Draw The Line ’09 Lancaster University

Reviewed by Kev McVeigh

Draw The Line ’09 is the Lancaster University Fine Art Degree Show held over two venues on campus.  Each artist displaying work in both venues creates an odd contrast for some between the formal presentation of the Peter Scott Gallery and the more varied use of the Studios.

One of the functions of art might be considered provocateur, and in this show one artist in particular takes that line.  Equally art frequently reveals as much of its creator as of its subject, inevitably so when they are one and the same.  So two quite similar pieces by Katrina Laskowski show video of her naked body covered in food.  Is it art or porn, some might ask?  Certainly not the latter as there is none of porn’s luxuriating in the sexual detail.  Indeed the second piece is barely erotic at all, being too self-conscious or knowing for that.  In the former, the brief stills of Laskowski pouring custard over her breasts and down her back in the shower offer something, though curiously the pattern of bright yellow on her skin matches the flow of paint over light boxes in Harriet Bulch’s work across the room.  Is it art then?  Yes, I think so, but perhaps not as the artist claims in the catalogue.  For me the art comes in the creation of a dichotomy of coyness (there’s not even a hint of a nipple in one piece) and flagrant exhibitionism, rather than in an erotic association of food and sexuality which after all was done so much more intimately in films such as Last Tango In Paris or Tampopo.

Almost as notorious, having made the Lancaster Guardian, was Caroline Horton’s ‘desperategirl@hotmail.co.uk’ persona.  You may have encountered her vivid, intriguing pop-art styled posters around town supposedly seeking and arranging a liaison.  Collected as a whole they offer a thoughtful yet exuberant meditation on the prevalent vogue of detached communication (e-mails, texts, etc) whilst maintaining a coded narrative in the manner of the recent BT ads.  Finally there is a hint that the story continues (assuming it was ever real… and not more artifice.)

At first glance Jo Gillot’s work might also reflect a TV ad series: the stuffed toys of the Corsa ads.  There is more though, a different, darker narrative emerges as a series of these handmade ‘toys’ are made solid from cut-out bedsheet.  The traditional women’s crafts are here co-opted into an artistic context.  Several of the figures appear drowned in jars of coloured jam, jelly or liquid topped with traditional muslin.  In the catalogue Jo admits to the obvious influences of Tracey Emin and especially Mike Kelley but in her combinations of the childlike and the sinister I see Paula Rego’s twisted take on fairytales and child and adult roles.

If it seems unfair that I am comparing some of these talented young artists to their influential predecessors let me point out the inevitability of such connections.  Throughout history much art has been involved in a dialogue with what went before.  Furthermore this is work specifically compiled to obtain an academic qualification, under tutelage and the rarefied influences that implies.  Of course these pieces reflect canon, and the academy, but what is striking is how so many of them wear their influences lightly and are by no means shackled to them.

So, for example, one of my favourite pieces here was Robin Spalding’s ‘Deliverance’ part of an ongoing sequence that reminds me at first of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster sequence in its hybrid form and its re-mythologizing ‘story.’  Spalding’s work is though quite different to Barney’s in its eschewing of surrealism and concentration on function.

Spalding brings a contemporary slant to myth, but Lucy Frost brings the contemporary world right in our faces.  Quite literally with ‘car windscreen’ with its detached and isolated missile throwing figure painted in photorealist fashion onto the shattered glass windshield.  As a commentary on our exposure to conflict through the distorted eye of the media it is quite obvious but at the same time carefully adopted angles force an abstraction on our view that adds a challenge: is this real?

I’ve talked about some of my favourites here, but the whole show is worth seeing.  Art only fails if it leaves the viewer indifferent and unchanged.  That cannot be said for most of the work on show here.  Perhaps Clare Jones’ blotchy abstract paintings were for me just ‘nice.’  Sarah Rhead’s skilful cut-out and pop-up cardboard cities were just that: skilful.  Yet in the catalogue they are shown illuminated and dramatic where on display they lack that character and seem more of a technical exercise.

courtesy Sian Phillips

If Rhead has simply failed to fully exploit her space then other site=specific work was more effective.  Sian Phillips hanging pods of burnt melted sugar offer a frightening implication as you realise the floor beneath is covered not only in dark liquid but in broken shells.  Something mysterious has hatched here (or have I just watched the wrong movies?)   As a constantly flowing organic sculpture there is a sensual beauty and terror present in taut harmony.

What next for these ex-students though?  Some are off to further studies, others into the world of work.  Jo Gillot we expect to achieve major pop success.  And there are at least two artists in this show whose work offers a chance of mainstream commercial success.  Ellen Swingler’s brooding charcoal drawings of archways, passages and what lies beyond, in the shadows are richly detailed but carefully framed to limit perception to one direction.  Melissa Laishley has used rapid movement in a specially designed ‘lightsuit’ and long exposure photography to produce images of landscapes (a twisted branch, an iron staircase) entwined with mysterious veils of red light. I could easily see both these artists work marketed as popular prints.

With as much work again that I haven’t discussed, Draw The Line ‘09 is a magnificent show offering incredible technical ability, imaginative diversity and above all, passion.


19 Responses

  1. Im sure Clare Jones and Sarah Rhead will be overjoyed with this summing up of their efforts over three years

  2. haven’t seen it, two poorly children have ensured I’m shackled firmly indoors right now…..

  3. Its another case of being damned by (very) faint praise again Kev, I must give u the benefit of the doubt though obviously, having not seen. O well, sure Clare and Sarah probably wont even read this

    • re:Clare and Sarah probably wont even read this

      When I have contact details I do try to let artists know they are being reviewed. Every artist mentioned in this review was emailed individually with a link to the review.

  4. I wasn’t taken by Clare’s work personally, but Sarah’s was a different matter. The version illustrated in the catalogue is in my opinion far more interesting than that on display in the gallery, which is a curious situation I felt worthy of mention. The contrast between the two versions really lessens the impact of the latter, and that is a shame.

  5. Unlike many of the musicians and promoters out their, these guys and girls are toughened up by years of feedback and crits…It is part of becoming a professional in their field. I’m pretty sure Clare and Sarah welcome the nod, at least its got us talkin’…

  6. I’m unsure how useful reviewing an art degree show is anyway. It’s not like a gig, or even a professional exhibition, as it is a compulsory task which we all have to undertake in order to finish the course. You wouldn’t go review a GCSE school project, would you? I understand that this is semi-professional, with advertisement and work for sale, but it is still a showcase of educational work. Surely the fact it’s being examined is enough of a critique for us?

    I appreciate you coming along and sharing your comments- but I think a degree show has to be handled very differently to, and more sensitively than, say, a cultural event that’s been put on by choice. Like Wes said, this is 3 years worth of hard slog. Doesnt mean you have to like all the stuff, but does mean you need to be a bit less dismissive of some people’s work.


    • Jo: I believe the major art journals would usually review shows such as Goldsmiths’ Degree Show, and one of my intentions with TLR is to show that Lancaster has as much of interest as anywhere else in the country and just because its a small city doesn’t mean it deserves to be ignored.

      Correct me if I am wrong here, but it is also my understanding that there were a sizeable number of graduates whose work was not in the exhibition. How does that fit with it being a course requirement to exhibit as you imply? Does their absence change the nature of the show to something more of a showcase and invite a different viewing?

  7. Ok, I tethered mi kids to the pram and caught the final day….I’ll let my (nearly) three year old sum it up…

    ‘I want to go back and see the lady with the cakes on the floor…’

    Personally I’ll take a lead from JoG on this, having been through the process myself. I see potential and merit in everything on show here, wouldn’t like to single out. HOWEVER….I have my favourites and will be following them, see how things go. Fact is, its a window into the mind and soul of some of these guys and girls…From the point of view of someone curating shows, its essential to get a heads up and a feel for their individual practice. The percentage of students that carry this through to a professional level is unfortunately in the single digits, so for me its always interesting to revist names and see who had the will, stamina, luck, money or desire to go for it…..

  8. p.s the afformentioned Sarah and Clare…..loads of good points outweighing the negative. I know I’m being overly complementary, but I genuinely know the rigour involved and, call it bias if you will, but its just fab to see this stuff being thought about and realised.
    These are all starting points…..the career span of the artist is their whole lives.

  9. Why are are you reviewing work someone had to do for their degree? It was compulsory! It’s being marked, that’s all the criticism they need. It doesn’t help any of these guys to hear negative feedback against their work and even if you have something good to say about it, why should that please them?

    You don’t have any credentials or anything at all that would qualify you passing judgement on anyone, especially regarding work for a degree art show.

    We can’t stop you reviewing things in the same way we can’t stop you sitting by yourself in the Yorkie with a Diet Coke night after night. By all means, go mental reviewing things but don’t be deluded enough to think that anyone cares about what you have to say.

    • Thats a bit harsh. Its not compulsory, no one is forcing you to pay thousands of pounds for useless degree, its a trade off, its a game, get used to it…..also, would you have Kev sit and get pissed everynight in the Yorkie before driving home ?.

  10. Andy: Leaving aside my qualifications, since you don’t know me well enough to know what qualifications I have or have not got, you raise an interesting question there.
    There is an assumption in your comments that the purpose and audience of a review is the artist, but is that true? Is the intended audience not actually anyone who is interested?

  11. I suspect it’s the qualifications you have not got which are causing Andy concern.

    • Sean: I think I worked that out, but the point remains the same none of you know what qualifications I have or haven’t got or have said what qualifications I need to review anything.

    • A brain, eyes and a fuckin desire to talk about stuff is all that is needed in terms of qualifications. Its not communist China out there guys.

  12. If you are referring to Clare and Sarah’s work as just ‘nice’ and ‘skillful’ then you obviously haven’t took the time to contemplate the work and read more into the pieces rather then just skimming the surface.

    I am sure they both understand that being a professional artist is all about feedback and critics. however, I think it it extremely harsh to describe them as ‘Nice’ and ‘skillful’ when considering the amount of work, effort, thought, skill and hard work that is needed!!!!!

    • @Unknown: I think the reference to the two versions of Sarah’s piece and how one worked better than the other implies that actuallY i did take the time over this work.

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