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

Gray's School of Art Degree Show 2007

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At any degree show, the flow of work on show es­t­ab­l­ishes a rhythm of sorts, with the dull thud of the mediocre pun­c­tu­ated by pulses of good stuff, and bad.

This year at Gray’s School of Art, that rhythm is dis­t­inc­tly askew, un­bal­anced and off-kilter. If you begin, as I did, with the painters and print­makers, prepare for that dull thud, and expect your heart rate to drop, your eyes to glaze over and your mind to wander, then brace yourself for the crash-bang cacophony of quality to be found in the Sculpture de­part­ment, and the work of students on the new Pho­to­graph­ic and Elec­tron­ic Media course.

It’s not that the painting and print­mak­ing is all pro­foun­dly poor, or ineptly executed - indeed, on a technical level, the print­makers show a confident mastery of their craft - but there is almost nothing here that grabs the attention. Even those artists that do show promise let them­selves down. Alex Kay has forged an in­nov­at­ive practice, tying together his subject matter and working methods by weath­er­ing his canvases to match the earthy, grubby imagery, a mess of tangled tree roots and objects he has unearthed rather than found. But he shows too much, allowing lesser works to crowd out and overwhelm the best of his paintings. The same goes for the star of the Print­mak­ing course, Jessica Crisp: her quiet, delicate and deftly executed work is inspired by travels across Central Europe, but, perhaps over-com­pen­s­a­t­ing for the un­as­su­m­ing nature of her practice, she bombards the viewer with images, rather than letting more eloquent pieces do the talking. There are, too, painters who haven’t quite found their feet. Gemma Dolbear certainly knows her craft, building up richly textured, almost sculp­tur­al surfaces from a re­stric­ted palette of earthy tones, but only truly shines when she teeters over the brink into ab­strac­tion, allowing her fas­cin­a­tion with abandoned buildings to inform her work rather than dominate it.

While the best of the painting falls at the last hurdle, it is hard to pick out the best of the sculpture, since so much decent work vies for the attention. This is down to the fact that so many of these young artists seem to be having enormous fun, testing their own limits and pushing at the boun­d­ar­ies of sculp­tur­al practice. Kevin M. Jameson has been busy on the streets and in the shopping malls of Aberdeen, staging in­ter­ven­tions that, roughly speaking, aim to puncture our tacit ac­cept­ance of everyday in­just­ices. He has replaced pro­mo­tion­al posters on buses with texts ques­tion­ing their en­vir­on­ment­al impact, and put up signs beside CCTV cameras that read ‘Re­gard­less of your will’. While some of these actions smack of so­pho­mor­ic, solution-free politics, Jameson’s work tran­s­cends its subject matter, with the real meat resting in con­front­a­tion and dis­tur­b­ance of the status quo. Kelly M. Anderson, meanwhile, looks inwards, crafting bulbous polyp-like bubbles out of glass and resin, closely examining her materials of choice and, too, using off-cuts and failed pieces to question the status of her work. Martin Nelson’s work is similarly thought­ful, and thought-provoking, with digital pixels tran­s­formed into simple wooden forms, and blue­prints drawn on the floor growing their own sculp­tures - cool and con­sider­ed, these pieces suggest an unknowing and un­know­able set of data, strug­gling to make itself un­der­stood. Lastly, Nathan Preston is only nominally a sculptor, working with film and animation. He has made an animated version of the shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho, and is engaged in an ongoing project to draw and animate, frame by frame, Buster Keaton’s One Week. These laborious projects are, at heart, about au­thor­ship and in­spir­a­tion, em­phas­ised by the choice of source material already utilised in con­tem­por­ary art - Steve McQueen’s Deadpan restaged a Keaton stunt, and Douglas Gordon slowed down Hitchcock in his 24 Hour Psycho.

Strong stuff from the sculptors, then, but the first gra­du­at­ing class of the new Pho­to­graph­ic and Elec­tron­ic Media course are, arguably, stronger still. Ian Gildea is the best of the bunch, with work that drips with wit and a sa­t­is­fy­ing self-reflexive sheen. He has embedded a tiny video screen in a conker - so tiny it requires a mag­n­i­fy­ing glass to see it - showing a film of a growing tree, and made a glor­i­ously pointless digital touch-screen version of his own sketch­book. The cen­trepie­ce of his exhibit, though, is a jerry-rigged Heath-Robinson con­trap­tion crafted from bike parts, a strobe light and a slide projector. The piece projects a film loop of itself in action, each flash of the strobe slightly out of synch, revealing the film strip as much as the image. Fergus Connor’s work has similar depth, con­s­ist­ing of video pieces that question the nature of the­at­ric­al per­for­m­ance - multiple Hamlets recite ‘to be or not to be’ - and draw on Greek myth, including a vending machine playing the part of Sisyphus.

This is a curious degree show, then, lopsided where most are patchy, but, dull, un­in­spired paintings aside, one that has much to offer.


Also using video is Mark Duguid. Already a recipient of an RSA award, and a Peacock Visual Arts Award, Duguid has taken on the old Hollywood adage ‘never work with animals or children’ by doing the exact opposite. An arranged set of monitors display not-quite-still lives - a twitching insect, impassive horse and a languidly shifting snake - as if Duguid is cutting himself out of the equation as a sculptor, and dis­play­ing potential sources. Another piece features stop-motion animation, and again Duguid takes a step back, using nar­rat­ives gathered at workshops with local school children.

This review was first published in The Herald on June 18th, 2007.