Lucky Finds: DJCAD Degree Show

Dundee opens the degree show season with a multimedia array of sculpture, video, embroidery and a vastly diverse range of subject matters and concerns. Handmade looms sit alongside confrontational cross stitch, as well as DIY sculpture and painting

Review by Adam Benmakhlouf | 08 Jun 2017

Spread out across different buildings, floors and areas, DJCAD doesn’t cater so much to the casual art-viewer. Walking through long tracts of design coursework to reach the next segment of fine art feels laboured. And the well-intentioned butterfly-themed signs 'more art ahead' are as helpful as they are telling of an awareness on the part of the final-year students that a lot of their offerings will likely be missed out of orientation difficulties rather than any deliberate dismissiveness.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments of serendipity in the layout. For instance, Stephanie May McGowan’s cardboard-cutout and hand-painted carnival stands and wheel of fortune sit across from Alice Campbell’s paintings and drawings. Both put an emphasis on liveliness of their making, energetic line and gesture.

For McGowan, there’s more of an emphasis on humour, while Campbell’s paintings are dreamlike and fantastical. In the Made you Luck install, Campbell includes some laugh-out-loud moments, like the deadpan all-caps 'no thanks' on the back of the wheel of fortune. Then more poignantly, a monoprint shows a claw from one of those grab-a-prize machines holding a tiny figurine, or giant in scale with a person hanging perilously by the ankle. Speaking to this suspicion of the disappointment of luck’s promise and accompanying doldrums, another large cardboard work has crossed fingers at the end of scissor handles. The energy of the fast-paced making style keeps a wry tone for the sometimes pessimistic imagery.

For Campbell on the end of the room, there’s a nighttime or under-the-sea feeling throughout her presentation. In dark blues, the figures are often hovering, staring wide-eyed at the viewer, with significant symbols: fish, floating leaves that are in liquidy oblong shapes. More insight comes as Campbell mentions in her text, her Scottish, Irish and Caribbean heritage, that become more of a personal set of icons rather than obvious signifiers in plain sight. Effacing separation, blue as a theme becomes as suggestive of a dusky cool shade as being submerged, both suggestive of a calmly detached and wandering mind.

Coming away from the imagistic, there’s an interesting engagement with sensorily perceiving landscape and envelopment within environment in Kirsten Millar’s acoustically experimental recordings and audio work. Large metal sheets are arranged together, with a speaker facing them. Moving around the work, there’s an interesting melding of the sound of the metal itself as it shudders and conducts the abstract but recognisably exterior sounds. Using the metal as temporary partitions within the room allows for a different and surprising reverberation, and subtly adjusts perceptions of spatial awareness.

Working with audio to completely different ends, Alice Wadkin tears apart the University Strategy 2017, by Dundee. Her criticism is worded through a script left on some IKEA furniture on tiled carpeting. Sitting at the flat-pack table with the headphones, the voices interrogate the appearance of Dundee touting itself as the 'Top' university without any explanation as to the measure of this ranking, “Shouldn’t that have a footnote?” one person asks. Another observes that it “seems like a bad funding application”. Situating this dialogue within the context of the degree show self-conciously and literally look around at the art fair type layout and self-promotional function of the event for the University itself. With no walls surrounding it, listeners are left to gaze at the action and bustle going on around.

Looking further outside of itself again, the work of of Jennifer Cooper takes the form of delicately made and vaguely fungal-seeming sculptures. Heaped against the wall, there is a light and bulky looking accumulation. An accompanying photo series sees them become an ethereal looking growth along the outside of some already overgrown buildings. So it is they draw attention to certain decaying or overlooked parts of the built environment, seemingly taking an interest in not only pointing to the visual intrigue of fallen-apart buildings but also acting as a dual ornament and reference to the mushrooms that come with dilapidation and damp.

With the same level of crafty and detail-oriented labour and surprising scale, Nicole Gault constructs a bare timber structure as the holding device for her small embroideries, drawings and one large cross-stitch piece that reads 'HOMO SWEET HOMO'. It’s been a bit of a bait and twist through the week with people feeling disarmed by the 'home sweet home' they read, getting nearer then quickly reversing once they make out what it reads. The large scale wooden built part gives a first indication of the hard edged humour tone of the text on the small sewn pieces. Titled 'homegrown belter' and with messages like 'you’re a fucking mermaid unicorn princess' and 'yeah that’s ok, go on, believe thing written thousands of years ago and live your life by them, don’t move on with the times, because everything is obviously the gospel truth' bending on fabric swatches, there’s an indulgence of the joy of crafting, but an irreverent tone that’s amplified by the nails and masking tape on the provisional structure.

With the same strategy of subverting craft techniques, the imagery and tone becomes more complicated on the stacked ceramic vessels that are painted sumptuosly in dark reds, glitter, purples, pastels and studded with felt flowers. One reads 'Reclaim reclaim reclaim Reclaimed' and 'suck praise you'. Exquisite making and a more on-the-cuff address to small-mindedness marks it out as a standout show.

Towards a different outcome, Rhona Jack’s is another impressive presentation. Using what seems like found wood, she has constructed a loom and produced professional-looking abstract geometric woven fabric. Left on the loom and looking complex and interesting in themselves, the fabrics are then used as a means of pointing to the level of engineering and construction involved to build a loom to create them. Going between sculpture, textiles and print, Rhona Jack makes hazy the distinction between the individual craftperson and industrial scale of production. Though appearing to single-handedly make all of her tools, her loom is more than reminiscent of the Dundee Mills than of domestic proportions.

While some of the graduates go for lyrical references and ambiguous allusions, for Doaa Yule the work itself is intimately connected to its own prosaic explanation. There’s something equally accessible and unnerving about the cool enumeration of intended effects of the work and its motivations. Within the dark room, there’s a large textual sculptural piece, a video of hand drawing a thick felt line and a video of parts of different films with characters in a 'non-real role' eg Truman Show. There are different philosophical and theoretical references that are explained, but in itself the structure of transparent exposition, which inevitably overdetermines the work that takes on its own agency. Quietly, it houses a complex position within seeming simplicity.

'Made you luck,' Stephanie May McGowan’s roughshod cut cardboard letters call down from their perch on the temporary walls that make up all the different degree shows across Scotland through May and June. Sitting up above the fray, there’s a supertitular tone to the phrase. Success or failure of this end-of-an-era exhibition depends on the making and is ultimately the decision of the artists themselves.