Dundee Degree Show 2015: Down the Rabbit Hole

This year's Duncan of Jordanstone fine art graduates display a resurgent interest in traditional techniques, twisting their uses to create something refreshingly unique

Feature by Rosamund West | 28 May 2015

The first of 2015’s Scottish degree show crop, Dundee kicks things off with its rabbit warren of an exhibition, the labyrinthine structure of the school adding a hallucinogenic edge to the exploration of this year’s fine art graduate displays. The front door has moved in recent years, changing the orientation of the whole show. Gone is the surety of the Cooper Gallery opener, home of the firsts. The viewer is now left to navigate the building without a compass, and take each student’s display as it comes. It’s an egalitarian policy that removes the possibility of a shortcut for the roving visitor. Each show is displayed equal, and should be considered as such.

Ceramics is enjoying a resurgence at DJCAD. Ten years ago the art schools were all closing the doors of their kilns and waving goodbye to their pottery tutors (presumably to the sound of The Righteous Brothers), but now the material is being reassessed and repurposed as a shiny, technicolour, malleable tool in the sculptor’s arsenal.

Mary Watson has created a witty exploration of humanity’s competitive nature, manufacturing a horde of trophies in candy coloured glazed ceramics. The hotly-contested Prettiest Teeth Award has a stem of actual teeth, and celebrates the gnashers of luminaries from Julia Roberts to Dale Winton. She explores such idiosyncratic awards as Wife Carrying Championships, competitive milk chugging and the World Gurning Championship. These are all real things. The focal point of the display is a throne and ceramic crown, where she holds crowning ceremonies for self-proclaimed prize winners among the audience.

Nearby, Eleanor Paul has also worked in ceramics, but with a looser, more intuitive style. She embraces the duality of the ceramic product, at once cherished and delicate but with a tendency towards kitsch. Her largest piece, Our Lady of Perpetual Consolation draws upon the iconography of the Virgin, but this Mary is flicking the victory Vs and surrounded by some lovely teacups. Nearby, a gold embellished cat lies on its back atop a pillow, tangled in a ball of golden wool. She gives physical form to the sayings of received wisdom – Curiosity Killed the Cat But Satisfaction Brought It Back.

It’s always a highlight to see some proper large scale sculpture in the degree shows. David Evan Mackay has created a wooden Tower of Babel, a buckled pylon accompanied by a throbbing sound piece. He questions the white noise of all the world’s information – will we too break under the unprecedented power overload?

Bobby Sinclair is concerned with print techniques, using the subject matter of anonymised photographs of strangers taken in the street. Here these black and white images are blown up and printed onto aluminium, the sheets bent and mangled like crumpled paper. It’s an ambitious process that delivers freestanding print sculptures of near monumental proportion.

This year’s shameless embrace of the colour bomb comes courtesy of Alexzandra Frances Moncrieff, who has created a space of astonishingly lurid psychedelia, a room painted entirely in undulating colours including similarly decorated mannequins. Allow the siren call of the colour to swallow you whole, she entreats. It’s a mind spinning, eye melting moment of sheer trippy joy.

Opposite this madness, Joletta Thornburn has created life-size collages of photographic nudes and organic drawings. Her representation of human flesh is unflinching, a monochrome realism in counterpoint to the Photoshopped perfection we are confronted with in the new normality. In contrast, her fantastical drawings wrap around the nudes, marine forms and birds' nests clinging close to the human bodies in a desperate embrace.

As always, Dundee offers a worthy start to the degree show year. Leaving, blinking into the daylight, it’s difficult to process the sheer breadth of the school. The class of fine art 2015 present a broad range of diverse practices, and lean more towards a reinvention of traditional practices – ceramics, photography, printmaking – than a use of new media. Curiouser and curiouser.