Degree Shows 2013: Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow


I love Degree Shows; I visit them every year. There is a special energy about them that is absent from many other art exhibitions as the work is imbued with the vitality of youthful graduates whose Art is often energetic and optimistic. The Glasgow School of Art 2013 Degree show is no exception, where you will find the produce of artists who are emerging into a world where the possibilities are endless. In the stunning Mackintosh building, space is of a premium and with so many talented artists to see, it is an assault on the sense of the best kind.

In the main hall there are a number of premium works on show. Immediately striking are Rachel Jones’ Kandinsky-esqe paintings which both demonstrate the artist’s background in abstraction and incorporate a modern feminist narrative as she strives to ‘subvert the typical image of woman as an object painted to serve male purposes’ as rounded breasts sit in juxtaposition with pointed heads and sharp corners of limbs.

In an upstairs gallery Rachel Levine’s work subverts our expectations of the tactile, as she presents plaster casts of Persian Rugs and I was both amused and perplexed by Oscar Prentice-Middleton’s ‘token apples’ which were geometric, with corners instead of round.  In an alcove, the clean, geometric lines of Qi Qi Loh’s installation address the ‘disparity between functionality and emancipated reality’. Not quite a white elephant in this room, but there is a massive white box which sits in the centre. It could be easily mistaken for a permanent wall, except for a playful opening at the base of one side where the glow of bright green paint is unmistakable. From above you can appreciate the luminosity of Luca George’s piece, and lying on the floor beside it (yes I did!) you can spy a pair of Nike trainers, which have been generously camouflaged with the same green. And from trainers to feet: Yipping Liu’s two cast feet step out away from their corresponding hand sculpture, demonstrating the artist’s desire to achieve: ‘hands mean I can do it. Feet mean I want to do it’.

In the basement, two competing café’s vie for customers attention. While Carrie Gooch’s welcoming P&B café invites customers to order a conversation with their hot drink (you can choose from the menu!), across the hallway ‘environMENTAL’ artist Chris Silver’s Austerity café boasts porridge smeared walls and a ‘portrait’ of George Osborne in drag. The booming owner ‘Les Miserables’ (a satirical take on the pantomime dame) offers a plate of bourbon biscuits, while he assures me that his pal George Osborne was in fact Mary Antoinette in a previous life. Conversations are encouraged here too so I cut to the chase and ask what he thinks of Scottish Independence. ‘Well, Aye!’ is his grinning answer, ‘and if it all goes pear shaped we can always get the English to dae what they dae best and invade us again!’ but on a more serious note he advocates that our democracy will amplified as our votes will be ‘worth more’ in an Independent Scotland.

It would be unfair to suggest that all of the works on show here are bursting with relentless youthful optimism, as there is much thought and space also given to real and pressing social issues, as is found in Amy Hinson and Anna Lennon’s installation ‘Intrusion’ in which the pale wall hangings seemed initially very unobtrusive, but as I read one of the pasted up newspaper cuttings, I was forced to think again. This work reveals the chilling reality of violence and rape subtly, yet firmly.  Catherine Cameron’s works on paper explore the ‘manipulative strategies’ that both men and women are subjected to on a daily basis. The construction of reality is under the lens in In Emily Siân Hart’s film ‘Construction’ where we view the artist viewing herself as she mechanically dresses and undresses into various styles and outfits as she explores ‘our desire to be portrayed in a certain light’.

Sweeping lines are a key feature of Bryony Jarman Pinto’s ‘Centred Canvas’, in which the exposed canvas at the centre of the piece is enclosed by pure, clean white. The effortlessness of this canvas is one which is at ease with a minimal and abstract approach which is seldom achieved by graduates. Pinto demonstrates that the most straightforward works can be the most refreshing.

I was mesmerised by Jo Pye’s investigation of the paradisiacal colour turquoise which incorporates an ecological commentary about the negative impact of humans on the environment. In the same room, the oceanic theme extends to Dawn Destor-Mackinnon’s boat which invites us ‘All aboard’. Also notable were Krysia Kordeki’s zig-zag corridor, where a strangely calming sound and light installation promotes a feeling of warm uncertainty, and Elizabeth Hudson’s film ‘Hourglass’ which features a dripping hourglass filled with goldfish, whose death is only a matter of time. Notwithstanding the presence of dying goldfish on film and suspended boats, the show also pays homage to some of the more traditional aspects of the GSA’s student’s practice. Fiona McAllister’s brooding Scottish landscapes are also a highlight of the show.

For me, the absolute stand-out piece of the show was Earth Artist Nathalie Holbrook’s ‘Sky Nest’ whose suspended branches sweep in such an effortless motion from the ceiling that I literally gasped out loud when I entered the room. Holbrook explains that her work is ‘more than just a literal imitation of the nest, it is a reconstructing of my stories and understanding of what it is to belong’. She explores themes of storytelling and the metaphor of home in her work as the nest is an example of the constructed nature of both narrative and home.

The 2013 Degree Show is bursting with intrigue, energy and enthusiasm at every turn and there is such a wide range of high quality work on display that visitors will be hard pushed not to find something they like. Many of the works on display have been selected for the next RSA ‘New Contemporaries’ exhibition: a highly sought after showcase in Edinburgh. It goes without saying really, but this year’s GSA graduates have much to be proud of.

Amy Shipway
National Collective