GSA Degree Show 2012: The Universe Squeezed Into One Ball

We take our yearly look at the central belt degree shows beginning with the Glasgow School of Art, whose students seem to be considering the darker things in life – and death

Feature by Jac Mantle | 25 Jun 2012

Densely packed with room after room of individual exhibitions, degree shows are hard to take in. The only hope for veterans is to crudely brand it in their minds, making it distinct from past years, lest it meld with all the others they’ve seen. In which case this year’s Glasgow degree show is marked by a rather serious, subdued tone. Perhaps that big pile of rubble out the front that used to be the Design School buildings (demolished as part of GSA’s redevelopment) has had a sobering effect on the students. It's made them think about their own mortality or something.

Sam De Santis meditates on time in photography in his installation of camera-less works. Examining the medium’s material qualities, the works have a compelling sense of the scientific. Light-sensitive dust collected from the surface of fibre-based darkroom paper is at once earthy and cosmic. Pure black balls whose smooth surfaces have begun to crack are revealed to be soil. The white painted walls contain residue collected from the exterior windows of the main Rennie Mackintosh building – no doubt tiny atoms of the demolished Design School.

The demolition site has also inspired Karina Baillie. She has created an approximation of The Vic – the legendary student union bar of which only the façade now remains. The original skanky chequerboard tiles still reek with the sweat of a thousand hipsters, but the odour is a home from home for those who loved the place. In a video projection a girl dances. It’s unclear whether you’re supposed to join her, but a weird feeling of displacement pervades: it just wouldn’t be the same.

Hans Peter Auken Beck has also looked to his surroundings – then re-imagined them. Superimposing Google maps on top of each other, he offered free rickshaw trips to destinations all over the world within the borders of Glasgow, altering people’s perceptions of the known and local. Videos of the trips show him delivering passengers to an unlikely spot down a back lane – apparently Cape Town. Fun, and avoiding the virtuous credentials of some psychogeography, the work has endless possibilities.

Frances Lightbound is also concerned with the urban built environment and our relationship to it. Striking screenprints on polished steel show Modernist tower blocks with bold geometry, reflecting the light. Their aesthetic seems at once highly stylised and incidental, suggesting a negative image or a brass rubbing. Lines of white gloss paint on the gallery floor bring the work into real space, the repetition and symmetry of the prints interesting to compare to that of the equally stylised surroundings of the Art School.

Sumin Bak’s exploration of architecture is more oblique. Her oil paintings are a delicate construction of lines and movement. The forms suggest factories and industry, but the overall effect is light and spacious. Despite being hung on the wall, you question their page orientation – architectural elevations and perspectives seem discernible from every way up.  These are works that quietly demand repeat inspections.

More readily visually comprehensible but no less compelling are Robin Everett’s vast landscape paintings. Bold and impressive, they deserve to be appreciated in a lot more space – and no doubt, time – than the show allows.

Last but not least, Nick Thomas has made an intriguing installation of kinetic sculptures in a blacked-out space. An arrangement of wires and projector lights are suspended, while something is happening intermittently on a screen. You peer at the contraption to try to work out what’s going on – and flash! You’re momentarily blinded and disorientated. Just what’s happening is undisclosed, but it’s us, not the artist, who are groping around blindly.