A review of Central Saint Martin’s Degree Show One 2014
It is the season of degree shows, and Central Saint Martin’s Show One, featuring students graduating from the Fine Art courses, is currently open to the public until the 27th May. Having graduated myself in M.A. Art & Science in 2013, it was very evocative to feel the same energy and buzz in the vast King’s Cross campus. It was great to catch up with students I knew from when I was there and see how their work has developed, and also to discover new people and things. Altogether it was very inspiring, and reminded me of the freedom the students have had to experiment and push the boundaries as far as they can go – a luxury that one can rarely have outside university…
I shall briefly cover some of the practices and pieces that resonated with me, while stressing that this is a subjective and personal blog post, and therefore no snub is intended to the many great presentations that I do not have space to mention. I must admit I did gravitate towards the students of my old teacher David Stewart, senior technician and resident metalwork maestro at the college.
I was impressed by this large Foucault pendulum by M.A. Art & Science graduate Roderick Macleod – I have been fascinated by pendulums for some time. The Foucault pendulum is a device that was invented around 1851, and demonstrates the rotation of the Earth. Macleod’s beautifully crafted hollow brass bob contains coloured powders that trickle out of a tiny hole as the pendulum swings back and forth; over a day it traces a full circle as the ground beneath the pendulum moves!
I did not get to see Roderick, but I am sure that he made the brass bob with mechanical engineering technician Ricky Lee Brawn on his vintage metal spinning machine….
B.A. Fine Art graduates Theo de Gueltzl and Octave Marsal have collaborated to produce a stunning project installation called LAB.which explores the act of drawing as a visceral and intensely physical activity (I am entirely in sympathy with that one!). A magnificently over-sized steel drawing machine complete with gears and rollers, reminiscent of the workings of an 18th century tower clock, is installed close to an indescribably beautiful clear acrylic tower, intricately etched with classical architectural compositions. An elegantly filmed video expresses the processes by which these artists work.
I remembered working in metalwork alongside M.A. Fine Art graduate Teresa Braula Reis, whose work is all about considering negative spaces in the architecture we inhabit. Reis’ work is stylish and clever, conceived as understated site-specific interventions. They are designed so as to be easily overlooked – until something slightly odd makes you look again, and you begin to engage with the visual puns she has engineered.
Reis’ Degree show installation in the Lethaby Gallery derives from a project called A House Within its Shadow: you can walk through what appears to be a doorway bounded by corporate glass panels, and then realize that it has taken you nowhere, and you are walking on the rubble of a concrete wall that has just dropped out of the doorway – quite surreal!
Also in the Lethaby Gallery is this beautiful 8 ft. photographic collage of frames taken from old archival film by Martin Guinard-Terrin, M.A. Fine Art. Concealed behind the panel is a pile of pristine black coal. I immediately thought of the analogy between coal as a fossil memory of previous life and the disjointed images as fossils of previous events….. subtle, delicate and shimmering luminously on the polished metal.
I enjoyed talking with M.A. Art & Science graduates Charlotte Wendy Law and JJ Hastings. Like most of us ‘Art & Sciencers’, these artists are multi-faceted polymaths, presenting their work as a laboratory of interconnected ideas that are process-based as well as conceptual.
In Charlotte Wendy Law’s work one senses a passionate and poetic immersion in experiencing changes of state in natural materials. I particularly enjoyed her documentation of ancient iron-smelting processes, undertaken in a rural setting, entitled Bloom Little Sister. Bloom is the spongy metal product of heating together charcoal and a natural iron ore, such as haematite, in a clay furnace. I remember last year David Stewart hauled in a bag-full of raw red haematite from an old Cumbrian mine for this project, so it was exciting to see the result.
Susan Beattie also presented the theme of changing states in metals, focusing on the aesthetics of form, in this exquisite presentation of drips of molten metal dropped into water. They look like a collection tiny sculptures, or maybe weird ocean life-forms, and I would like to have them!
JJ (Jaden) Hastings brings her experience as a scientist specializing in biological research to her cross-disciplinary practice, raising questions about what it means to be human, both in physical and in metaphysical terms. Point of Departure is a bioinformatics project in which Hastings has been creating 3-D imagery of human proteins, including a rotating holographic projection. I was entirely unable to photograph it, but it is well worth seeing. In our conversation Hasting described herself as a kind of contemporary alchemist and explained the signage on some of her pieces – cryptic symbols that look like those used by Renaissance alchemists, but which are in fact markers for different types of proteins. Science meets the arcane in Hasting’s Reliquary pictured below, which contains a pig’s heart (biologically similar to a human heart) from which all the proteins have been leached.
This is a very small selection of the work on show. A year after graduating, I was able to see the whole picture a lot more objectively than when I was in the thick of it, and what I came away with was a gratifying sense that what the students had achieved was exactly what motivated me to study fine art practice so late in my career.
There is the feeling of a kind of Renaissance in the direction that contemporary art practice seems to be taking: looking outward at universal human experiences, re-assessing our physical and spiritual place in the universe, and reviewing what it actually means to be a human being. And it seems the search for beauty, in the deepest sense of the word, is for many artists an integral part of the journey.