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Glasgow School of Art degree show battles back

The smell of burned timber hangs heavily in the air around Garnethill, although it's been three weeks since fire ripped through the corridors and studios of Glasgow School of Art's historic Mackintosh building.

There are no fire engines left at the scene, fenced off to pedestrians; just cranes and cherry-pickers trying to clear the charred interior ahead of the building's reconstruction.

News of the fire at GSA's mothership, designed to a window pane by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, spread across the globe within minutes, eliciting a powerful reaction from those who knew the building intimately and those who felt a keen sense of pride in the fact it belonged to Glasgow.

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On the Friday in question, final-year students from GSA's school of fine art, which is based there, were putting final touches to their degree show submissions. Of the 102 students, many lost an entire year's worth of work, while others lost some - but not all.

Had the fire not happened, today the public would have been roaming around the Mack, sampling the occasionally inspired, often crazy and sometimes plain weird delights of these students' shows. In the aftermath, no-one knew if this year's degree show would go on but, given not all the 400-plus students attending GSA were affected, a call-off was not an option.

The degree show reconfiguration sees students of design and architecture - which includes textile design, jewellery and silversmithing, product design and communication design - showing work in the new (and already award-winning) Reid Building, while Master of Fine Art (MFA) post-graduate students are displaying wares in the Glue Factory at Spiers Locks.

The McLellan Galleries, a walk down Renfrew Street from the Mack, is where you will find a different Fine Art degree show. In this space, 102 equal-sized digital prints have been hung without a name or a number attached.

The idea to ask students to select a single image to encapsulate their degree-show work came from Alistair Payne, acting head of GSA's school of fine art. It's an inspired notion, and when you walk into the space at the rear of the McLellan, there is a real sense of togetherness about this show.

A limited-edition catalogue has been produced (available for a donation of £40) and this gives two pages to all 102 artists. On the right hand side, their selected image is reproduced and on the left there is simply a name in capital letters. The prints are for sale at £500 each and many have been already sold.

It's not so easy to spot the stars of tomorrow using this method, but it serves everyone concerned without fear or favour. As a curator or collector, you'd have to see some work before you committed yourself to taking on an artist, but this is a minor gripe.

I was particularly drawn to the work of painting and printmaking's Alex Jensen (before the media pounced on him and his biker-style moustache). He has no image in the catalogue. Just a white space. His print is simply a white print, into which he has gouged a fishing hook. He'll go far.

I spoke to a couple of veteran artists at the press preview who were selecting two prize-winners for an RGI Award, and they had been impressed by additional work they'd seen by Jensen which survived the fire. Jensen and fellow painting and printmaking student Nicola Massie both win £500 and the opportunity to present a shared exhibition at the RGI Kelly Gallery.

I also liked the print presented by photography student Hannah Blackwell. She was based in the beautiful Studio 58, which is now a blackened shell with no roof. Her black and white print shows a ball of masking tape in the window of Studio 58 and represents all the work she did in her fourth year. It is very poignant.

As it's such a human story, it's impossible not to focus on the work of the fine art students, but for many visitors, it will be the first time they've been inside the new Reid Building.

I found textile design student Francesca Stride dotting i's and crossing t's on her display, which consisted of colourful knitted textiles hung on the models she describes as her "cardboard pals". Maybe it was the zingy colours, but there was something refreshing about this young woman's rolling-up-the-sleeves-and-getting-on-with-it approach to her degree show.

Zingy neon-style colour and hypnotic digitally-enhanced videos seem to rise to the surface at all the Scottish degree shows I've seen so far. Textile design's Nicole McKenny has produced in-your-face sculptural designs which are a cross between jewellery and textiles, while communication design's Jasper Fitzgerald has concocted a set of customised fringed hot pink, green, orange and lemon Pagan Dancing costumes. Fitzgerald has a film to accompany his designs, called We Are Your Mythology, which sees his neon frond-like costumes displayed by three anonymous "dancers" inside a Scottish church touched by the hand of Calvin.

At the Glue Factory, 26 MFA students are presenting work over two floors. A stand-out show here is by Jack Cheetham, henceforth known as The Asda Guy. Cheetham's clever installation, Asda Made Us Great, consists of a handful of tiny 3D-printed ceramic models made by Asda (a trial apparently and coming to a store near you soon...) placed on an iPad display unit sourced from eBay. Cheetham's film of his 3D models in an actual store, complete with ambient supermarket sound, beeping and all, is showing on an iPad3. It's creepy and memorable. You can't ask for more at a degree show.

Architecture and Design Degree Show, Reid Building and Bourdon Building, Renfrew Street, Glasgow and Fine Art Exhibition, McLellan Galleries (enter from Renfrew Street), Glasgow; both until June 21. MFA Degree Show, The Glue Factory, 15 Burns Street, Glasgow, until June) 22, www.gsa.ac.uk.

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