Dundee 2012: A Degree of Promise

Here's what caught our eye during The Skinny's annual tour round the Duncan of Jordanstone degree show up in Dundee

Feature by Andrew Cattanach | 22 May 2012

This year’s Scottish degree show season opens with an impressive performance by students at Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee. With alumni such as Louise Wilson, Luke Fowler and Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz, not to mention a staff body that includes Louise Scullion, Matthew Dalziel and Graham Fagan, the college is a world-class contender, producing some of the best artists in Scotland – with this year’s degree show testament to such a claim.

Hayley Fisher’s large, impactful prints show a nude woman interacting with projections of Gustave Doré’s 19th century illustrations for Dante's Inferno. The addition of a young, contemporary woman to Doré’s interpretation of the Renaissance original reminds us how remote we are from our, pre-modern, mythopoeic past, and like a true Gothicist, Fisher highlights the contemporary absence of allegory and fable – the lack of which makes human existence seem a starkly lonely affair.

It seems someone forgot to turn on the lights at Liam Mclaughlin’s installation. After wandering down a darkly uninviting corridor you reach a blinking monitor suspended from the ceiling. It flickers like a defunct fluorescent tube, showing images of grubby surfaces – perhaps made from stone or concrete.

Around the corner, things get darker before you enter a room with two video projections. One shows an empty corridor – the kind of shot that only ever signifies the absence of people – while the other lets you see a high-rise block of flats through the net curtains of an adjacent block of high-rise flats. The whole thing is shockingly eerie and shows to what extent an artist can exert power over the viewer.

Miriam Mallalieu’s coolly considered sculpture is no less effective for being well lit. Tiers of curved, wooden battens that reach up nearly to the ceiling are host to rows of evenly spaced pins. Skewered on each pin are tiny fragments of paper from magazines, novels, sheet music, beer bottle labels, etc. And despite being in many ways small and delicate, Mallalieu’s sculpture reminds us how pitifully infinitesimal we are in this abundant cosmos of things.

Kirsty McKeown has been producing a visual language all of her own. Using an array of materials on a variety of surfaces, including badges, mannequins and glass, she draws on memories to produce her text works and assemblages. At her best she has a great feel for composition and materials, particularly when working with glass. Less compelling are the quirkier slogans used – 'Cracked wrists/Splintered shins' is far more alluring than 'There are no chinchillas in the Bible', for instance.

A similarly good use of materials is found in the work of Isla Macleod. Utilising substances from the earthier end of the spectrum, such as wood and clay, as well as video projection, she turns to nature to help come to terms with mortality. Without directly addressing death, she evokes a sense of human finitude in comparison to boundless geological processes and the enduring substances that surround us.

Lastly, Matthew Cordon, despite his inexplicable fascination with the myth of Elvis, has made a funny video dedicated to Martin Creed’s Work No. 1059 at the Scotsman Steps in Edinburgh. The film shows a bagpipe player making the most obscene racket by simply blowing out all the air in the pipes, making one big discordant noise, at the top of the staircase-artwork.

And on that tuneless note we come to the end of another Dundee degree show – one full of future Turner Prize nominees? Let's hope next year proves as darkly enjoyably as this one.