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 ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ 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.
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.