Every summer the studio spaces within the historic St. Georges Building of Norwich University of the Arts, which houses the creative activities of its resident fine art students, is cleared. The messy, productive and often quite chaotic spaces find themselves stripped bare and revamped in order to house work (of the graduating students) in a much more purposeful manner.
Shared working environments, such as shared or artist-run studios (the kind one accepts rather expectantly as a student) provides a fascinating environment in which to work; immersive and diverse, these working environments are the ideal breeding ground for creativity. To see such unrefined creative activity translated into such an eloquent display of emerging talent is utterly refreshing and in this sense NUA’s 2014 Fine Art Degree Show does not disappoint; an absolute assortment of artistic practice, work throughout this show spans the traditional to the Avant-garde, challenging notions of artistic practice, ways in which work can be made and ways in which making itself can be thought.
Shared studios are the catalyst for creative discourse and dialogue; shared conversations, common interests and communal discussion are echoed through the display of work. The show is not themed per say, although making ones way round one is aware, in a rather poetic sense, of conversations that have taken place between practitioners and dialogue that is taking place between work.
One such conversation may implicate craft or craftsmanship, work across the breadth of the show appears to be heavily involved with its own making and visually demonstrating such processual activity. Davide Lakshmanasamy’s Untitled, standing authoritatively on the upper landing, is a stunning example of craftsman-like methodologies of making. Positioned domineeringly, the immensely strong and exceptionally certain characteristics of Lakshmanasamy’s work sits in tentative contrast aside the ever-in-flux curatorial compositions of Michaela D’Agati. D’Agati’s installation, which is not titled collectively, but lists each work individually, calls into questions contemporary drawing practice. Through processes of hand, mind and eye, elements of her work gracefully and purposefully negotiate the space in which they reside. Through the interaction between the objects and their space, the physical presence of the space itself is brought to one’s attention, one becomes immediately aware of certain characteristics and nuances of the space shared by oneself and the work. In dialogue with the spatial occupancy of D’Agati’s work, Francesca Cant’s Moving Hinged Screens, which invite participatory activity, cleverly ensue the negotiation of space by means of a viewer’s interaction. The four hinged wooden structures, which frame semi-transparent windows, are intended to be moved; the work either finds itself repositioned in which case the mover defines the space they are in, or remains in its current position, where the structure defines the space and how one might negotiate it.
When I Remember, a work by Emma Jones, sees photographs from her childhood reduced into single colours, papers are printed in these autumnal shades and are then folded to create a constellation of origami-like objects which weighted to a single point seem to float upward like a procession of ascending lanterns. Like in Jones’ work where meaning is subverted behind a fairly minimal faced, Helen Piffero’s, a work comprised of two large canvases, becomes an almost political stance against knowing in terms of viewing work. Behind a really rather physical making, involving as much the removal of paint as well as its application, a very visual façade invites contemplation and reflection.
Giles Bason’s Pari Passu, which quite plainly has involved a meditative and tranquil process of making, invokes the same in its viewer. It’s utterly subtle, elegant appearance boasts meticulously and lovingly carved ash wood. The works concrete bases are imprinted with wood-like grain and each one, beautifully sculpted by hand, takes on a life of its own as an individual. Staged in front of a large glass window, Bason’s work coexists with nature and stunning natural light. Although logic tells us, that these sculptural forms have been whittled down to their current physical presences, they appear very much to have manifested naturally from seedlings, even their concrete bases taking on an organic quality with the subtle wood-like textures engrained in their surfaces.
In the work of Adam T. Burton, whose digitally made film Those Personal Machines of Transcendence is intentionally disrupted to give this difficult-to-view media a certain amount of tangibility, the materiality of what Burton creates is very much at the forefront of his practice; HD footage is paired with animated light bleeds and virtual camera faults and gives the impression that Burton is working with a media much more physical than is actually the case. The footage sees Burton returning to his hometown, a place he left at the age of 19, where he shoots an array of eerie scenes in which images of the 70s housing estate in which he grew up, seem not to move at all. The film is not made nostalgically, lovingly or emotionally, instead Burton seems to demonstrate a disconnect between himself, his camera and his subject. In the gallery, Burton’s work is viewed initially through the semi-transparent views of Alana Webb’s Oculi, Formulation I, in which the traditionally city-scape is completely transformed; windows photographed by Webb whilst exploring the city at night induce our most voyeuristic and inquisitive nature. Unlike with Burton’s work, Marcia X’s The Gonzo Museum of Ethnology presents: Diasporic X, also introduces the viewer into new surroundings. Traveling back to Puerto Rico, a place that X hadn’t visited in fourteen years, she has retuned with her memories. Whilst immersed in X’s work, one does not find oneself in a recreation of Puerto Rico itself, but an installation in which she curates an identity for herself; one which draws on cultural and social idioms, one which stands against the notion of having an identity created for her. Invited to play dominoes with X, she invites the viewer (and people from other parts of the world) to connect with her, in the same way that friends and family connect in Puerto Rico, through the playing of dominoes.
Elyn Middleton in her work Look Up Look Down Look all Around, removes a section of the gallery wall to allow one to peer through, not only to the stunning view through the window behind but to the original and paint spattered wall of this historic building. A glimpse which is mirrored and balanced with subtle material gestures; steel rods balance precariously in the space between the original wall and the much newer gallery wall, small rectangular pieces of painted wood are positioned matter-of-factly on the floor and a box-stool which becomes part of this rather curatorial arrangement has the much more practical role of allowing one to see.
The NUA fine art degree show is also quite heavily involved with more theoretical discussion; the catalogue brings aspects of contemporary art practice into question boasting the work of artist Cornelia Parker who demonstrates her playful methods of making and a conversation with artist John Wallbank focused on the subject of process. The theme of accessibility is discussed through a text comprised of the ideas of artist Jo Addison, writer Victoria Mitchell and curator Marcus Dickey-Horley, whilst Mark Wilsher through his text Don’t Stop, talks of continuing practice after art school. Conversations and dialogues are formed and cemented with the presence of research and resource material from each student artist and a well-informed resource area attempts to expand on dialogue with its audience around potential of art practice today.
The Degree Shows at Norwich University of the Arts open on 1st July and runs until July 8th; they boast many more incredible works and talented practitioners.
Photos by Joseph Doubtfire.