Edinburgh College: Let's Glow

Feature by Rosamund West | 04 Jul 2014
  • Jay Easton

Running through May and June in venues across Edinburgh, the Let’s Glow festival celebrates the creative students of Edinburgh College (the colleges formerly known as Telford, Jewel & Esk and Stevenson) in disciplines ranging from contemporary art to 3D design.

In Summerhall, the Hi Vis exhibition invades the venue’s basement gallery spaces to present a degree show-style display from a range of specialisms offered by the College. The students on show have all earned an HND-level qualification, providing them with either entry into 2nd or 3rd year of an honours degree at various respected art schools across Britain, or the professional training to head straight into running their own creative businesses. This is the first time so many of the departments have been brought together in Summerhall, which is a move calculated to offer a professional-level showcase to the departing graduates. Moving them out of the Granton campus environment offers a new practical challenge and, crucially, encourages figures from industry to attend and view the work, raising awareness and hopefully resulting in some job offers.

It’s the ambition of these students that’s particularly striking. In 3D Design, Maja Markowiak stands out. A mature student who has worked her way from night classes at the college to this HND and, next, entry to third year at GSA studying interior design, her plans offer a utopian vision of a creative community. Influenced by Le Corbusier, she’s redesigned the Summerhall building into a studio system for graduates offering them a one year contract to support their start-up businesses. It’s a neat idea, providing the nascent designer-entrepreneurs with a supported space to develop and sell, and the customers a single-destination hub to go and procure cutting edge art and design. Someone should probably just build it.

In Textiles, as is traditional, each student presents the original swatches and speculative garments formed from their designs, alongside a biographical note explaining where they’re off to next. It’s a nice touch, communicating a hopeful message of a bright future which is in marked contrast to the doubt-laden atmosphere of the BA degree shows. Claire Dow, off to study Textiles at Edinburgh College of Art, shows off some beautiful abstracted floral print designs. Aiyana Smiley’s fleshy forms and embroidered furry garments (shoes?) suspended within a metal cage structure reveal a flair for the dramatic. Fittingly, she’s off to study Performance Costume at ECA.

The Contemporary Art Practice course has a fine art focus, offering students the environment to experiment, to investigate processes and challenge themselves. Says lecturer Alan Holligan, “We offer a very broad range of contemporary practices so people can specialise in sculpture, 2D practices, 3D practices or mixed practice. Usually they make decisions based on the courses they specifically want to go to, wherever that might be. They’re encouraged to work into areas that we as lecturers don’t necessarily have expertise in. I think in some courses they’re supposed to stay within the knowledge of their lecturer, which is why there’s often an emphasis on painting, an emphasis on sculpture, whereas we’re very clear that the students’ ambition shouldn’t be set by our skillset. They need to outreach that and often we have to keep up with them, which is good for everybody concerned.”

This year’s class first exhibited in the working professional environment that is the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, before transferring a pared-down version of the show to Summerhall. They’re a mixed bunch, exploring a wide variety of disciplines with varying degrees of success. Still at an experimental stage in their practice, this is to be expected. However, some students display a striking level of ambition, notably Jay Easton, who delves into the realms of technology to present work which aims to pose challenging questions. In ESW, two iPhones communicate with one another, displaying the mundane chatter between a couple. With the human protagonists removed from the equation, the relationship is reduced to two screens interacting eerily.

In Summerhall, Easton displays two QR codes, one on a slate (redolent of history, sculpture, early man) and one on a box afixed to the wall. A hasty download of a QR scanner (the technology seems a bit retro already, ironically) reveals the works to link to texts on his blog meditating on the dangers of an unconsidered embrace of technology, and the parallels of Pandora’s box, respectively.

He's now off to GSA to delve further into his research. Like many in the Let's Glow showcase, Easton is at an interesting point in his development. The bright prospects each has before them suggests this will not be the last we hear of them.