ECA Tommy Stuart
ECA Tommy Stuart

ECA Degree Show 2011

Perusing the offerings of tomorrow’s art stars is always overwhelming. We make our annual pilgrimage to the Central Belt degree shows, hoping to emerge with some senses intact
Feature by Rosamund West.
Published 23 June 2011

Over on the East coast at the ECA Fine Art degree show it seems like business as usual, despite all the upheaval the college has reportedly been experiencing in the past year. Undergraduates in Sculpture, Painting and Intermedia present a mixed bag of work that is occasionally heart-stoppingly unique, more often somewhat average, and sometimes laughably derivative; post-grads frequently create exhibitions that are markedly more finessed and considered than the majority of the undergrads; and someone has devoted at least part of their show to latex casts of their pet dog. The only disappointing omission is the traditional room of rotting meat, the annual degree show archetype which symbolises the transitory nature of our human existence. No one has chosen to display this particular work this year, although there are some foetuses in jars, which form another pleasant annual event.

In Sculpture, the stand-out space is the Mural Room, the 1st year workshop transformed into a gigantic white cube gallery for the end of the year show, its high walls and distant glass ceiling giving the exhibited works the scale to expand and breathe. The most prominent piece in the room is a collaborative work by Mike McCallum and Tommy Stuart, a huge steel and wood construction by McCallum complemented by a sound work by Stuart, an occasional industrial thrum emitting from the structure to animate the work, lending an otherwise impassive piece a pulse and prompting a visceral reaction in the viewer.

Next to it sits Stuart’s solo work, a considered and skilled installation, both a document of labour and a finished artwork, with a hollowed-out obelisk of stone accompanied by expanded foam casts of its interior growing in size as the artist chipped away from the first, the size of a melon, to the last, a great boulder. The obelisk has been put back together, concealing the fact that it has been reduced to a hollow shell.

Elsewhere in Sculpture, Peter Simpson prompts a smile with his various artworks: a shadow structure of steel and thread with a brickwork pattern mimicked by the thread in the void; heads made out of brick forms; a lion made out of carved pine bricks. If the link isn’t initially apparent, his personal statement sheds some light: “I hope to have created an engaging and lighthearted showcase that provides a unique perspective on bricks.” A noble aim indeed.

Ailsa Lochhead’s markedly mature installation, subtitled ‘Form and image at play’, displays a high technical skill and attention to detail in its construction. The floor has been stripped to form a geometric shape of exposed timber; orange chipboard steps curve like a fragment of a spiral staircase; a pentagonal chipboard platform has been topped with a painstakingly joined pattern of geometric carpet shapes in a variety of muted tones, a kind of furry marquetry. An umbrella reflector in the corner shines brightly while two TV monitors one atop the other flash between images of flat colour planes and the occasional elusive rubber plant, which confronts the viewer once again in the corridor outside. The installation does what it sets out to do, creating a pleasing interplay of form and image, with a little bit of colour.

In Painting, former Skinny Showcase Kathryn Rodger’s final college show lives up to expectations. Her vast canvases skilfully blend abstract expressionism and figurativism to depict the Bacchanalian release of contemporary boozing. Their compositions are reminiscent of the writhing, conjoined forms of Picasso's Les Demoiselles D’Avignon. Their scale is such the they can only fully be taken in from the opposite balcony of the Sculpture Court.

Postgraduate student Kit Leffler and this month’s Skinny Showcase presents a series of immaculately finished photo lithographs and screenprints exploring themes of man’s relationship to the natural world, from genetic mutations in the series Meat Entrepreneurs to pristine dreams of an imminent apocalypse in the series Mirage. Turn to p44 to see her work.

The Intermedia department seems to be evolving at an impressive rate, leaving far behind embarrassing memories of when it was still called Tapestry and churned out both video art and actual weaving. Artists here are tech-savvy and inclusive, with several creating works that step out of the frame to engage with wider ideas of community, identity, place. Olivia Crocker and Elizabeth Hurst’s collaborative endeavour is particularly immersive. They’ve made a 4-seater dining table from some palettes and crates, with each seat equipped with a headset and a different recording of an Edinburgh restaurateur discussing their business, their cuisine and their cultural identity. The artists set out to create a work that explored the city of Edinburgh, taking as a starting point the notion of multi-culturalism and how it squares with a historical city with a strong national heritage. The result is an engaging and provocative piece, well worth the time it requires to explore.

Sophie Fegan aims to engage with the community and make the world a better place. For this show she’s exhibiting her Alternative Census 2011, asking visitors to fill in a census form that asks the questions we’re actually interested in, ones that will help to build relationships between strangers. What is your favourite place? What is your favourite song? The answers are collated, and redisplayed at a later date. Alongside the mock polling desk sits a windowsill of Diskmen, with playlists defined by previous participants’ answers to the song question.

Back in Painting, Rosamund Garrett, a graduate of the MA Fine Art course, has created an intriguing project that uses historical exploration to pose timely questions of the internet. Virtually Nao documents the artist’s recreation of the route of the Nao Victoria, the first ship to successfully circumnavigate the globe. 12 volunteers around the world used data to mimic the path that originally took from 1519 until 1522 to complete, now digitally circumnavigating the globe in 9.353 seconds. Much of the project exists only in online documentation, which can be perused at http://virtuallynao.wordpress.com

All in all, 2011’s degree show is the usual sensory overload, with an increased standard of curation within the departments (most notably in Intermedia) lending a little guidance to the experience of exploring the show. There's plenty to divert and entertain amidst the chaos, and if you look closely the promising beginnings of a host of art careers are clearly discernable.

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