by Jack Mottram, a freelance writer based in Glasgow · About · Contact · Feed

Glasgow School of Art Degree Show 2007

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With any degree show, there is always a worry that the hubbub of new artists making last-minute ad­just­ments to their ex­hib­i­tion spaces, or the rush of gal­ler­ists and col­lect­ors rushing to snap up the work of the most promising graduates will cloud the judgement, with the ad­ren­al­ine-soaked at­mo­sphere raising works above their true status.

This year, though, there’s no doubt that the overall standard at the Glasgow School of Art is high, higher than it has been in three, perhaps four, years - a fact reflected by the unusual number of first class degrees awarded.

Some graduate’s do, however, stand out thanks to a touch of show­man­ship. Mark Wylie’s in­stal­l­a­tion features a pressure pad that, when stepped on, prompts a wail of feedback. The blast of sound will certainly get your attention, but closer in­spec­tion reveals that this is more than attention-grabbing bluster: the speaker vibrates a dust-topped platform, forming patterns on the surface, and making for a subtle sculpture defined by the viewer’s actions. Chris­toph­er­ Dixon also relies on surprise. His large, pristine white cube assembled from boxes might be shrugged off as a half-decent chunk of min­im­al­ism, but when seen from above, the cube contains a complex, gentle and delicate tangle of sculp­tur­al forms made from thin wires and poly­s­tyr­ene packing materials.

The crafters of complete en­vir­on­ments have an advantage, too, and the best of them can make you com­p­letely forget the clamour of their colleague’s work, even if only for a moment. In Elizabeth West’s in­stal­l­a­tion, faint bands of yellow light on the wall of a con­struc­ted corridor act as a lure, leading to a cramped room with a thin slot in the wall that affords a view of a mirrored chamber filled with plastic detritus, re­flec­tion upon re­flec­tion creating the illusion of infinite space. Rachel Szmuckler, meanwhile, asks visitors to crawl, like Gulliver in Lilliput, into a claus­tro­phobic L-shaped cubicle, plastered with eye-bending black and white check patterns and populated with female figures dancing through the space.

Quieter artists flourish, too, though. Keep an eye out for the vibrant, movement-filled, re­mark­ably fluent drawings of Florencia Guerberof, and Triona Ryan’s self-portraits which match a keen un­der­stand­ing of colour with subtle nods to old masters.

The artists who truly stand out do so because a glance at their work is enough to tell that they are not merely promising prospects, but fully-fledged, having forged a cohesive, coherent practice of the sort more usually seen in emerging artists than brand-new graduates. Nafeesa Umar’s sculp­tur­al work in paper - a cascade of in­ter­lock­ing geometric forms - and ar­chi­tec­tur­al maquettes of ascending stair­cases provide a subtle coun­ter­point to the more explicit con­sid­er­a­tion of her Muslim faith seen in her video work. Pio Abad is already hotly tipped - his work graces the ex­hib­i­tion posters, as well as earning him a place in the finals of the Mercury Prize Art Com­pet­i­tion - and justly so. Abad’s intricate, finicky drawings both revel in and satirise excess, drawing on Baroque in­flu­ences and the grand pomp of 18th Century fashion, while a sculpture crafted from powdered wigs sits in a room lined with obscenely opulent hand-printed wallpaper. In­ter­est­ingly, the large-scale paintings of Clair McGee feature similar motifs, and she, too, has papered the walls of her ex­hib­i­tion space. McGee, though, is chiefly concerned with ar­chi­tec­tur­al space, and its influence on its in­h­ab­it­ants - tiny figures are dwarfed by the vaulted interiors of dil­ap­id­ated palaces, with hints that each painting in the series can be found through the doors of another. Cheryl Field also stands head and shoulders above her fellow graduates. Her work might briefly be described as ‘kinetic Op-Art’, but that does the com­plex­ity and rigour of her practice a dis­ser­vice. One piece consists of a circle described by vertical lines that seem to shimmer off the wall, an effect doubled by the vibrating cord that stretches from floor to ceiling before it. Another combines con­cen­t­ric circles with a pure white light, this time creating a wholly illusory sense of movement. These are, literally, mes­mer­ising works, made all the more sa­t­is­fy­ing by their admixing of art-his­t­or­ic­al critique and a cool, ex­per­i­ment­al edge. Lastly, Salome C. Oggenfuss’ un­as­su­m­ing, often humorous exhibit slowly reveals itself to be truly worthy of attention. Candid, revealing pho­to­graph­ic portraits are set against whimsical text pieces, and Oggenfuss ac­k­now­ledges the com­mer­ci­al realities of the art world by setting up shop - her luridly-coloured, foul-mouthed slogan t-shirts will doubtless become a familiar sight around town.

There is chaff to go with the wheat, of course - as in previous years, the crop of un­in­spired, insipid por­trait­ure by pho­to­graphy students stands out for all the wrong reasons - but this is without doubt a good year, with genuine flashes of bril­li­ance to be found in the warren of studio spaces and dim corridors of the Mack­in­tosh Building.

This review was first published in The Herald on June 15th, 2007.