Art Review: Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show 2020 Online


Work by Madeleine Wood at the ECA Diploma Fair

The consequences of confinement will be profound and they will branch out, perhaps nowhere more than in education. The disruption of schooling for children and young people of all ages will have consequences that are unknown but certainly not benign. Learning is a social enterprise. We do it together. And this of course extends to student social life. You have to have sympathy for all the young people deprived of the energy and the opportunity that this offers, but it is the groups whose study is practical and practical, whether in the laboratory or in the studio, that will be the hardest hit and this of course includes student art. The Edinburgh College of Art Degree show, now online, illustrates the difficulty they face. With the college completely closed, getting to this point has been a huge challenge. Art students work together in studios. Both the group dynamic and all the personal interaction is crucial in their way of working and never more than in the last year when they prepare their shows. It is physical work in physical spaces and it is motivated by collective excitement. Those last weeks of energy and panic towards the final presentation of their work is a crucial part of the whole business.

This year, however, they had to stop suddenly in March and then work wherever they were and in any space whether or not they might have been there. The interaction with their tutors must have been done online, a strange substitution of distance for intimacy, from the almost abstract to the physical and the immediate. That the show exists at all is a great achievement. It is not the easiest website to navigate. You must first go to “domain”, choose “art” then click on “participating programs”. The ones I have examined are painting, fine art, sculpture, and intermediaries, although it is often difficult to see how the work actually reflects these nominal divisions. When you click on your choice of program, you will be presented with the names of the students. Click on the individual and you access their program. Many of them also have appendices that you can explore further as well. But when you’re done, you can’t move on to the next student without going all the way back, or at least it was like that when I was visiting.

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In the individual shows there is evidence of great ingenuity and imagination in the face of such adversity as well as abundant creative talent. They all deserve to be congratulated, as well as the staff, for successfully bringing such a complex project online. But some students stand out. I admire the quick wit of Madeleine Wood, for example. In March, she clearly realized what was going to happen. She had designed her 12ft x 5ft ink drawings to hang on the college stairs. The physical installation was crucial for their effect. Nowhere else would do. Literally in the hours leading up to the final lockdown, she managed to set up her massive designs and photograph them. With huge strange human figures and strange creatures, they inhabit the stairwell beautifully. Clearly in addition to an obvious talent, she has a great power of persuasion.

Work of DominikaUcar at the ECA diploma fair

Others, like Madeline Cline for example, have managed to create a compelling digital studio for their installation. His work, however, is quite strange. She seems to be haunted by snakes. An artwork on the wall in his digital studio features a bed, linens, studio lights, and a huge curled up snake. Another, similarly installed, shows a ghostly white snake also curled up on the sheets. Sofia Hallström created huge semi-transparent packets, a sort of wrapped imagery that she managed at one point to hang in the college sculpture yard. Individually, too, his designs are powerful. Heather Bell is a sculpture student who loves the paradox. She says she wants to create “curiosity and unease” at the same time and that is indeed what she does with her weird black tubular shapes. Some seem to have numbers inside. Others are empty. One opens into a dark tunnel. From its depths, an eye is watching you.

Jess Hume created stars, hanging rainbows and kaleidoscopes in transparent color. Summarizing the situation for all the students, she plaintively says that she wanted to show what she had planned for her graduation show. She certainly managed to create an impact despite all the difficulties. Timothy Betton also uses transparencies, but, deploying real reflections and sometimes a moving light, the results are very beautiful. Victoria Smith has created some of the strangest images, of loaves of crusty bread set with jewelry and hanging on a red wall. A standout individual artwork also appears to be a piece of bakery made into a delicious Disney-style flower with a face.

Seemingly inspired by the landscape, Dominika Ucar paints on hanging fabric with splashes and dribbles. Suggesting abstract expressionism, the results are poetic. Jody Mulvey also uses fabric. She cuts it out, draws it, glues it and stacks it in three dimensions. Everything is bursting with color and energy. I especially enjoyed a covered fabric drawing tunnel, A graduation show for ants and other friends, she says.

Equally colorful is Molly Kent’s work. It appears to be made of wool, terry cloth, and other tufted materials. The color is bold. The shapes are inventive and the atmosphere is topical. His show is called Doubt in a Digital Age and one piece is inscribed with a slogan very relevant to our time, “Isolation breeds doubt”.

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Work by Jody Mulvey at the ECA Degree Show

But boldly overcoming such doubt, here there are several powerful image makers. The figure of George Williams playing a woodwind instrument is as simple and fluid a design as you could possibly want. The same goes for a drawing of a dancing figure. Jack Whitelock’s work is more formally drawn, but just as satisfying. He combines figurative images with abstract areas. A screen of blue raindrops against a dark architectural form is very striking. Sheona Baird’s work consists of paintings and painted objects. Some of the latter are particularly satisfactory. Finally, among a number of powerful paintings, only one work by Ella Wragg stands out. Its title is Holmes and Watson Solve Yet Another Mystery. A silhouette falls against a deep blue sky into the jaws of two Komodo dragons. Boldly painted, the title and even the falling silhouette are both reminiscent of Steven Campbell. It’s not a bad thing and it’s a great image, but she’s clearly her own artist too.

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Kayleen C. Rice

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