The Glasgow Art School Degree Show

massive in its scope, almost impossible to fully digest, with work of potency often hung next to underdeveloped juvenilia

Feature by Jasper Hamill | 15 Jul 2006

A depressing statistic claims that only around five percent of graduating art students can hope to earn over five grand a year from their work. Thrown out of the felt cocoon of art school life there just isn't the market, at least in Glasgow, to sustain the hundreds of artists churned out by the internationally famous institution. Yet despite the bleak prospect of garret living, the volume of work produced by the pretty young things of the GSA is on a scale to rival Tate Modern. The degree shows, when the doors of the Mackintosh Building are flung open to the general public, are massive in their scope, almost impossible to fully digest, with work of potency often hung next to underdeveloped juvenilia. So, in true Tate Modern style, the only way to write about the show is to trendily split the work into themes: The Pastoral/ The Environment, Me, A World Outside Art and The City.

Starting with 'Me,' a central preoccupation in any creative person's life, the students didn't hold back. Tracy Emin's style of painting, naïve sketches complemented by vaguely provocative slogans, was referenced a few times. Typically navel gazing in its remit, there was work that dealt loosely with desire, with aphorisms like 'The smell of Pussy: Good Pussy,' or work using glib statements like 'Relentless Pessimism Rocks my World' that exposed the extent to which artists like Dan Perjowski, David Shrigley and Emin herself have influenced the kids' work. Also influential was Wolfgang Tillmans, whose photographic installations, heavily cribbed from fashion mags, are constructed from an obsessively compiled set of photographs of more or less anything. So, there were plenty of photos of more or less anything - dripping taps, polka dot dresses, body parts - although without the odd penis Tillmans enjoys throwing in. Shoes, the art student staple topic, also featured heavily as a time honoured form of self portrait. A carpet of shoes, several photos of shoes and the perennial feet shot, taken from above, all cropped at least once. The shoe carpet, from Billy Baxter, was nonetheless a striking - if confusing - object, composed of eviscerated shoes.

Oddly, there was a return to the pastoral in the exhibitions. Many figurative paintings, semi-abstract works and photographs were near-romantic in their intent. Misty mornings, ominous tangles of brambles and a video work resembling Caspar David Friedrich's famous portrait of a mountaineer overlooking a misty landscape all marked a renewed preoccupation with the natural environment. The latter, a contemplative film, explicitly referenced the romantics, but subtly melded a consideration of the filmic medium and time to its appropriated image. In the chicken run corridor upstairs, Jethro Brise and Beth Homer turned the glass fronted corridor into a hothouse lined with foliage, querying the control of nature in an urban environment. They seemed to equate public art with horticulture, relating the two by an exploration of the methods through which they redefine urban space. Their project included discussion of guerrilla gardening, through which they hope to spur people on to make the city bloom with flora, and exhibited a concern with the natural environment reminiscent of Andy Goldsworthy or Olafur Eliasson. A stand out piece in similarly reflective mood was a projection of a rippling lake projected into a pit on the floor. Resembling an ancient oracle or healing pool, its mysterious serenity perfectly reflects the romantic rebirth that seems to be occurring in the Glasgow Art School.

Unusually concerned with the World Outside of Art, several installations explicitly dealt with turbulent politics, warfare and violence. An installation of sandbags and a barricade of the style used in the 1969 Paris riots pointed towards an increasingly politicised practice. Yet not only were the symbols evocative of struggle, war and violence, they also became art-historical objects: the sandbags bringing to mind the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and the barricade indelibly associated with the Situationists, who claimed to have been instrumental in encouraging the Parisian Riots. Installations of cardboard were also exhibited, plastered with anti-war slogans, and in the main entrance hall, underneath the title 'We Build Arks,' several symbols, from PanAm airlines and Sinn Fein, were painted on placard-like pieces of wood, using the iconography of now-benign terrorist organisations or bankrupt business to query the semiology of violence or big business.

The City, for once, received only a cursory examination from the newly green-fingered student body. Paintings in love with neon colours, reflective surfaces and the gleam (but not the verisimilitude) of photorealistic paintings, featured heavily, as did three dimensional geometric abstraction and architecturally inspired works seemingly composed of eerily floating masonry. The work that dealt with perceptions of the city most effectively was by Phillip Reeves prize winner Laurie McCrane, which juxtaposed a painted view of the lit windows of office blocks with columns of newspaper text and numerical data, rationalising the city in terms of its narratives, visual rhythms and economic functions. One witty piece interviewed pensioners about Cumbernauld, another work by Alex Head crafted a contemplation chamber, replete with life jacket, through which Glasgow could be seen stretching out to the countryside.

Of course, grouping the work of such a wide range of hopefuls into arbitrary compartments is fairly pointless. The breadth of work means that masses of it will slip past the visitor, critic or parent. Interventions like Lisa Cassidy's 'Three Letter Word,' in which she placed a confetti blowing machine in the bottom corrider and scattered several neon hoolahoops around the bulding, did not fit amongst the rest of the work. Neither did the stand out work, loftily assembled in the main stairwell and soaring far up towards the skylight: a delicate, intricate structure, threaded together to resemble a church steeple. The most effective work managed to transcend textbook theft, displaying the originality and innovative intent expected from the very best of the GSA students. Slip them a fiver if you see them.

This exhibition is now closed.