The first thing I hear on entering the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh is music. It takes me to the first floor of the gallery, where there’s a tight group of people watching a contemporary dance performance by the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) collective Sandbox. I’m at the opening of FAIR, an art fair for art students hosted by the ECA MA Contemporary Art Practice course and Talbot Rice. The exhibition also includes work by MA students at Leeds University and St Lucas Visual Arts in Ghent, Belgium.
As I go towards what looks like a booth, I’m fleetingly disturbed by a Sandbox dancer – either I’ve got in the way of a carefully choreographed moment or the artist is deliberately seeking opportunities to touch as much of the audience as possible.
“Sandbox looks at how new software is promoted at game developer fairs,” explains Neil Mulholland, head of ECA’s MA programme and producer of FAIR. “Each dance promotes one of the games that you can play here in the gallery whilst exploring the difficulties of presenting contemporary live art and digital art within a fair itself.”
Mulholland continues: “This is FAIR’s third edition and the second time we have worked with Talbot Rice. Acting as an interim showcase for a selection of our MA students, it is an opportunity for them to rethink an art fair’s basic structure. Models employed by art fairs are rarely touched upon in art education, so this is something art students are not really given the chance to do.”
Back downstairs, works by students at St Lucas Visual Arts in Ghent are decidedly pared back and acutely curated. Smaller pieces, perhaps more reminiscent of an art fair display, introduce each practice in turn with enough visual space in between to beg the question: what else does this artist do?
In the gallery’s open-plan space you happily get booths and begin to feel more at home. You even get to take off your shoes to enter a living room with imaginary nationalist memorabilia. This is The Nation of Ahland – a creation by ECA students to meet a need for ‘a land in which creative people could live together in funness and metaphor.’ Adjacent is the RRP (Recommended Re-defining Price) collective (also ECA), who offer a selection of more commercially presented work and ask you to silently bid your own price.
Elsewhere, Leeds University MA student Melissa Burn introduces a grid structure devised by fellow student Liam McCabe. “A requirement of FAIR was to form a collective and produce a set idea of how to engage with ‘the booth’,” she explains. “Leeds has a small MA course, there’s only six of us, so it was more about working with existing peers. Liam’s work relies on chance to make decisions in the act of making. His work became the structure for our booth: each morning a set if dice is rolled to determine new positions for the rest of the work.”
With a view to engage with riskier terms of value exchange and to imagine newer forms of evaluating art forms, FAIR does the business: it gives students the go-ahead to produce consolidated work. “Studying an MA gives you the chance to pin down aspects of your practice in ways that undergraduate study doesn’t,” adds Burn. “FAIR is a great platform for this. It sets your work within an existing model, promotes engagement with other schools of thought and allows for finished work to be evaluated.”
FAIR runs until 5 May at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh. An accompanying publication with forward by James Clegg, Assistant Curator at Talbot Rice Gallery, can be downloaded here
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