DJCAD 2013: Above and Beyond

Our Art Editor took a trip to Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show and found many students already looking ahead to life after art school

Feature by Jac Mantle | 22 May 2013

The pressure for emerging artists to present a professional front has never been such as it is now. If nothing else, new graduates come armed with their own website. But this year’s students from Duncan of Jordanstone College have risen to the challenge, with several staking a name for themselves even while under the art school roof.

Collaborating with your sibling has got to be good for attracting attention, and the enfant terrible personality emitting from the Brownlee Brothers’ installation anticipates a certain notoriety. Featuring a life-sized waxwork of a skewered hog’s head, it speaks of violence, gang culture and a heady defiance. In Anal Dagger, the handles of savage knives are purple resin-cast butt plugs, the stable commodity register of the sex toy industry clashing with a subculture that is far seedier. Despite apparently referencing local politics – hand-sewn banners proclaim ‘Fuck Tayside Police’ – the work is redolent of the 1990s ‘yBas.’

Morgan Cahn has also been looking to life after art school, forging links with the wider Dundee art community. Having transformed an outside shed into a den with a cart of onions ready for chopping, Cahn has invited artists and organisations to join her in performances of Stone Soup, the meal of legend made from little save the kindness of strangers. With assorted aprons that she will perform in, and illustrated in a riotous hand-drawn leaflet, the den evokes a strong, idiosyncratic character at the centre of it all – one who has a canny grasp of art’s social operations. 

Modelled by his fellow students, a large-scale oil portrait is Brendan Collins’ way of reflecting on their shared time at art school. The picture from The Decameron, the 14th-century allegory that inspired him, is a scene of men and women reclining in a ‘garden of enlightenment.’ Despite the Renaissance styling there’s an inherent contemporariness about Collins’ work that we can’t exactly pinpoint. Is a hairstyle too modern, or are the women’s arms too toned for the period? Or is it that the models are known to the artist? Its most beguiling aspect is this enigma.

With a similarly skilled manipulation of materials but a total disregard for technical mastery, Flo Gordon’s delightful installation says art can be light, funny and made of cauliflowers. Composed of many small-scale works involving fluffy toilet seat covers, plasticine fried eggs, dolled-up plaster gateaux and paintings, it has the light touch of a pastry chef but the decadence of an ice cream parlour. Draped pink polythene pays conspicuous homage to Karla Black, but veils no underpinning psychology – rather, everything is on the surface, absurd and laughing. You can see her work in the Showcase.

Ana Hine negotiates a subject that can be socially divisive: gender identity. Photographs show Hine in two gender identities – both, significantly, a performance. One of the videos shows her masturbating. Narrated in the first person, the captions that accompany it avoid didacticism but are not so personal as to exclude the viewer. As a result, the questions posed are genuine and preclude any claim of shock tactics – watching someone having a wank is fairly banal, after all.

Callum Reid is also engaged in exploring the human condition in his striking figurative sculptures. Blood-red resin bubbles like lava over a cast of a male human, abject and libidinous but for the lack of life. A headless torso and half a face suggest how quickly we are all good for nothing but excavation. They may be new graduates, but degradation and depravity are already setting in.