University of Huddersfield

Review by Alice Bradshaw

The University of Huddersfield’s BA Fine Art / Contemporary Arts Degree Show White Sky Thinking, housed in the Technology Building of the Queensgate Campus, features 27 new graduates from the former Fine Art BA, now the Contemporary Arts BA.

Noticeably, there is a strong book theme running through the show. Many pieces in the exhibition are book works and the catalogue features images of altered book works by each artist. Gary Popple’s A Brief History of Time is one such altered book in the show. Each single word “time” has been cut out of the book of the same title by Stephen Hawkings and presented on new pages with connective ink drawn lines running between them.

In the next room, Samantha Small’s Heathen features the carcasses of small animals which glisten with varnish like greasy takeaway remains. Presented in wall-mounted display boxes they are suggestive of a museum display which is emphasised by low light levels. However the shrivelled uncased frog pinned in the corner at knee level and the sacking figure slumped in the opposite corner with another carcass disrupts this museum reading and with the title as the linchpin, meat-eating as barbarianism or religion emerge as the central theme.

Puy Soden’s someother reconfigures atypically positioned canvasses into an architectural tent-like structure, collapsing downwards from their frames and amalgamating into one wall of surface which is heavily daubed in white acrylic. Connotative of Angela de la Cruz’s considerately damaged canvases and perhaps of Anish Kapoor’s large scale stretched surfaces, Soden’s approach to painting is quite sculptural through testing the limits of surface.

Jarred Knott presents a series of works focussing on human behaviour through text and instruction. Inspired by the ethically controversial obedience experiments by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s, Knott presents the viewer with This Is A Moral Free Zone; a fair stall with balloons, a range of merchandise such as mugs and t-shirts and free stickers and magnets featuring the title slogan. Knott aims to affect behaviour as an experiment within an art institution framework. Although not exactly lab conditions, his observational approach is a study into social psychology as well as to raise questions for the self-electing participants. Two plinths featuring a large red button and a donation box and are inscribed with the texts “If you push this button, someone where will die” and “If you place a donation in this box, someone somewhere will die” respectively. With aesthetics borrowed from the world of advertising and design, Knott tests ideas of belief, superstition and authority.

White Sky Thinking demonstrates students are equipped with a conceptual framework and visual vocabulary. Wondering what career paths these new graduates are considering in light of current financial and educational crises, lack of jobs in the sector but strong DIY scenes in the region, I manage to speak to one artist about his future plans. He is planning to stay in Leeds and seek exhibition opportunities there as he can’t afford MA course fees. Along with many new graduates now pursuing professional practice and entering into the highly competitive work market, encouraged ideologies of collaborative working will be invaluable. Having had a narrow miss from abhorrently high BA tuition fees and cuts to teaching budgets, these new graduates have promising horizons in a region where DIY activity and collaboration are at the heart of a thriving contemporary art scene.

White Sky Thinking travels to Vyner Street Gallery, London E2, 1st – 7th August 2011.


Alice Bradshaw is an artist and curator based in West Yorkshire. She is founding director of Museum of Contemporary Rubbish, co-founding director of Fundada Artists’ Film Festival, co-curator in residence at Westgate Studios Project Space in Wakefield, co-curator for Holmfirth Arts Festival, co-founding director of the Manchester artist collective Contents May Vary and she also co-directed Temporary Art Space in Halifax in 2009.