UCLan Fine Art Degree Show: Exposé

Feature by Abby Kearney | 30 Jun 2015

‘Exposé’ is the theme of UCLan’s Fine Art Degree show. It’s unclear whether this is a strict theme, or just nominal, but as an umbrella for the disparate pieces on show, it’s apt: there’s lots of work here exploring ideas of revealing and making bare.

The show spreads, maze-like, through UCLan’s Hanover building. The lower floor is organised into rigid little brightly lit surgery-esque cells, each artist occupying a cell, or its wall. On the upper floors, where there’s a bit more coherence between works, the pieces interact with each other and the space itself. There’s piped music, geographically driven audio pieces, hanging sculptural works that play with light and light pieces that play with each other, and it’s all more complete, immersive.

Myriad subjects are tackled: unrest, time, memory, aesthetics, hairdressers as political community. Media used are disparate: wax, tapestry, analogue film, text. The show’s overall strength is this variety, of ideas, of approaches. And if these ideas are not always perfectly realised or sometimes a bit obscure, they are ambitious and compelling.

Occupying a large wall of the upper floor are two excellent crochet pieces by Ellen Scott. They are crocheted nudes, mimicking Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Manet’s Olympia. The nudes are pixelated with blocks of reds and blues, which frustrates voyeurs, unless they observe the pieces with a specific squint and from a specific stance. The use of crocheting, identified as a historically feminine pastime, is intended as a comment on ideas of “women’s work”. Though exactly what the comment is, is more difficult to discern. The subversion of the subject?

In the main lobby, Ann Hampson’s work Journey is played out over six television sets. It shows a quick line drawing moving across the TV screens, representing landscape as seen through train windows. It’s well-considered, quiet, meditative, interesting in how it represents and plays with space.

In the more harshly lit cells of the lower floor, Ross Armstrong’s cartoon images of the settings for the 2011 London riots are juxtaposed into before-and-afters on a flat-screen TV. These images can literally be taken away on calling cards, depiction of riot one side, artists’ details on the reverse. As a comment on the circulation of stock, decontextualised images of destruction that came to define the riots – in memes, in media – it’s effective. I take a card, not really sure of my motivation, though now complicit in the passive consumption criticised.

There’s a scene in Paula Smith’s video piece in which the video’s subject, a man with an overgrown, scratchy looking beard, is talking about cutting the beard. The conversation is banal: the practical details of cutting the beard, the best time to do it, where. The camera then pans out, revealing the context; a hospital, the walls papered with “get well soons”. It’s an affecting, neat illustration of the everydayness of the experience of illness – the subject is terminally ill – in contrast to abstract, de-humanised and capitalised “Illness”.

A strong, understated, series of photographs by Alexandra Gregoriadou, which show incongruous sculptural intrusions in built and natural settings, occupies the wall of an otherwise bare space in the show. There’s a tree, bottomed by a grate, photo-shopped into an empty white-walled room. Displayed together they generate an unsettling effect, that’s produced by the uncanny.

The exhibition spreads through a number of rooms and floors and crevices and staircases, and, on our visit, there were students (still) in each of the spaces, discussing their work. All the accompanying materials for the show are very thorough and nice looking. The sense of ambition from the works, and the degree show’s execution, is strong and encouraging. To go, embarrassingly, cloyingly, full circle: it's an exposé of talent.