Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show 2008

Make sure you capitalise on this opportunity to immerse yourself in Edinburgh’s largest creative melting pot

Article by Celia Sontag | 22 Jun 2008

The mark of a strong ECA degree show tends to be measured by the extent to which the students can imprint the studios and spaces of the Lauriston Place building (and more recently Evolution House) with their own individual vision. They must, in a very real sense, go into battle against the very building itself, both its physical structure and the histories which pervade it - providing new perspectives and challenges to the viewer and, hopefully, providing the institution itself with a renewed vitality. That’s the idea anyway, and whilst it would be a lie to say that 2008 is one of ECA’s strongest years, there is more than enough exciting work here to justify the degree show’s hard won reputation as one of the highlights of the visual art calendar.

The Sculpture department has gone from strength to strength in recent times, and this year stands head and shoulders above the other disciplines, both conceptually and in terms of final execution. Whereas numerous other departments have become more sculptural in their approaches - in some instances resulting in a dilution rather than a distillation of ideas - sculpture itself projects a seductive confidence in materiality itself, with numerous students exploring the basic qualities of substances themselves, whilst dynamic and visceral experimentation is everywhere to be seen.

Both Emily Snell and and Christopher Viviani adopt a playfully suggestive approach to objects, the former chopping together scenes of dissection, penetration and outright object fetishism into her sexually-charged video work, whilst Viviani goes so far as to document his attempts to eat his own head (don’t worry, it’s a chocolate cast - although the effect is no less unsettling). At the other end of the spectrum we find Johannes Sailer, whose sculpture court diorama visualises what it is to pass from one reality to another. It possesses a fantastic, childlike quality - for me Sailer’s imaginative confidence and inquisitiveness is one of the highlights of the exhibition. Mention must also go to Cornelius Dupre, whose massive installation on the ground floor transforms our perception of both the space that houses it and the castle beyond.

The Painting department, in comparison, is not as strong this year, and some of the work seems to lack substantiality. Where the students have chosen to concentrate on expression and mark-making, the execution doesn’t quite seem good enough, whilst the two darkened rooms which feature video installation are more successful in terms of atmospherics than ideas. Nevertheless, there is much good work to be found: Nika Kupyrova’s reconfigurations of domestic storage devices are disturbingly evocative and Alice Ladenburg’s shed-based religious retreat (with handily proximate gift shop) is wonderfully realised. The Tapestry students remain as nonconformist as ever: follow the seemingly never-ending trail of red pencils and you’ll happen upon a number of beautiful installations.

Photography, as usual, supplies a solid mix of unusual portraiture and experimentation, with Mike Hunter’s Army Man Project - a technically brilliant exercise that transforms Edinburgh into a miniaturised warzone - delighting everyone that saw it.

Evolution House plays host to some striking Art, Space and Nature work, not to mention the numerous design departments and also the often overlooked illustration show, which contains some imaginatively outstanding work, the best of which comes courtesy of Alice Duke, who marries her inspiration with particularly stunning draughtsmanship.

Animation, Glass, Film and TV and many more departments are located elsewhere on campus and you could happily set aside a whole afternoon and still not see half of what’s on offer. Chances are you’ll not see a show as rich or varied all year, so make sure you capitalise on this opportunity to immerse yourself in Edinburgh’s largest creative melting pot.

Art and Design degree show runs until 24 June. Free. Architecture and Landscape Architecture degree shows run from 21 June to 4 July. Free.