Galleries: Stars of the future on show

There is a definite “back to nature” thread in the work of the 39 graduating students emerging this autumn from the Master of Letters (MLitt) in Fine Art Practice Programme at The Glasgow School of Art. Take Claire Kidd. She had not long returned from a trip to Pakistan when lockdown happened and she headed for the hills.

In her case, to a friend’s seawater farm in Glen Shiel in the north west. The sense of “discombobulation” she felt informed the work which she went on to create for her degree show. “I have spent much of this year lost and I quite like where I have found myself,” she says in her statement on the digital showcase which takes the place of a physical show for graduating students. Kidd’s painting, Times of Entanglement, presents figures in a Highland landscape hard at work trying to untangle a complex web of hose pipes.

It could be a metaphor for all our lives. Similarly, Shetlander Vivian Ross-Smith retreated to her island home and began to made work informed by her surroundings. At the same time, Ross led a vocal media campaign against what she describes in her statement as “GSA mismanagement and the lack of support and care they have shown toward their students”.

Her work, however, speaks for itself. Shetland is renowned for its textiles and Ross created a series of “wearable paintings” which she then knitted into a performance video piece called BROADCAST. In July, she travelled to various sites which are part of the Shetland Webcam network and in an almost Dada-ist intervention, she’d appear in all weathers wearing her outsize paintings.

Many of the students on the MLitt courses are international and Alexander Anderson went back to the US to take refuge in his late mother’s childhood home in Phoenix, Arizona. There, he engaged with the landscape of the Sonora Desert and frequented an art sanctuary, The Land With No Name, located in the high desert grasslands of occupied Tohono O’odham ancestral lands. The photographs of his assemblages; kinetic sculptures made from found objects remind us we are but blips in infinity.

Every day In lockdown, Gabriela Lesniewska uploaded a video showing a five hour long time-lapse of plants growing inside a creamy wax sculpture she had made. It’s mesmerising. Many of the students give their own websites as a further stopping-off point and Lesniewska’s website is a much better platform from which to view her work.

Her oddly beautiful and highly textured photographs of dead birds in her Birds of Paradise series burn their way into the synapses and remind you of the fragility of all things. Like everyone else, the MLitt fine art students found their lives upended in March. They were six months into their year-long course and, for most, there was no time to grab their work-in-progress from their studios in the old Stowe college and take it home.

Clearly the lack of a studio to make work, not to mention the lack of support from staff (also under lockdown pressure), has been a challenge to the artists, many of whom are international and paying eye-watering sums in tuition fees. The postgraduate digital platform uses the same format as the GSA Graduate Showcase, which launched in June. While it’s a functional enough setting, I urge anyone who is surfing the site to take a detour into the students’ own social media and websites.

Most of the artists are on Instagram and most have posted samples of their degree show work. I found the informality of Instagram gave me a clearer sense of the person behind the work. There are some star turns in the mix.

Clean lines and vivid patches of colour are the hallmark of James Pfaff, who works across various mediums, including photography, painting and sculpture. Clearly influenced by Japanese culture, there is a mature and confident hand here. Alanna Blake’s take on early Renaissance painting mashed up with her personal memories fairly leaped off the screen and I found myself longing to see her big figurative paintings in an actual room, especially CARRY OUT, FIRST BUS, which is both poignant and en-pointe.

It’s for sale too if you happen to have a spare GBP950. Georgie Mac’s cosmic drawing came alive in his Instagram

@hellogeorgiemac, especially posted on August 15 with the pertinent description “Casual levitation”. He is a featured artist at the top of the Fine Art Practice showcase page with his excellent Charcoal Claw video. Strapping on bird-like claws, he creates an ink drawing augmented by terrific scratchy sound.

Chenchen Yang’s fascination with Britain’s class system has led her to create delicately beautiful and intricate collages based around costume. The sting is that each figure has a wasp for a face. Writer and artist, Penny Anderson, has been drawn to shiny things in her new collection, Enargeia Arcade.

Using ready-mades, dolls house furniture, self-assembly kits, collage and mirrors which can be manipulated like a tiny fun fair, Anderson has created the possessions of a fictional character by the name of Enargeia Crow. Crow’s playthings, she tells us, have been bought on the back of him having “made billions from his international warehouses, shipping, storage and a fleet of delivery drivers and cyclists”. They have now been “seized in lieu of outstanding taxes by HMRC”.

It’s a clever take on the excesses of contemporary global capitalism. On that note, times are tough in artsy land and in art education, but creatives are always quick to sense the ways in which the wind of change is blowing and adapt accordingly. The majority of students in this cohort have risen to the Covid-19 challenge and made the best of a bad job.

Nothing compares to the real thing, but as Tom Graystone points out presciently, his key aim was “how to break down the boundary of the screen in a time where we are, more or less, restricted by it.” In creating a 3D reproduction of his tenement flat for his body of work, he brings it all home to where the art is. GSA Postgraduate Showcase 2020, https://gsapostgradshowcase.net/school-of-fine-art/mlitt-in-fine-art-practice/ Online until August 2021

CRITIC’S CHOICE CAMPLE LINE in Thornhill, Dumfries and Galloway, is an oasis of contemporary art in a tranquil setting. Its offerings rarely disappoint and it has reopened its doors with American artist Helen Mirra’s exhibition Acts for placing woollen and linen.

Cample Mill is a poignant location for this show as it operated as a spinning and weaving mill before being repurposed several times throughout last century. Standard Incomparable is a collection of 65 weavings made by weavers from 16 countries as part of a project begun by Mirra in 2015 when she was artist in residence at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum. The project was initiated by Mirra with an open call, appearing in 23 languages, for simple weavings with a particular set of qualities: “a more or less square, plain-woven piece, of a width matching the length of the weaver’s arm.

Yarn of local & undyed plant and/or animal material, in seven alternating stripes (of shades or weights) the width of the weaver’s hand (incl. the thumb).” In evolving this show for CAMPLE LINE, Mirra had in mind two pieces of relatively short-lived 17th century legislation, the Burying in Woollen Acts, signed by Charles II into English law in 1666 and 1680, and the related Act for burying in Scots Linen, passed by the Parliament of Scotland in 1686, Mirra has an enduring interest in bleachfields; open areas established in and around mill towns in the 17th and 18th centuries in Scotland and England as well as Europe, and used for spreading semi-finished linen cloth on the ground to be purified and whitened by the action of sunlight. On Thursday, the process of taking weavings outside began.

The weavings are being gradually placed outside in the surrounding landscape. According to Mirra, “the collection will be let go of” in order to become part of the landscape, having been walked to its resting place. Helen Mirra, Acts for placing woollen and linen, CAMPLE LINE, Thornhill DG3 5HD, 01848 331000, https://campleline.org.uk/ Until September 19.

Thursdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm. Entry is free but by pre-booked appointment only DON’T MISS

The Green Gallery in Buchlyvie has been a hive of activity during lockdown, with owner Becky Walker hosting Saturday night Facebook Live at Five sessions, showcasing artists’ work. Yesterday, the gallery opened its BIG Summer Exhibition (which runs until September 20). Today, its Arts and Crafts Market takes place in and around the gallery.

Expect 30 stalls ranging from Fallen Tree Coffee’s mobile truck to local artist, Hayley Banks and Cushie Doo Textiles’ sustainably hand-printed textile homeware.

Arts & Crafts Market, The Green Gallery, Ballamenoch, Buchlyvie, Stirlingshire, FK8 3NX, www.greengallery.com, 01360 850180, Today (Aug 29) only.

9.30am-5.30pm.

Free parking 9.30-10.30am and 4.30-5.30pm, otherwise GBP5 per car.

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