, how they work, where they come from, and how they will con­tinue to en­gage with the world once they have been made into art ob­jects.

Sev­eral artists have been re­pur­pos­ing ma­te­ri­als found in skips: Cameron Bridge­man has used found ma­te­ri­als to make ob­jects which look like strange new ma­chines with un­known pur­poses. Dy­lan Es­pos­ito is in­ter­ested in fail­ures of ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign, and uses dis­carded ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate in­trigu­ing new struc­tures. An­nie Gra­ham hunts out dis­carded wood which she then carves.

An­other group has an in­ter­est in clay and ce­ram­ics, most dra­mat­i­cally Saskia Robin­son, who cre­ates life­size clas­si­cal sculp­tures, and draws on both an­cient Greek and Celtic

Some of the most en­gag­ing work is that which has a story to tell

mythol­ogy in rep­re­sent­ing the sea­sons. Cara Kennedy is com­mited to ce­ram­ics, both as a sculp­tural ma­te­rial and in the mak­ing of at­trac­tive pots and vases, and Sarah Val­lance uses slip-cast­ing to make ce­ramic sea shells, echoes of the sea­side town where she grew up.

In Fine Art Pho­tog­ra­phy, the cam­era is still cen­tral ( just about) in a wide range of dis­ci­plines. An­nie Boothroyd has a fine eye for the ab­surd (and some­times ab­surdly beau­ti­ful) in the every­day: a half-melted wheelie bin, the sun dap­pling a block of flats. Joe O’brien makes evoca­tive images, words and film about our need for hu­man con­nec­tion, and one won­ders what im­pact the lock­down ex­pe­ri­ence might have in de­vel­op­ing that work fur­ther. Ni­amh Lynch explores what hap­pens when ma­te­rial from the vir­tual world (from re­la­tion­ship ad­vice on Red­dit to 3-D print mod­els) are brought back into the phys­i­cal one.

In a show com­par­a­tively low on film-mak­ing, Lana Hughes’ This is the

trick stands out, us­ing found footage from Youtube to cre­ate a di­a­logue about man­u­fac­tured beauty ver­sus au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, and Clem Routledge’s slick, tongue-in-cheek doc­u­men­taries both cel­e­brate and ques­tion the world of film and TV in which they op­er­ate.

Some of the most en­gag­ing work across the three dis­ci­plines is that which has a story to tell: Ra­mona Lind­say’s paint­ings in­spired by a fam­ily mem­ber’s move from Italy to Scot­land in the 1960s; Elianor Oud­jedi’s film Mother Al­ge­ria, mix­ing dream-like theatri­cal images with her own in­ves­ti­ga­tions of her fam­ily roots, and Greece-born Maria Soro­niati, ex­plor­ing in a body of black and white pho­to­graphs the “three pil­lars” at the heart of mod­ern Greece – “na­tion, fam­ily, re­li­gion” – and how these have now been co-opted by far right extremist groups.

I could go on. Every­one who browses the on­line show­case will have their own picks, and it will be time well spent. In this year which is par­tic­u­larly tough for art grad­u­ates, let’s sup­port them, even if we can’t yet see their work in per­son. ■

Sun by Maria Soro­niati, main; Kitchen Can­tilever by Dy­lan Es­pos­ito, above left; Un­ravel by Mor­ven Dou­glas, top right

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