Sketchbook notes from the drifting spaces

Through Discord and Harmony – Glasgow School of Art Fine Art and MFA Degree Shows – Part 2

(article continued from previous post)

A vaguely familiar and catchy game type tune pulled me into an installation piece, ‘THE PURGE’, a joint work by three artists Chitra Sangtani, Lewis Prosser and Martha Simms. The tune and glittering colours welcome me to enter into the game world of The Purge, with an unsettling laughing audience on the screen behind me as I look to the earth spinning on the other two screens, to be offered on it the chance to win – to play and come out of this with nothing, if I can make it out of here at all I wonder. It is a sci-fi world where the gentle arts order has been vaporized. Some of the ‘Fun Trivia’ questions catch my attention –

‘With emphasis on the word ‘what’, what is totality?… Describe the sensation of total loss in 3 accurate words… With regards to the previous rounds, are you feeling lucky?’

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‘The Purge’ film stills

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Copyright the artists Chitra Sangtani, Lewis Prosser and Martha Simms


I like this piece, it symbolizes some feeling the graduates have about their situation in the art world and society and it marks a turning point perhaps in the fine art degree shows generally, which couldn’t have been ‘achieved’ in the Mackintosh building – here there is a more raw freedom to create without fear of the history and burden of expectations that came with the show. George Garthwaite’s work are wacky poetic odes to the dark heaviness that can seem to haunt the soul, the bleakness (of being a a young fine artist in the Tontine?). In his blog the artist says he is ‘interested in a world ridden with images and cartoons.’ The warm coloured textured paintings signed GG are at first glance comic strip satires of the seemingly everyday mundane transformed into peculiar and frivolous situations, but there lurks the impression of more depth, probing the soul… Moving away from everyday reality much like The Purge, a sense of upbeat animation elevating the dispirited or woebegone from the no-win.

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Painting by GG (George Garthwaite), copyright the artist


There is also the feeling that this is not some kind of truly glorious stage or end point as was the feeling in the past, but a stage where the guidelines have been reset by the students. The idea now for students to go on to further education also frees up this stage point as more fluid and somewhat sets up the undergrad show as at odds with the new art establishment. So no matter how manic or non picturesque some of the degree works have become, let it be, GSA is serving the students well here with this working environment, although it has its obvious drawbacks too as an exhibition space, but these obstacles are surmountable and challenging in a good way. So out of something bleak, destruction has forced a new setup, which along with a changing mood amongst young artists, has encouraged a new wave of beatnik creativity.

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Artwork by George Garthwaite, copyright the artist

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‘Stage on TV’ and ‘Dead Horse’ by Jessie Whiteley, copyright the artist


I pass more corners, through more white walled nooks and more doors that open the wrong way. Must have just come the wrong way. A dead horse or some other animal perhaps sleeping and composed of plaster is almost stumbled across, it brings me closer to the floor at least, and also helps me take in some favorable examples of painting that are adjacent, with confident colours and brush marks. The installed sculpture and paintings here by Jessie Whitely are fun in an expansive way, and continue the non solemn mood of the show. They lift the spirits, and are imaginative and dreamlike, while technically very competent and attracting the viewer with the varied surfaces and textures. The artist says of the work:

‘Painting and drawing’s direct and sensitive qualities lead my work and allow me to work with ideas from chance and the subconscious… I use fantasy as a way of thinking about reality from day-to-day life and to explore the reality of the imagination, from working with it visually and manually. I work from an emotive, personal response to the theatrical, fantastical and humorous settings of modern life and the myth and metaphor of an Internet generation.’

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‘Acid Rain’ by Jessie Whiteley, oil on canvas on board (50x100x240cm), copyright the artist


As I went down the stairs of the Tontine, I realize this has been a captivating undergraduate show, with ups and downs I guess, but good sometimes not to have too much well presented consistency in the fine art context. The building is a bit mad and bad an environment – an ideal change. A bit tired out, I headed back up through the city centre on foot via the art stores on Queen Street, uphill towards the canal and the M8, to the Glue Factory for the Maters of Fine Art Degree Show. Always good to see what those masters of fine art are doing over there, it is a fantastic exhibition space.

The entry to the space was welcoming and I am given a floor plan. There are some experiments with potential, and early on the installation and video work by Monica Foote captivates, ‘This is Where the Magic Happens’. This piece has stage set like shapes on the left and right that fragment and interrupt the video projection – these frame a space where the artist made a performance piece. Nearby I am stopped by Morwenna Kearseley’s two channel video installation ‘To Speak is to Starve’ with the large projections facing each other. As I stand in between the projections I am unable to see both at once. Looking from point to point I see fast moving close-ups of a hand turning and tapping to create rhythm. Visual information is edited to a minimum, allowing the sound of voices and the notion of voices to accumulate and move your perceptions. I walk around the show. Although presented adequately enough, some of the works this year are missing something integral, though at first I think maybe this is just the feeling after coming from the undergrad.

Some of the video pieces are becoming more engaging and sophisticated. Using video projection to shine angular forms of light through acetate with a seamless array of other materials, Heather Lander creates the standout highlight of this show – ‘Materials and Duration (1 and 2)’ (1 – Diacel acetate, projector, steel, video edit of light sculpture, wood, 17 min video loop; 2 – 4 way video splitter, LED monitor, perspex, steel, video edit of light sculpture, wood, 12 min loop). Two artworks charge the dark industrial space with hologram like intensity, a smaller structure with four contained moving images that deftly reflect up onto perspex, and the large piece which opens out around the whole space so that both pieces work together. The larger projection of the forms reflect off and through the transparent plastic, which are hanging together in aligned layers, and jettison the chromatic light reflections out onto the surrounding walls of the darkened room and large metal door surfaces at the furthest end of the space.

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Heather Lander, ‘Materials and Duration (1)’, photograph by Jack Wrigley

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Heather Lander, Installation view of ‘Materials and Duration (1 and 2)’, photograph by Jack Wrigley


The piece mesmerizes and is a beautiful experience to gaze at and be part of in the space. Standing, glimpsing the ever changing light here and there, near and far, as it meanders and curves, metamorphosing from combined 3D looking geometric forms to organic flows of colour, fusing in and out of focus. There is a harmonic calm here in this piece, yet strength. The artist gives an insight into the thinking and application of her work:

‘Our perception of reality, and how phenomena such as illusions and technology can alter this, has been the key component to my work this past year. How we recognise and keep hold of reality in a world that is working towards complete virtual immersion is the question my work is currently investigating.

The imagery being projected in the two pieces in the degree show use edited video I took of a perspex sculpture I made that I projected moving image onto. This sculpture was the first thing I made while on the course and it has been my resource material for the sculptural/video installations.’

From being immersed in the chaotic creative whirlpool of the Tontine earlier in the day, this momentary and yet highly sophisticated piece has made it well worth coming to the MFA exhibition. Altogether the GSA Degree Shows this year have been energizing, and with the three distinct exhibition environments each has been unique.

Clip from 'Materials and Duration (1)', Heather Lander, video by Jack Wrigley

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