ECA Degree Show 2014: Making Space

Feature by Kate Andrews | 27 May 2014
  • ECA Degree Show 2014

If the thought of exposing your soul to the chin-stroking scrutiny of the public makes you want to curl up and hide then you will appreciate the feat bravely faced by the graduating students at ECA. Distilling years of investigation and graft into a digestible form to be hastily consumed over the nine day mega-exhibition that is the degree show is one thing; but to remain defiantly visible amongst over 500 co-habiting artists and designers evidently necessitates carving out a niche.

The perennial shed, shack or MDF installation (often inhabited by semi-fictitious mad professors, obsessive-collectors or dreamlike entities) seems to provide a bunker-like cocoon in which to shelter a body of work from cross-contamination. Here, the visiting public can tentatively venture into the intimate territory of the artist’s state of mind. Sadly, few use the room-within-a-room device with as much conceptual rigour as Seamus Killick who, in exposing the public/private dichotomy of what artists select to lay bare (and what to self-censor), implies the difficulty of curating a rich, if sometimes unsettling, resource: in his case, a rare and prolific drawing talent nurtured over a lifetime.

Many shared studios display museum-quality curation, bringing out the best in already strong work: Suzie Sutton’s soft, delicate oils examine the film noir-ish architectural spaces which literally underpin the UK’s art establishment. Nearby, daylight filtering through the display space plays real-time tricks with Archibald Stewart‘s false-shadows, adding extra intrigue to his expertly-crafted pieces. The light touch in Gavin Blackhurst’s drawings benefits from this stripped-back presentation where an obsessive domestic hobbyist or collector is implicit without reliance on a contextualising space.

Crossing the threshold into Sculpture means traversing JDA Winslow’s virtual boundary between Scotland and England – the only obvious suggestion that the fate of the nation is playing on any of the current flock’s minds; otherwise the political remains resolutely personal. Richard Phillips-Kerr finds a space to simultaneously hide in a cupboard and live-project his own alabaster coloured flesh onto a full body cast. Meanwhile, with a more formalist investigation into body-politics, Natasha Ferguson makes succinct experiments with skins, surfaces and non-invasive bodily manipulation. With a ‘slap-crack!’ sound her half-inflated exercise ball wobbles as pleasingly as a smacked arse. Paloma Proudfoot, who benefits from an enviable solo space does it full justice. Her sensitive tailoring of bodily ‘containers’ is paired with sculptural line drawn around a challenging architectural interior; asserting her ability to conflate the two seemingly disparate areas of investigation.

Stepping out into the open, Arran Rahimian invokes the giants of Land Art within the confines of the studio. His references come from refreshing viewpoints – including that of the ant, which transforms a diminutive metal bar into Richard Serra-like construction. Hyper-real trompe-l'œil arrangements of photographs on aluminium partnered with their ‘live’ subject is a simple idea rendered extraordinary by a masterful use of media.

In the sprawling corridor where the MFA show is underway highlights include Eóin McCormack’s big, ballsy canvasses and the cloudbusting Jessica Ramm, who casts her magical realism over a 1.4 tonne boulder to skilfully jeuje-up environmental art. Intrepid degree show explorers seeking a space to escape their humdrum lives or to rest their weary bones would be advised to venture into exotica! Here, Suzanne Van der Lingen’s vivid prints lure us towards spliced vintage footage which seems to radiate humid jungle air into the tarpaulin-covered Cinema space. Hers is one of many excellent research projects executed across print and online media allowing impressive bodies of work to extend far beyond the physical reach of the degree shows.

I often wonder if the inspiration for Cornelia Parker‘s seminal piece in which she blew up and reassembled a garden shed and all its contents had occurred after one-too-many a degree show; all too often we see delicate draftsmanship or theatrical magic swallowed-up by hiding in fusty, superfluous huts. In contrast and unconstrained by any particular location, Wack Jigley’s crude, life-size marionettes use the whole Art School as their playground. Jigley might lack the forensic eye of Parker but the charm of his black tie interlopers embodies the spirit of the most gallant art school graduate: the persistent drive for new experience signifies that they are unafraid to break out of the box, even if it means getting caught with their pants down.