University of Leeds

Review by Aymee Smith.

A degree show is a peculiar phenomenon; something all artists must pass through, a rite of passage into the art world; it is also, for most artists, the only time when they will have such control over the exhibiting of their own work. How often outside of the institution does an artist curate the work, choose the space for the exhibition, design the posters, catalogues, flyer’s, press releases, buy the refreshments, organise invigilation, and everything else which has to be done for the preparation of a show which will last for a week, at the most.

The MA show, perhaps, can lay even more demands upon the participators than can a BA show: there are less artists involved, and so less man power; the artists will mostly have some experience of being involved in previous exhibitions and may come with preconceived ideas of what the show should be, and they are perhaps more involved with their work, less likely to compromise their own interests for the benefit of all.

One Eye See, the MA and MFA show from the University of Leeds this year has been no exception to this, with students admitting that it has been the most stressful and trying exhibition experience they have ever had to face. They battled through countless disputes over space, names, publicity; numerous meetings were held, emails sent back and forth, in which nothing was decided, and nothing moved forward.

The problem, it seems to me, is that it is part of the institution. The artists involved are far too aware that the show is not merely an exhibition but an assessment; their work will be assigned a number, and if the show is not up to scratch, so too their marks may not be up to scratch. This, naturally places more pressure upon the artists. How can a person remain objective about the organisation of a space which means pass or fail, merit or distinction? The answer is that it is almost impossible, if not actually impossible.

With One Eye See, they have made a decent attempt at tackling this problem, trying to think about the specific requirements of the work, and whose work should sit next to another’s. Yet I wonder if the work had been organised for the artists by an unbiased curator, whether the same decisions would have been made?

For example the exhibition was held within the university campus, in 5-7 and 4 Lifton Place, two houses, opposite from each other, used by the department as undergraduate studios. Within the curation there now arises the added problem of how to bring the two separate buildings into one unified show, on the opening night this difficulty was somewhat resolved by situating the bar within 4 Lifton, the smaller of the two buildings, which could otherwise easily be ignored, containing, as it does, only three rooms containing any work. But I am not sure how well the gap has been breached outside of the opening; it would be quite easy for someone unfamiliar with the buildings to simply miss the smaller of the two, and the work within its walls.

The curation of the work itself is, as with most exhibitions, hit and miss. Some pieces of work clearly have too much space to sit in, some not enough. There are pieces which you feel clearly should have been exhibited in a more communal environment, so that it would play against the work of others, or simply because it fails to stand alone. The most successful part of the exhibition in terms of curation was upstairs at 5-7 Lifton, in which Sarah Francis and Claire Evans’ work was displayed in a fairly open-plan space. There were several series’ of photographs from Sarah, and a set of drawings and projections by Claire. Although there were differences in the requirements of the two artists, such as the need to black out light for the projections, but the need for light by the other, they managed to arrange the space in such a way that none of the work felt compromised.

Another successful piece was Gaia Rosenberg Colorni’s creation of a small area of parkland with a bench inside a storage container, which was situated round the back of the building. The environment, artificially lit, made you feel as if you were on a stage, or as if a camera was peeking out at you from a tree, providing a great mixture of awkwardness and comfort. The only criticism I would give to this piece was it’s situation at the back of the building and outside; if I had not known about it being there I am not sure how easily I would have found it.

One Eye See as a whole has been a mixed bag with some success, but also some failing points; as with all shows of this kind there were some pieces of greater merit than others, but I felt there was a sufficient amount of variation between the different artists’ work, and between the media used, keeping it feeling fresh, and holding the viewer’s interest. While some of the decisions made about the setting out of the show, and the organisation perhaps could have been handled better, or would have been outside of the degree show framework, the effort that has been put into the organisation of One Eye See seems to me, and I’m sure to the artists as well, to have been worth it.


Aymee Smith is an artist based in Leeds, currently studying an MFA in Fine Art at the University of Leeds. Aymee’s work focuses on the written word and reading, playing about with these using existing texts.

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