Cardiff School of Art and Design, Cardiff
18 - 24 June 2011
Reviewed by: Tom Bromwell
In the summer of 1966, Cardiff School of Art and Design (or rather, Cardiff College of Art and Design as it was then known) was celebrating the end of its first academic year based at its new Howard Gardens location. The 45 years since have involved and provided a wealthy legacy of both student and faculty talent, many of whom have contributed much to the arts both in Wales, the UK, and internationally. However the optimism that no doubt surrounded those early years has taken a blow in more recent times, as harsh restructuring of the Arts portfolio has seen established and respected courses down sized and liquidated, with the distinct Sculpture specialisation now terminated in this past year, joining the other recent victims that include Media Arts, Performance, and the Theory Matrix course.
With this in mind, and with last year's eclectic show still in the memory (an exhibition that combined an operating forge in the central courtyard, elaborate concepts finding form in soil, and an account of the pressures of contemporary life upon an urban gorilla - not a typo), one was curious to see how this years graduates would respond.
Thankfully, the same diversity and strength was apparent with this collection, taking in highly original gel-suspended paint injections (courtesy of Arron Kuiper) to sensitive paint drips (Jesse Holcroft) via giant skeletal Chicken legs (Gallus Gallus by Aaron Morgan). Students and arts political conscience was voiced in a clear objection to the institute's Arts cuts, with a brutally direct (and perhaps a little audacious) 3m tall manifesto drawing much attention, and reminding us of the sad situation many British cultural establishments now face.
That is not to say all the artists were attempting political influence. The delicate prints of traditional nautical subjects by Ffion Trefor have a haunting, ethereal quality, with the mixture of wispy swirls, clever use of depth, and oxidised colours bringing to mind the fatal voyages of unfortunate Seamen.
Elsewhere, Niamh Conelly's Bespoke Rules recalled Duchamp's Three Standard Stoppages (although perhaps too closely for this reviewer), aptly reinterpreting and updating the concept of arbitrary measures for a culture of instant gratification and internet memes, whilst a flawed gem was found in Eryl Prys Jones' Capel Garmon, a crudely produced and obscure documentary. Focusing on juxtaposition and change in rural Welsh communities, the contrasts and collisions broke the forth wall with conceptual flair, as it was presented with delightfully (in)appropriate popcorn, like a modern Cineplex. At first appearing to be a somewhat clunky and poorly edited, Jones' film actually removes the comfortable sheen of television to tell the touching account of an isolated town in forlorn circumstances, as it struggles to keep in touch with both its identity and the progress and change of modernity. Drops of water into a pool, a potentially crass motif in less capable hands, become symbols of assimilation, and what transpires is a rich collection of visual and circumstantial metaphors that clearly has the mark of the artist's affections.
Once again CSAD surprises and leaves an enriching and lasting impression, sadly one that doesn't appear to register with all its decision makers. The diversity and atmosphere throughout revelled in the opportunity presented both by its location, and its academic staff, whom have fostered a group of artists that show great awareness and potential. It would seem that here there is an unwritten rule, and one that continues to serve it well - here there is no 'house style'.
Tom Bromwell is an artist and writer living and working in South Wales
Cardiff School of Art and Design
Faculty of Education & Sport, Cyncoed Campus, Cyncoed Road, CARDIFF CF23 6XD
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