Pre-Degree Show Review

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It rained intermittently on Friday the 6th April, during which time the culturally inclined among us were gathering on St. Andrew Street to see the artistic offerings from the current 4th years of Contemporary Art Practice at Gray’s School of Art - thankfully the weather had little premonitory capacity.

In a newly redecorated space that a team of students have been plastering, painting up, cleaning, fixing wires and lighting in, was a crowd packed to the bright white space rafters. The undertaking to convert a once empty and disused sandwich shop into a functioning exhibition space is impressive enough, but what’s most striking about the show is that the space has become a metaphor for the determination and skill that went into the work the students are displaying.

The exhibition features 22 artists who have persevered into their honours year and spent the last 8 months or so refining their practice to present work that should give a taste of the work they intend to show at the degree show - the absolute culmination of their studies. There is also a professionally printed publication for sale giving a small statement from the artists involved about what their interests are in their work, a hefty fiver to take home, but if you find something you really love it’s well worth it to have a memoir of the show.

There is a variety of themes entertained, with varying degrees of complexity and immediacy, with some artists compelled to tackle larger issues such as those surrounding representation and ideal appearances of the body through social media, mortality and mental health. There is of course always more whimsical and quirky pieces on display from artists who feel their interests lie in more abstract or playful fields, making use of bright colours, humorous metaphor and unusual materials. The ultimate purpose of most of these artworks is to encourage not only conversation on these points in the exhibition but to thrust them into the public sphere of conscious thought. These art students, like many others, are exposed to the same issues that feature in the lives of most of us, and much of the work is focussed on the aspects of these too, giving abject relatability to much of it whether you’re integrated to the arts or not.

The role of art has evolved long past what many think of when confronted with the word, and much of the physicality of the field has evolved with it, this exhibition is an exemplary statement on this, providing complex ideas and vast topics being explored and evaluated, commented upon, criticised or just poked fun at through the distilled formality of these works.

Some students have chosen to produce sculptural objects that were interactive, encouraging the viewer to pick up and change some of the items in the structures, adding another element to the experience of the piece. It wasn’t always obvious, unfortunately, and a couple notes by the works would have been welcome to make it clear the intentions were such, but during the opening, the students were friendly and helpful to explain this.

It’s important to remember that like all people, art is a complex, fluid and saturated field, that has many different forms, subjects and cultures – often existing in sporadic juxtapositions. It may seem like a scary thing to engage with at first if you’re new to it, and art should never be approached with any preconceived notions of what you’re going to see, do, hear or feel, but it is made for everyone. Art is an expression of the person who made it, on a particular subject they’re interested in more often than not, and you can love or hate a person, much like you can love or hate some art – what is essential is that we identify and do not let any of our prejudices win. If we judged every book by its cover, we would never make any friends, the same is true for art today; if you don’t take the time to get to know why or what, you’ll never enjoy the why or what.

What’s more is that in lieu of a series of exams and essays for assessment, of these students’ grading comes from the success of the art shows they put on, whether they get a good response from the public and decent attendance is quite important, so I implore you to get down and see this work before it’s gone, every visitor is appreciated, no matter what your background is.

The show opening took place at the current Tendency Towards space at number 42 St Andrews Street (AB25 1JA), opposite the Hilton Garden Inn, and is open until the 14th April, 2-6pm. For more information click this link.

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