WE CAN always rely on our art students, who have had four years to think about how to reflect the world around them, to dig deep for their degree shows.
Some do it more effectively than others. Some panic. Some have still to learn the lesson that less is more. But it's always fascinating to watch this collective energy burst its way into the public arena.
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) is always the first of the Scottish art schools to hold its annual degree show. Recently ranked as Scotland’s leading school of art and design in the Complete University Guide and Guardian University Guide tables, its reputation as a hotbed for emerging artists and designers goes before it.
This year, with just a couple of hours between seeing the work of students graduating in the disciplines of Fine Art, Art and Philosophy, Time Based Art and Digital Film, and writing this, my mind is still whirring with images and keywords. There are a few themes which seemed to rise to the surface: monsters, mental health, text, humour, sophisticated presentation, beautifully crude, bold colour, exploring old age/ages past, exploring childhood and ceramics.
As we all know, monsters take many forms. Gareth William Graham's show is called We Do Not Want Your Future. He has created a hyper real blue-skied world of photography inside kitsch gold frames. One semi-naked woman in a short fur gilet is holding a placard which reads: TRY AND GRAB ME BY THE PUSSY. So far, so Trump.
Kirsten Bennie has created a garden of Emoji monsters in The World of Adulthood. Parked on fake grass, we find the likes of the Happiness Monster and The Politics Monster – not to mention The Social Media Monster. Cat Hills' giant monochrome soft-toy tick – part of a series called My Mental Monsters – had me scratching away.
Several students have examined the subject of mental health in depth, including Luke Wilson. His Dossier of Other Projects appears to have deconstructed the process of studying art in a series of small beautifully executed drawings which take the form of extended "notes to self".
Last year, the nation's degree shows overflowed with laser-cut text. This year, the written word is all around but it seems to have become less rigid and more beautifully crude, to match the installation. Stephanie May McGowan's lo-fi approach to making is joyous. I loved her giant crudely painted cardboard spinning wheel, not to mention two pairs of large cardboard scissors leaning nonchalantly against a corner and an over-sized label stating what could be a degree show mantra: "Go Luck Yourself"
Rhona Jack's homespun and homemade loom also falls into the beautifully crude category, as does Rebecca Etchels's Bread Toast Breast Toes installation, featuring a man-size stack of buttered toast. Strange visually pleasing, if not appetising.
DJCAD always throws up fine painters and printmakers and I was drawn to Alice Campbell's large bold canvases, peopled by figures locked in the midst of an unfolding narrative.
Anna Mickevica's muted figures floating in a scraped-back landscape pack a punch as do Mhari Davidson's plain but powerful portraits. Sometimes there is no need to re-invent the wheel in painting.
Ceramicists were out in force too and I especially liked Drew Mackie's contemporary re-invention of the Victorian cemetery urn, glazed with a leafy pattern and swathed in a white cloth. Elise Bell's Grandmothers of Methil installation made me laugh out loud.
Alison Kay's thoughtful installation of "what the fabric of being a woman feels like" put me in mind of an up-cycled doctor's surgery. Behind a customised screen, there's an empty bird-cage facing an image of a woman in a cage. Alison will be staging several performances during the run of the degree show in which she climbs inside this gilded cage. If ever there was a metaphor for a degree show, this is it.
University of Dundee’s Art, Design & Architecture Degree Show 2017
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee from tomorrow until Sunday May 28
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