Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show: Fine Art

Edinburgh College of Art Main Building, Lauriston Place, Edinburgh

Until Sunday


EDINBURGH College of Art’s degree show this year is its usual sprawling, inspiring self, snaking off into hidden corners and indeed buildings that loom before you, just when you think you’ve seen everything. Painting, during studio renovations, is still housed in its temporary home in the North East Studios (formerly Architecture), the compartmentalised spaces spread over many floors making navigation somewhat elusive. It is easy to miss spaces, or take a wrong turn into a broom cupboard. I made strenuous attempts not to do the former, but if you want to know where the cleaning equipment is, just ask.

In the traditional strands of Fine Art, sculpture doesn’t always mean sculpture and painting doesn’t always mean painting. Here is the blurring of boundaries, the crossing of artistic borders. One can change one’s mind too, of course, as one’s work develops and the art school years go by.

There’s much to admire amongst the many. Jess Bentley’s intimate installation (BA Painting), enclosed in a small “room” yet firmly based in the outdoors, revolves around a conversational filmed walk through a wood and a series of self-made “tools” which look partly as if they might have some practical purpose, partly as if they might make music, and wholly as if they might have been found discarded on the forest floor by some previous passer-through.

MAFA student Eilidh Potter’s salt crystal paintings – apparently more resilient than you might think – are part art, part chemistry experiment, formed by leaving sheets of metal in tubs of seawater and letting nature, in the form of evaporation, take its course. Her work is an exploration of elements, the nearby tabletop covered with constituent parts, from samples of sea water to related found objects.

Fellow MAFA student Rebecca Heselton, who works in light has created a rather wonderful tiny revolving set of huts on stilts, a “Floating Village”, lights projecting the moving shadows chaotically on to the wall. It’s magical and a little disturbing, perhaps, although it has a real presence in the room.

MAFA Painter Daisy Silver’s installation is like a museum, ceramic “recreations” of artefacts from ancient cultures, or so it seems. And Alex Weir has painted the walls, floors and seats in his bright and brash culture café, although no one was serving when I came by.

Painting in the more generally accepted definition, and onto canvas at that, BA Painting student Chiara von Puttkamer’s engaging, brightly coloured oils are like large-scale bacterial representations. “Paramecium!” exclaimed a small boy nearby, examining them closely. A little further on, the College of Art’s only BA Combined Studies student, Kirstin Johnston, shows her expressive literary paper cut-outs to atmospheric effect in a wall of books.

Sculpture begins, off the main corridor, with Chloe Milner’s polystyrene “rock” clusters and tied-up t-shirt “washing lines” criss-crossing the space. On a much smaller scale, Lara Hirst’s small golden sculptures, from pound coins of varying vintages to gold-leaf-covered jelly, are minimal and neat.

Giulia Gentili’s (MAFA) work slows time, a gently unwinding clear PVC roll, the process filmed as it slowly piles up on the floor below, a pseudo-geological foil to her resin-cast driftwood sculpture on the floor behind as the sound of earthquakes recorded in Japan, Scotland, Chile and Ecuador rumbles almost imperceptibly around.

Two sculpture students show in the former Fire Engine building next door, acquired by the university last year. If it is sad to see the building without its wonderful Museum of Fire and all the fascinating artefacts, artlessly presented, the two students have made much of this striking and now empty tiled space. Michael Kay Terence’s work is questioning, catholic in style and wryly humorous.

Beth Hadshar’s works, a long line installation of dried flowers and seedheads, wafer-thin, flat as pancakes, arranged in a long line sticking up like a meadow pressed and dried into a theatre set. Hadshar has also constructed a round, unassuming mat of sycamore seeds or the like, threaded together and coiled. There is a sense of tactility, beauty and function in the work, of the fragility of landscape, and yet the work draws you in, even in – perhaps particularly in – such a large space.

Amongst the photographers, Craig Waddell’s striking “queer portraits” of masculine identity stand out. And in Intermedia, a borderless combination of ways and means and disciplines scattered, a little frustratingly, around the building, some interesting work including Ailie Ormston’s deadpan autobiographical musical offerings – although those with children will find themselves (as I was) warned off some very explicit material in a couple of rooms.

These are just a snapshot of the many students graduating this year in Fine Art, not to mention many other disciplines not covered in this column, from the college’s excellent schools of Architecture, Film and Design. There are some students, as ever, who wear their influences a little too heavily on their sleeves, or students still to find their niche, but largely there is much to admire. And if four years in art school might seem like a long time, graduation is not an end, as such, it is a beginning.