Arts Review: GSA Graduate Degree Show 2018

September 1st – 9th

Towards the end of the book of GSA postgraduate student Kristyna, which contains photographs, writing, notes, and sketches that accompany her exposition on the theme of death, the letters F I R E are split across two pages. ‘Mackintosh building in fire. The end. Destroyed. Catastrophe. So sad.’ ‘So’ is written underneath it, followed by three black pages and notes on the confusion and grief felt afterwards. Following the fire, it was decided that the graduate degree show would take place over two locations: Fine Art + Sound for the Moving Image in the Tontine building, with Architecture, Design, Simulation + Visualisation and Innovation just a five-minute walk away at The Garment Factory.

For those who have visited GSA shows in the Tontine building before, the set-up will be familiar. Many exhibition spaces of differing sizes are created with tall white screens, each occupied by the work of a different student. There are sets of concrete blocks covered in coloured tiles, seemingly straight from swimming pools, and an intricate collection of white, pink, and purple spider web-like sewing, as well as a video that includes prints of Glaswegian high-rise buildings being shredded or digitally removed from a view of the city. The sheer number of students whose work is exhibited and the extraordinary variety, even within disciplines, makes a visit quite overwhelming and seeing everything unattainable – unless it’s a quick skimming look. The following are just three of the artists who grabbed my attention.

While their work differs incredibly, Wenyao Wang and Min Sum Kim both express what it means to be living in a country very different from one’s own. The latter has created a ‘secret base’, reminiscent of the kind of dens you might have built with blankets and chairs as a child. Its entrance is strewn with papers, official documents, information about UK holidays and post-it notes. In front lies a typed note: ‘I came here. I came here by providing thousands of papers. I studied here, I lived here and I loved here. […] I always wanted to go somewhere away far. Am I?’ The former’s intriguing portraits of dark-haired women are placed on wooden panels covered in handwritten notes, from the seemingly trivial comments about McDonalds to ‘I cannot connect to British people’, statements about racism, travelling obstacles, and culture differences.

Further along is beautiful photography by Erin Semple, united under the title Gus am bris an là (Until the day breaks). The grainy photographs show the landscape of the Highlands, often with the artist’s hand inserted at the edges touching the water or grass, or her figure tiny between endless grey skies and hills. This sense of disappearing in surroundings is most notable in a work that shows the artist standing in a garden, her head hidden by a large bush. The large photograph, printed on cloth, reminds me of Francesca Woodman’s self-portraits. It is an unexpected ode to the land that Semple yearns for, the land that is her home and not her home simultaneously, that could have been our land. This unsatisfied yearning for home called cianalas in Gaelic is conveyed so strikingly that even I feel it, without any true connection to the North of Scotland.

Since the number of exhibiting students is so high, it is unavoidable that some work will spark no interest at all. However, others demand the investment of time and energy to understand the artist’s intention and appreciate the testaments of months of artistic investigation, experiments, and developments.  Yet almost all of it is fresh, exciting, and proof of the strength of students dealing with the loss of the Mackintosh building.

[Aike Jansen]

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