Manchester School of Art Degree Show 2017

Manchester School of Art degree show doesn't mark the end for its final year students, but suggests a long and bright future for many of them in their chosen fields

Feature by Ali Gunn | 14 Jun 2017

This year, Manchester School of Art have titled their degree show You Made It. With branding designed by alumni design duo DR.ME, the title acts as both congratulatory for the students and excellent signposting for prospective visitors; in bright fluorescent yellow and red, it is pretty hard to miss.

Vibrant colours and fluorescent tones are the chosen pallets of Textile in Practice graduate Ibukunoluwa Jesusanmi, whose playful character based illustrations of men and women have been digitally printed and made into bean bags. The characters, either slumped over one another or reclining flat on the floor have hand embroidered expressions of pure bliss. Florence Pinsent, similarly, uses colour, print, pattern and quilting to bring to life everyday scenarios; a bustling street scene and the comforting sight of dinner laid out on a floral tablecloth.

Comfort is the starting point for Three Dimensional Design student Kitty Jones who has produced wearable items for adults that are socially acceptable objects used to soothe worries or anxieties. Magnets and ball bearings disguised in contemporary jewellery allow the wearer to discreetly interact with the jewellery, providing them with a sense of reassurance.

Also from the course are Jahday Ford and Joseph Hillary, who have collaborated using both traditional craft methods and digital processes to produce beautiful glass vessels that are a visualisation of the craftsman’s breath as it travels down the iron blowpipe. Their individual work also deserves a mention. Hillary’s hand-marbled top tripod table combines contemporary living trends with the honesty of hand craftsmanship. And Ford’s angular glassworks in vibrant colours are quite unlike anything else we’ve seen.

This year the curation of the Fashion showcase makes an impact. Garments from the graduates' final collections are hung on metal structures alongside neon strip lights mirroring the stage design for the graduate’s final collection show. Susan Forrest’s colourful sheepskin jacket and Bethan Currie’s use of faux fur and anti-nuclear protest slogans and imagery particularly stand out.

Photography graduate Daniel Ariza takes the distinctive image of a lunar crater and uses it to cover the height of the Vertical Gallery wall. Broken into five hanging barriers, it is an image that is so familiar to all of us, yet most of us have never been there. Of course, nor has Ariza; he takes archive NASA documentary photography from the first moon landing and gives us the opportunity to have our first experience of the moon’s surface, up close.

Over in the Grosvenor building Laura Southgate from Fine Art and Art History creates absurdist sculptures. The fleshy forms reach up out of the floor or down from a plinth, preening into mirrors with a pair of joggle eyes. These strange and unnerving forms have a familiarity to them: is it our own narcissism that we see reflected back in the mirror?

Creative Practice graduate Lisa Baraona’s series of small stitched drawings on fabric in muted tones with rough edges show surreal scenarios and nude characters presented over seven panels. There’s an innocence to her pieces, which with the threads hanging loose from behind the panels seem to be an internal observation of these events, almost like pages in a diary. In the same room, Thomas Heaton’s mark-making and painterly gestures on MDF board are supported on a wooden structure allowing the viewer to walk around and observe all angles of the painting – inviting us to consider how an artwork is made up of more than just the paint on board.

Upstairs, Ffion Taverner from Fine Art presents an installation of fabric, earth, flowers and rope, which explores the materiality of each individual component. Placed together these elements reveal a process that is almost performative; a landscape admired becomes the palette for the artist, which in turn has become a painting that the viewer can move around and experience beyond just observing. Taking a more traditional approach to painting, Emily Straw uses collage techniques with an on trend colour palette to produce paintings that are very pleasing to the eye.

Hair always has been a contested ground for women, and downstairs in the basement of the Grosvener building Tulani Hlalo explores the politics of black hair and conforming to beauty standards. Pink walls and a black and white checkerboard floor bring to mind the setting of a 50s beauty parlour and twelve identical straight blonde wigs sit on top of twelve identical casts of the artist’s head. In the corner a video plays showing a rural setting with twelve blonde wigs hung in the trees, gently blowing in the wind, highlighting just how unnatural these blonde wigs are.

On the opposite side of the basement, Liam Fallon’s sculptural work takes centre stage. Fallon’s work uses materiality to explore queer culture and masculinity. A steel track bursts through a monolithic structure cracking the soft terracotta brick front to reveal a vivid blue interior. In creating this movement through the piece, Fallon invites the viewer to walk round to the rear of the sculpture and with your eyes follow the steel track up and out through the other side.

The Manchester School of Art degree show certainly does not disappoint, and as always, it invites a second viewing to really appreciate the breadth of work on display. The 2017 graduates should be proud they’ve made it! With several prizes up for grabs, and opportunities for exhibitions and residencies after they have graduated, the degree show doesn’t mark the end – it signals the beginning.

Manchester School of Art degree show runs 10-21 Jun, taking place in the Benzie, Grosvenor and Chatham Buildings on the Manchester Metropolitan University All Saints Campus