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Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow
11 June 2011 to 18 June 2011
Reviewed by: Jac Mantle
Perusing the offerings of tomorrow’s art stars is always overwhelming. The Skinny makes its annual pilgrimage to the Central Belt degree shows, hoping to emerge with some senses intact
It’s Degree Show time again at Glasgow School of Art. Students showcase the fruits of four years’ hard slog, and we get to see who has cracked under the pressure, abandoning their masterpiece at the last moment to caper about The Mack building with a chicken on their head.
It must be tempting, after being chivvied along from one project to another, to display every work you’ve ever made. But as the poor besieged viewer knows, less is most definitely more. Better to go for one roomy old wardrobe and fit it out with a section of church pew and an audio recording of familial confidences, as Amy Dolan has done. With the chastening reek of zealously polished church wood, her discreet confessional is cathartic after you’ve been party to Euan Ogilvie’s DIY dead mouse slicing contraption. On opening night a small unwholesome crowd amassed in the basement to cheer as each turn of the wheel brought a mouse nearer the blade.
Strange pleasures are similarly afoot in Silja Strøm’s miniature collage-style paintings. Not unwholesome but otherworldly, the scenarios depicted feature anthropomorphic beings and creatures engaged in curious situations. Polar bears and a beach ball-like swirl are recurrent motifs, convincing us of a whole world beyond the page - a nod to Scottish-born artist Charles Avery’s project The Islanders, which charts a fictional universe so extensive it requires an encyclopaedic guide.
Just as Strøm’s works are notable for their compactness and precision, so several photographers stand out for having method among the madness. Mounting photographs of varying sizes and subjects in a scattered arrangement with a nearby sculpture and a TV monitor has become something of a house style for GSA photography.
Going against the grain, Thomas Hatton’s photographs are pleasing for their order. The black and white series exploring the topography of Egypt and Morocco feature dark rock formations and whited-out landscapes, the result of sandstorms. This interesting study of contrast reflects on the medium of photography as well as on the subject matter.
Meanwhile, Simone Kubik has deliberately employed a whiteout effect in her arresting images. In a series of headshots against a white background, faces gaze directly at the camera. Intensity of gaze and the edge of a t-shirt neckline are all we have to characterise the individuals.
Some sculpture is also striking in its simplicity, such as Emily Ilett’s projection onto a plaster sphere suspended at head height. The projected image shows a woman standing on a shoreline wearing on her head the self-same plaster sphere, while an audio recording supplies the sound of the wind. Similarly subtle are Michelle Roberts’ explorations into the material properties of wax and etching ink: slabs of wax taken for supple canvases bend gently against the wall.
In Fabien Marques’ photographs the opulent interiors of a German brothel lay empty, our attention on their richly detailed furnishings rather than the deeds that take place there. Juxtaposed with this are images of the Basilica at Lourdes. The devil being in the details, here it is not the architecture but the crowds of pilgrims who offer a ripe opportunity for a study of human nature.
There are some less-polished works that nevertheless make an impact. Beth Hughes’ office installation is particularly hard to put your finger on. With hand-printed wallpaper patterned with hotels and palm trees, an abandoned Hoover, showers of glitter and a plug-in air freshener, it is carefully considered and yet unconvincing. Who may inhabit it and why remain unknowns, but after the abundance of affirmations, questions and uncertainty are quite refreshing.
This review was previously published in The Skinny on 24 June 2011. For images, please click on the link below to go to The Skinny.
Jac Mantle in based in Glasgow. She writes about contemporary art and culture.
Glasgow School of Art
167 Renfrew Street, Glasgow
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