By Jan Patience

At this time of year, a small but doughty band of art critics can usually be found weaving their way around our art schools' annual degree shows, having slipped in before the glitzy opening nights. Speaking personally, I am the wee woman with dozens of business cards spilling out of every pocket and bag; my face etched with the stricken look of someone maxed out on visual overload, exasperation and exhilaration in equal measure.

This year, things are different. This year, we have online virtual alternatives to almost everything under the sun. Art school degree shows are no different.

In most art schools, physical degree shows are being swapped for online versions. It's a bitter pill for graduating students and staff to swallow, but art education, like every walk of life, has had to revaluate, reassess and rustle up make-do-and-mend solutions.

No one would claim an online platform is the perfect way to view graduating art students' work, but good on the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) for being first out of the starting blocks. Its Graduate Showcase is the art school equivalent of the NHS turning whole hospitals around in days when normally it would take years of planning.

This sprawling platform features work by over 600 students, including the School of Fine Art, which is reviewed here. It will remain in the ether until the end of 2021, providing students with a global presence and a reach wider than the customary week-long physical show. Work is for sale – with prices veering from the quietly realistic to the ridiculous.

GSA has not had its troubles to seek. It suffered two fires at its showpiece Mackintosh Building in 2014 and in 2018. Last year, its School of Fine Art – including its prestigious Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programme – finally moved into the old Stow College building in Garnethill to the relief of all concerned.

The announcement in March that GSA had introduced virtual learning for art students was met with dismay by many. Some students claimed it was impossible for them to make work outside a studio setting. A Pause or Pay campaign followed, with many demanding a refund of the entire course fees (up to £20,000 per annum) or deferral until a physical degree show could take place.

The online showcase is peppered with statements in support of Pause or Pay. Or – in the case of all but two of the artists on the MFA programme – stating: "Under the current conditions, I refuse to showcase either finished pieces or work in progress as I have not had access to my studio or facilities."

At the time of lockdown, many were still in the midst of making work. Some had completed work; many hadn't. A goodly few reacted by viewing lockdown as a creative opportunity while others were, to use a good Scots word, scunnered.

One student, Ben Hall, was in the former camp. He had already been working on a simulated virtual tour of some 135 fine art students' degree shows which would have been seen in the old Stow College building. The idea originally stemmed from the fact his disabled gran would not be able to attend in person.

Hall's DS2020 Simulator was created in jig time with support from fellow students and friends. It's not part of his degree show submission but I urge you to visit to tour the show that never was though. Hall is clearly a resilient creative to watch as his own Showcase submission reveals.

Jay Darlington, credited as one of the 3d modellers on Hall's Simulator is another talent in this area, borrowing heavily on the aesthetic of video game culture and turning it into fine art.

Clem Routledge hits the zeitgeist nail on the head with his films, including the prescient An Exhibition You Just Missed and Featurette, a fictional film trailer made with found internet footage and the face and voice of a hired actor. Very clever.

Annie Graham creates wood carvings from wood rescued from skips. She transformed her small one-bedroom flat into a live-in studio, going to bed with wood chips and splinters in the sheets. Her sculptures, particularly a spider-infested head and a foot with an attached chain, both carved during lockdown, are mesmerising.

Sam Harley features in a short upbeat self-shot film. Taking solace from her balcony view; and painting it, as well as her portable barbecue, Harley investigates hanging systems which won't invoke the ire of her landlord. The resulting work is lo-fi and brims with brio.

There are always concepts which rise to the surface of any degree show. My notes – neater than usual because I was desk bound and staring at a laptop – are peppered with underlined words; community, consumerism, collage, isolation, environment, chaos and gender politics.

Collaging the virtual and the actual is a Thing this year. I loved the excerpt from Luca Guarino's film featuring a wee bird plucked from a page and placed in a virtual landscape.

In the consumerism camp, Alex Warner – aka Koolkatwarner – imbues the every day with bold primary colours. His oil pastel and Crayola crayon drawing of Vinny Jones, The Craziest Gang Member #4 presents a memorable mash-up of childhood panini and sticker books.

Like many in lockdown, Joe O'Brien has gone back to nature. His short affecting black and white film, Do You Remember, made last month, consists of stills set against birdsong, taking viewers on a walk through deserted country roads.

Silke Zapp Sermon has also created quietly-watchable films and stills by seeking out outdoor spaces as alternative places to play and explore.

Meanwhile, Marita Pappa has altered essayist Joan Didion's maxim, We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live, to We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Survive. Pappa placed eight white cement blocks, each engraved with one of these words, on the foreshore of Troon beach. It's a moving and beautiful meditation on mourning.

Many come to physical degree shows to buy work and if you are looking to pick up affordable wall-based work, I recommend Alistair Bamforth's work. Bamforth was inspired to create a series of prints and paintings based on sketches made at Scottish Ballet's 2019 production of The Crucible.

The figurative paintings of Antonina Kulmasova also pulse with life. Chloe Duncan's melding of digital and traditional media makes for eery dystopian imagery.

I loved the simplicity of Christian Kerr's paintings. He is not re-inventing any wheels and there are shades of Peter Howson in some of his darker work. His oil pastel work, Chemical Dissociation is a face-on unadorned cracker.

Gabriel Phipps has been looking at what people do in off-guard moments and the result is a joy. My rictus-bound face broke into a grin when I saw his paintings in plasticine, paying homage to past Masters.

One student, Hannah Barker stumbled on a method of painting on stretched mesh by spilling glue on embroidery. Her paintings, harking back to an early childhood in sun-drenched Australia, are a delight.

Flora Robson's simple and unaffected botanical etchings are beautiful. Likewise Maxine Keenan's drawings on sugar paper of distilled domesticity are pared-down and poignant.

Dogs in art always do it for me and Robert McCormack's drawings, made using charcoal cast in the image of a dog's leg, are original and thought-provoking. Joel Davidson also entered the realms of the playfully serious with his Hand-Bag (a bag in the shape of a hand) and a series of Pastry Works inspired by Greggs' finest fare.

Gender politics play out in the work of many graduating artists. Look out for Ratty Nye Davies whose Ratty Byebye character is larger-than-life and well delineated.

Still on this theme, Sojourner Mayer focuses on sex work. Brace yourself, as you will be introduced to the concept of "click to toggle blur". Mayer's final work on her slideshow was produced in lockdown and displayed on a washing line, Stripper Knits was balm to my increasingly blurred tired eyes. Pole dancers on zingy hand knits? I want one.

Finally, a warning… if you're viewing this showcase, beware artists' statements for there be verbal dragons. For years, I have silently raged on reading gibberish at a degree show. This show is no different. There are endless examples of pseudish art-speak on these virtual pages.

My advice for anyone designing an online degree show or viewing one is to keep it simple. Look to the work first and then – if you have a mind – read the statement. Just a simple 100 word bio would suffice with links to the artist's personal online presence.

At the end of the day, it's all about the art. As Rodin once said: "The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live."

In other words, show not tell. And for the record, having not stepped out of the house to bring you this review, my face still has the aforementioned look of a person maxed out on visual overload, exasperation and exhilaration in equal measure.

The Glasgow School of Art Graduate Showcase,