They Had 4 Years: Generator Projects' annual graduate exhibition returns

They Had 4 Years is the annual graduate exhibition by Generator Projects in Dundee, when they select five fine art graduates – Lea (Ye Gyoung) Choi, Alice Martin, Yvette Bathgate, Jonny Walker and Kaitlyn Dunsmore – to exhibit one year after degree show

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 09 May 2018

They Had 4 Years (TH4Y) in Dundee brings together five graduates of 2017, and checks in with them one year on. Speaking with each of the different exhibitors this time around, the last year has come with major moves, new post grad courses, and taking on responsibilities within the art community.

Curated together from submitted proposals, the chosen artists’ works are remarkably different from one another though at points subtly link together. Beginning with Lea (Ye Gyoung) Choi, she discusses the important opportunity for reflecting on, and developing the work she presented at her degree show – which The Skinny gave a shout out to in June, as addressing the 'very reasonable childhood fear of nuclear war by dressing up as a bomb and rollerskating around handing out candles shaped like missiles / penises.' Discussing the difference in the work that she’ll present in Dundee, Lea (Ye Gyoung) Choi says “This time I’m not focusing only on the conflict between North and South Korea.” She's thinking more generally of the “dehumanisation of everyday citizens of foreign countries,” and the techniques of mass media to dehumanise the Other.

This month, Lea (Ye Gyoung) Choi will present a new 16mm film that features the artist in a costume and setting inspired by the different kinds of symbolic language that feature in mass media coverage of foreigners. There is also a series of drawings of military weapons that consider the relationships between world leaders and whether they can ever claim to represent the entire populations that they each lead. Each drawing has a Norwegian title, “For instance one is called Store Alierte, 'a great ally is won,' Donald Trump’s description of the US relationship with South Korea and is a blueprint-style drawing of one of the United States’ weapons deployed in South Korea.” Specifically, Lea (Ye Gyoung) Choi considers the high-radiation weapons that were bought by previous South Korean governments, without consultation with the populus. Another drawing is intended as a world map. Covering a rectangle in scribbled pencil, the effect is a greyed-out post-apocalyptic cloud. In this one, Lea (Ye Gyoung) Choi thinks of the worry that came with the revelation of the rocket range of North Korea’s weapons, and the celebration by some Spanish people that they were calculated as outside the blast radius. “Missile rockets can go everywhere, we are not in a safe place anywhere.”

Lea (Ye Gyoung) Choi

For Alice Martin, she also presents a development of her degree show work as it was presented in Aberdeen. Last year, she created a museum-style space that featured different printouts of objects and set up, as The Skinny described it, 'tactile indulgence and frustration' with its mix of surprisingly light then weighted 3D prints of a pen set, key and comb. Titled Copy and Context, Martin considers the possibilities of printed museum objects and presents new work that explores “the value of the copy and how it can enhance experience through the idea of an edited artefact/collection.” For it, she will make an installation around three replicas that will be printed in different materials, including resin, metal and plastic. Different sources of scans and images will be used to combine the 3D forms with public domain images that Martin will superimpose on to the objects’ surfaces.

Martin thinks of this work as making the museum more accessible through new media. “By printing an image on to a 3D model, it can add context and something new.” She describes the replicas as offering the chance to get “up close and personal” with the objects that might otherwise not be so available to audiences, and Martin hopes for a greater sensory engagement between visitors and the objects of interest. “I’ve chosen a  Greek jug that dates from 340BC.” Hinting at some of the events and tastes from the time, Martin has taken different imageries and printed them directly on to her edited version of the jug. “Overall the work is a comment on the access to images and information and is really about using new technology to represent past ideas and cultures. Some people might not agree with copying works of art or culture, but it can create an opportunity to see the original in a new light.”

Alice Martin

Also working with a loose sense of archaeology, Yvette Bathgate has been reflecting on an important encounter at her degree show last year. “A member of the public came to me and said that he saw my degree show as a trace fossil.” She then met with one of the the commenter’s colleagues who explained more about the the concept. Rather than a fossil of a bone or item, a trace fossil comes from a footstep or an animal’s burrow. Not representing a thing, these are instead leftovers of movements and impressions. This then sparked some of the ideas that went into making the proposal for They Had 4 Years. “Essentially, I’m interested in artefacts of contemporary human culture and our presence on the planet.” She also describes “the deep future” and imagines archaeologists piecing together 21st century culture.

For the show, Bathgate has been combining materials like rock and styrofoam to further ideas of trace fossils, as well as incorporating interests in “hyperobjects,” “entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions that they defeat traditional ideas about what a thing is in the first place” – a term lifted from the work of Timothy Morton, a writer on world ecology. “I’ve been making an almost monolithic sculpture out of styrofoam, mirroring this mythological and mysterious [aura] that rock has, then transferring it to styrofoam, this deathless and ever-present material.”

Yvette Bathgate

Also referencing the work of Timothy Morton, artist Jonny Walker describes some of the installation and sculptural plans he has for the exhibition this month. Thinking about these influences on his ideas, as well as Morton’s books, he thinks of the impending mass extinctions in the news and being beyond a point of being able to instigate change. This anxiety is a mood that he describes as important for his work to play upon. He’ll be presenting table-like objects “on pointed spiky legs,” with holes cut in them, “like computer vents.” These in turn have grates on them with cable ties and different sculptures. “Everything vibrates softly as a chicken light (a heat lamp that helps to incubate chickens) turns slowly on and off above it.” For Walker, he’s drawn to the “idea of machines and how these different objects act as a collective to form a narrative or function, within natural processes as well.” He describes the work’s relationship with “the environmental disaster we’re living in now. Quite a lot of the sculptures are casts of eggs in silicone, jesmonite and wax. Nothing is itself, they’re the idea of an object reflected in a different material.” He thinks of the eggs, and the position under a chicken light, making the sculpture look like “an animal, but slightly skewed.”

There’s a further linking of the machinic and organic in Kaitlyn Dunsmore’s work. “I’m interested in how organic matter has this whole hidden mathematical structure behind it.” She thinks of natural geometry and the Fibonacci sequence – a mathematical principle that can map directly on to many natural formations. She thinks specifically of “breathing as a power system and parallels with the power systems of digital devices. I recorded my own breathing through contact microphones then was looking to programme through an electric circuit, while also drawing the breaths.” She then used some technical skills to transform the drawings into circuits and channel the programmed rhythm of the breath through the paper. Describing her comparison of the organic and the calculated, she describes the form of her work “combining them, to make a hybrid being.”

Jonny Walker

As well as speaking about planned work, each of the artists chatted about the singular importance of TH4Y on their respective practices and lives over the previous months. It was a reminder that, as well as a major exhibition opportunity, TH4Y will be a worthy celebration that, a year after degree show, they’ve all managed to find new places and spaces to keeping making work. They had four years, and they've got many more to come.

They Had 4 Years, Generator Projects, Dundee, preview 19 May 7-9pm, continues 20 May-3 Jun