“I don’t like to talk about my practice” responds one of the graduating artists from the Slade School of Fine Art when asked about her work. Taking in a showcase of 55 students work is exhausting; for lack of curatorial cohesion moving from one disparate work to another can take its toll. This is to be expected at a grad show, a few hours and a generous amount of openness is a must if you want to make any real engagement in a show like this. But with no catalogue to speak of, floor plans and invigilators are a scarcity navigating this vast building, which remains a functioning work space throughout the show, leaves one feeling ever so slightly on the outside. To encounter several impenetrable works you may come across one that is able to transcend the flurry of references, reminding you why this is such a special art school.
Currently under the directorship of electronic artist Susan Collins, The Slade has an international reputation for it’s progressive pedagogy, especially within the Digital Media Department. With successful alumni including the likes of Richard Hamilton, Mona Hatoum and Tacita Dean (Turner Prize winner ‘98), the Slade has a proven track record for turning out great artists. This years grad show is no exception.
Playful video works were peppered throughout the building with Margarita Athanasious’ YouTube mini series ‘Alive’ vividly standing out. Set in imaginary post-apocalyptic times the work emphasizes a disturbing lack of cohesion between the urban, natural and intergalactic spaces. Meanwhile, Jin Hee Parks’ quietly humorous sculptural work modifies and parodies nature. Her ‘Campfire’ is not so much a pile of sticks as an assemblage of huge pastel coloured logs speaking more of artificial environments than the rustic outdoors.
Becca Djans’ sculptures are a clever exploration of colour as material. Soft chalky colours look like inflated abstract marshmallows, so light you can almost taste them. Her objects feel like things that belong in the hand (or the mouth) that have been blown up to life-size. Shifting notions of proportion, they offer a profoundly visceral experience. Alan Chans’ brilliantly graphic paintings also use colour in a dynamic way. Here, the surface of his painting is treated as a theatrical space, bold minimalist shapes playing across the canvas, often floating there as in Japanese prints. So full of energy his work breathes vitality into the show.
Sean Steadman’s large works on canvas are a topical take on painting in a digital world, and are at once accessible and enigmatic. Incorporating computer-generated forms, laboriously rendered in paint, the artist describes this seemingly futile process as “a kind of misfired logic”. Also working with themes of simulation is Lauren Godfreys’ linoleum flooring. The design, copied from the sole of some Nike sneakers, fills one of the buildings many corridors. Her installation works are a sort of physical version of a gif, where icons and cultural motifs get caught in a perpetual loop of reappropriation.
Rose McLarens’ vast pools of glossy black were hung in one of the farthest rooms and were a welcome change in tone; an antidote to the deluge of mixed signifiers throughout the rest of the show. Entitled ‘Still’, this is a floral still life with the life removed; it’s filminess invites viewers to project their own romantic musings. Proving that you don’t have to work hard to find meaning in art; it finds you.
The Slade BA/BFA Grad Show ran from 21 -24 May, 2012.