Art Review: Gray’s School of Art Diploma Show 2020

Installation plan of Charlotte Miller’s work

Being the last to embark on a virtual degree season has its perks. Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen had more time to figure out how best to present graduate work online and, in partnership with art organization Look Again and design agency Design and Code, built a impressive virtual exhibition.

In a digital recreation of Gray’s building, each student from the two fine arts departments (painting and contemporary art practice) has an exhibition space as they would “in real life”. Visitors navigate using their mouse pads and arrow keys, as if they were in a video game. It takes a bit of getting used to – as my partner helpfully pointed out, if I had played Call of Duty, I might not have ended up walking through so many walls. A bigger issue is the processing power demanded by the site – my normally very capable laptop kept seizing up and demanding the computer equivalent of stretching out in a dark room.

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Practical issues aside, the approach clearly has advantages and disadvantages. Students can do whatever they want with their walls, ceilings and floors, or do without them entirely, by filling the space with the ocean, like Marie-Chantal Hamrock does, or by building a maze, like Rory Brown. The paintings are doing well here: the works can be shown to scale and hung as the artist wishes. Paradoxically, the cinema is doing less well. There is very little sculpture, a common factor with other art schools this year, and probably a victim of the circumstances in which this work was made.

work by Gail McMillan

Interestingly, several students created work around the idea of ​​“rooms”. Molly Macleod painted a series of “mind rooms” exploring psychological states and qualities by portraying them as physical spaces with subtlety and skill. Colleen Mahoney is inspired by an abandoned asylum in Aberdeenshire and takes an imaginative journey there in a series of painted pieces. Erin Brogan sheds a positive light on social media by pointing out that it allows us to create “digital selfie rooms” – online environments in which we are comfortable.

This year, various students from all study programs are interested in representing the digital aspects of our lives in analog form. Kai Campbell is one of them, using strong, confident paints to explore the overwhelming, unfiltered flow of information and images on the internet. They manifest themselves strongly on this virtual platform (ironically).

Kinga Elliott draws on her background in math and physics to make exceptional abstract paintings using colors and patterns that sometimes begin with cyanotypes (a medium rediscovered in all degree programs this year). Lindsay Gavine weaves ideas from Greek myth with contemporary thinking about the underdiagnosis of autism in women, although one can appreciate her beautiful paintings without knowing what brought her there.

It is impossible to visit Aberdeen these days without noticing the decline of the oil industry, which made the city a thriving city in the 1970s and allowed it to continue to prosper, to a greater or lesser extent. , over the decades that followed. Gail McMillan, who worked in the industry in its early days, produced a fascinating body of painting and writing about this era, capturing brash and pioneering energy that at times resulted in a disregard for the human costs involved.

work of Kinga Elliot

Many are now concerned about what the oil industry is leaving behind, with environmental groups pressuring oil companies to clean up and remove their offshore facilities once they are decommissioned. Charlotte Miller opens up a new aspect of this discussion, after spending time on the Brae Bravo platform. His paintings celebrate both the complexity of engineering and the richness of the wildlife that has come to live in its shadow.

Work, in general, is the focus of two contemporary art practice students: Jodie Cumber examines women’s work, from the Ford machinists’ struggle for recognition to the traditional association of women with craftsmanship. , while Sophie Stewart delves into the hospitality industry, recording worker anecdotes (one can argue who behaves worst in them, bosses or customers) and creating powerful, large-scale photographs.

Many students are interested in place and memory. Lauren Ferguson made exceptional drawings in and around Colinton in Edinburgh, a place of memory for her. Zuzanna Salamon works primarily with charcoal, using the extended metaphor of an uprooted and replanted tree to explore themes of the cultural dislocation of her Slavic origin. Alicja Rodzik pursues objects imbued with memories, bearing traces of her family’s past in Poland.

A number of students use photography well, including Courtney Barr, who creates a layered environment using landscape images, and Nicole Hall, who engages in a delicate but profound exploration of her relationship with her. young lady. Molly Black is a DJ who creates sound collages, which in turn become the soundtrack of an equally visually intriguing space.

The place where the borders are drawn (if they can be) between art and ordinary life remains a fascination for many. Konstantinos Irakleous has an eye for form, color and pattern in photographs of objects as ordinary as a plastic bag in a bus shelter or a smashed can of beer, and capitalizes on the narrative potential of a balloon. Gordon Todd shows us domestic life from the outside by looking inwards, using a dark space to make an evocative recreation of windows lit at night. Iris Walker-Reid is interested in what we leave behind or throw away, with the central recurring dumpster motif in her photographs.

Death becomes the subject of several shows. Xu Jia Leow sheds light on him from the perspective of his Malaysian Chinese culture, using Chinese ink painting techniques to depict objects not so far removed from the memento mori of the Dutch masters. Caitlin Robb delves into the historical rituals around death, both human and animal, using photography, drawing and sculpture, while Jodie Gallon creates eerily beautiful photographs of dead birds, in an effort to provoke a discussion of the broader issues of climate change and habitat destruction.

While the virtual environment serves some artists better than others, there is real ambition in this show from the smallest of Scotland’s Big Four Art Schools. As David Blyth, head of the Contemporary Art Practice course, says in his introduction, it’s not just resilience in the face of difficulties, it’s resistance. Gray’s took on the challenge of the Covid-19 world and applied what art schools do best: creativity. It is well worth a visit. Just try not to go inside the walls.

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Kayleen C. Rice

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