Edinburgh Napier Degree Show 2010

Feature by Rachel Bowles | 31 May 2010

As part of Napier’s 2010 Degree Show, Tessa Kerrs’ work, Ethnography – Under The Skin, is a strong photographic series exploring subjectivity, both self-constructed and self-constrained, through the permeable layer of skins and faces, often obscured. A figure wears a mask, holding a life-size doll’s head in the foreground, against a backdrop of print media regurgitation (a wall collage containing pictures of refugees, RSPCA adverts, an iconic photograph of Che Guevara); a man, his skin covered by paint, sits crumpled and despairing by a bench press. Kerrs quotes Nietzsche to frame her work: “It says nothing against the ripeness of a spirit that it has a few worms.” An apt description of the entire exhibition: artists, photographers, designers and would-be architects and auteurs, progressing through their chrysalis stages, trying to hone in on their personal, creative voices and hurriedly cramming four years of blood, sweat and tears into a single degree show.

You are likely, then, to forgive the odd hiccup, when the art doesn’t quite live up to its pitch. This is surprisingly rare however, and the exhibition proves impressively strong this year. Certain themes repeat themselves time and again throughout in interesting permeations, such as the constructions of memory within time and space, most notably Kristina Millac’s Looking For His Stories. The work focuses on her father’s time living in Belgrade, and attempts to reconstruct his retold memories by superimposing archival prints on photographs of their present day locations. Beautifully haunting modern day spaces with nameless, forgotten figures, it’s an endearing meditation on memory, and Susan Sontag’s adage, that photography “discloses everything”. Rowan Lear’s This Is What Creates Adventure juxtaposes nostalgic Kodachrome Transparency slides and an audio loop of a family talking about their memories, with old photographs accompanied by blank descriptions of the figures depicted, devoid of the former’s memories and remembered emotions. Similarly, Suzanne Boak’s Expectations contemplates the fragility of memories through faded photographs and faint drawings.

For the film students, intimate, realist investigations of individuals seems to be the agenda. Yoshi Kametani’s photography and film Plastic Spoon documents the effects of violence, crime and drugs on the residents of Muirhouse, one of the most deprived residential schemes in Edinburgh. Regular Skinny art readers will recall Kametani’s work, particularly proud Mikey, with his prized pigeon perched on his head. The film and the photographs use an intertextual approach to tell the often forgotten, tragic stories of the residents, avoiding condescension. Jonathan David Smyth’s I’m Telling On You also centres on heart-wrenching subject matter, that of the complicated, strained relationships of his adoptive family. Using tight camera framing on his sisters’ faces and an almost Buñuelian insistence to document his parents in their surrounding home, Smith communicates the constraining, frustrating nature of his family’s feud and the seeming inability of his parents to change.

In both design and architecture, the tone is somewhat lighter, and the thematic arc stems from mutations of interactions between private and public space; particularly, Elaine McLuskey’s fishbowl-like ‘social spheres’, which allow individuals in noisy bars or restaurants to have audible, intimate conversations. Having already graced the BBC news desk, McLuskey’s work attempts to provoke a public discussion of hearing impairment through an outlandish investigation of everyday experiences of deafness. Jordana Tahary’s tongue in cheek proposition to rejuvenate a sleepy rural community with a shoe emporium/shooting range, has perhaps a less noble cause but similarly provoked more than a few giggles. The thought of attending a hen party and handling firearms in a ‘safe, private environment’ whilst wearing (hopefully, not literally) killer statement heels is a bizarre but pleasurable one. [Rachel Bowles]