Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show 2008

Filled with glimpses of the new and exciting practices of young artists on the cusp of bright careers

Feature by Rosamund West | 02 Jun 2008

The first of 2008’s Scottish degree shows presents an expansive and riotous survey of Dundee’s new blood within the labyrinthine confines of Duncan of Jordanstone College. The scale of the show is truly astounding, even when compared to those of the central belt art schools. The Fine Art work alone stretches across multiple levels, corridor after corridor of rooms of multi-disciplinary pieces breaking down the traditional distinctions of painting, sculpture and photography. The Time Based Art department presents more media-heavy works in video, sound and performance combining a conceptual leaning with technical expertise. Add to this the usual variety of design, illustration and architecture departments and you may have some idea of the truly overwhelming scale of this display, filled with glimpses of the new and exciting practices of young artists on the cusp of bright careers.

There is an almost curated feel to the arrangement of the degree show as a whole. Stand-out works on the ground floor’s Cooper Gallery whet the viewer’s appetite for the Fine Art works at least, but unfortunately present a standard largely unmatched on the subsequent floors. Fraser Gray’s urban art-influenced wall and canvas-based paintings are both technically and conceptually impressive, combining a graffiti derived airbrushed style with a more painterly finesse. An over life-sized figure of a man in a tartan jacket stares at the viewer with a hangdog expression. A circle has been incised in the panel in the position where his heart would be, the interior cavity rimmed in rainbow stripes. Through the hole we are offered a restricted glimpse of a vast wall-painting situated behind and downstairs from the initial figure. With the right alignment the virtually conjoined works offer the eerie effect of a man’s face perfectly framed within the boy’s heart. The use of space is sophisticated, the accumulated narrative of glimpses of tropical scenes alluding to Gray’s less than overt interest in the field of colonial studies. Altogether the installation is visually stunning, with a warmth and playfulness concealing a conceptual seriousness.

Kirsty Buchanan’s video-based work similarly deserves special mention. She has created an interesting presentation, a couch and a lamp providing a cosy environ from which the viewer may observe her seven-monitor documentation of a range of couples watching a film of childbirth. The viewer does not see this film, Window, Water, Baby, Moving by artist Stan Brakhage, merely the reactions of those witnessing it. We are thereby placed within an extended chain of voyeurism, an experience of the primal ‘miracle of life’ filtered through a variety of cameras, monitors, and persons to distance us so far from the event itself as to render us laughing aimlessly at the expressions of discomfort and occasionally horror on the filmed witnesses. Buchanan has created a tangled exploration of the gaze and the alienation caused by technology which resonates far beyond the confines of the work itself.

In the Time Based Art department Graeme Plunkett’s teeteeteedieudieu is an entertaining documentation of a domestic canary’s life within its enhanced cage environment. Motion and weight triggered sensors create notes and sound effects as the bird moves around its environs, pleasingly recorded in a video piece while the cage itself occupies an adjoining room. The canary was sadly absent on the night of the opening, presumably for its own peace of mind. In Illustration, Stewart Mair’s work moves beyond the purely figurative, blending text and pared-down image to wittily document the petty resentments, misdemeanours and general soul-crushing drudgery of working for the minimum wage.

The sheer quantity and diversity of the works on display render it impossible to adequately represent all the impressive exhibits from this year’s batch of graduates. There were of course examples of the perennial degree show favourites: the flesh-coloured stitched fabric dolls; the well-executed paintings with shoddily imposed concept to please the examiners; ‘the traditional room of rotting meat’ as one observer was heard to remark. These were however relatively thin on the ground, and largely obscured by the exciting and the innovative. To patronisingly sum up: these kids will go far.