Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Portsmouth University Graduate Art Show I
Over the weekend R and I popped in to the Graduation Show of the Art and Design department of Portsmouth University. Graduation shows are always good because first of all they are one of the very few places where you can see such large numbers of artists exhibiting at the same time and secondly because the excitement of students just heading out into what they hope are going to be creative careers is rather infectious.
That said, and both those things did apply to this show, this wasn't the best we've attended for a number of reasons. I'm not an art critic, I dont' have the breadth and depth of knowledge to make properly informed judgements about these things so I will just get my couple of gripes out of the way and then highlight what I thought was good this year.
Gripe number one was entirely administrative. The utter lack of large, obvious signposting and the lack of any kind of sensible welcome on entering the building made the whole thing very difficult to navigate and because of this it took us nearly half-an-hour of wandering to even find the one person we knew who was graduating this year. The whole atmosphere was very inward looking and, I though, very difficult for the visitor. If the University wanted to showcase their talent to more than just examiners and students' families then they need to give this issue some serious thought.
Gripe number two is again not about the students... It was really gratifying to see, from my perspective, that many of the illustration students had chosen to create artist's books as their final project. A number of them were screen-printed on to paper in imaginative formats and with interesting art work and graphic design and yet, it seemed, that no one had taught any of the students how to create work on a computer at a sufficient and appropriate resolution so that it prints properly at its final size. Wonderful work was ruined for me by obvious pixellation at the edges of images and not in a way that one could even pretend it was intended. This was true too of other students in other disciplines when they had printed display material to go with their presentations. It really spoilt a lot of work for me. The standout exception to this was one artist, whose name I shamefully can't remember and didn't make a note of, who had created a modest sized artists book looking at the way in which Russia is presented through visual stereotypes: great graphics, well put together and well printed.
Gripe the last: presentation generally. There may have been a few but if there were any works in frames then I don't remember them. Overall, the level of presentation for a group of people who might easily want to be described as at least pre-professional artists was poor. Most works on paper were simply pinned to the wall. On the whole I don't think it's good enough to simply make arty justifications about how it's 'the image that counts' and so on... it was just a bit poor.
Anyway. Griping over. There were a few artists who really stood out and made the whole worthwhile. Top of our list was Samantha Davey who presented some amazing full-sized prints, presumably of her own naked body, on long vertical hanging sheets of paper and fabric and then added elements of the image of a swan. The whole display, including some small ceramic and other sculptural work was visually arresting and intellectually challenging. She was exploring the connection in art and culture between woman and swan, most notably with the story of Leda and Zeus obviously, but with other influences also. Her website doesn't yet contain any of this work but has a wide range of pieces to see, all of which are good and interesting but none of which, IMHO, reaches the level of the final show pieces.
We were also very taken with the work of a woman called Mandy - last name not known at this stage I'm afraid who had created an installation in the form of a small museum and each piece was in some way related to her personal story about being a woman diagnosed HIV positive. For example, when the diagnosis was new she was seen by social services whose attempt to provide practical help consisted of buying her a kettle! This kettle she has now encrusted with fake jewels and displayed on a plinth under a perspex cover with pills and multi-coloured raffia spilling from the spout. Other 'exhibits' included a quilt made entirely of condom packets and a walking stick completely covered in outward-facing drawing pins. It's always difficult to describe this kind of art work and do it justice but unlike a lot of conceptual art these pieces were not simply restating a single 'one-liner', they were not just intellectual but had an emotional content as well... conceptual art as it should be. Brilliant.
The standout department within Art and Design had to be the ceramics. Jo Sumner presented some beautiful pieces of opaque glass with concentric 'ripple' shapes in, some of them with thin, delicate 'collars' of porcelain fitted into them. Ashley Leyland showed some pieces of other people's ceramics, older stuff, with plastic chairs melted over the top... sounds odd but looks great. And then there were some really wonderful dishes in the shape of broken sherd but blown up in sise with clearly Edwardian/Victorian pattenrs on them, also blown up. Fortunatly for these my powers of description don't have to suffice as they are on Kate O'Connell's Website. Ginny Topp was another ceramicist worth mentioning for an interesting display of what appear to be broken or damaged ceramic items.
It was well worth going, it was interesting and stimulating and apart from my, mainly administrative gripes above, it was a fascinating show.