The curious, moving and brilliant new work of the 2018 graduates, by Sian Matthews

I started this year’s degree show season by making my yearly pilgrimage back to the University of Hertfordshire. I have been going to see the Headlines show since I first started my Foundation degree at UH in 2012, and having been a part of Headlines ’16 after completing my BA I always find it a lot of fun to go back and see what the students have achieved with the same space, resources and amazing tutors I had. I am never disappointed. Headlines includes the whole school of art, from Fine Art, Photography and Fashion to Model making, Design and everything in between. It’s a diverse celebration of a lot of hard work and that’s what makes it such an awesome show.

Obviously, every year I make a beeline for the Fine Art studios, my old stomping ground, to explore the work on display and support my fellow artists. It is also a chance to see old friends and tutors. I can admit I miss them and my studio.

One of the things I always enjoy and am proud of is the distinct visual similarities and connections all UH students seem to share no matter what year you go, like one huge collective. There always seems to be a huge focus on 3D work, accumulations and collections of found objects, plaster casts and video work; mediums which I view as more tactile and interactive for the viewer. Objects which you can form a connection to always seem to do more for me than a drawing (personal preference). I am sure that this connection we all share comes from the environment created at UH; there is a lot of space, meaning you have more freedom to create large scale, ambitious works, as well as some very hands on and inspiring tutors and it’s encouraged to bounce ideas off each other and collaborate.

There was a lot of that this year, as well as some fantastic performance and painting. A few favourites of mine, working with themes such as the everyday, the human condition, balance and absence, included (pictures below) Lucy Alexandra, Lucy Matthews, Elizabeth Leonard, Lizzie Cardoza and Seda Kalayci.

Moving forward a month to Free Range, “the largest creative graduate showcase in Europe” at The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. From the 2nd of June to the 16th of July, each week there is a new exhibition exploring a different creative medium combining the work of many universities. Again, I like to go every year, it’s always a great show and different to any degree show; the main difference being that it’s a curated exhibition. Degree shows tend to have all the artists clearly separated for obvious reasons (the work needs to be graded so it needs to be clear who did what). Free Range gives the artists the space and freedom to pick works and curate a show that illustrates their achievements as a collective (I am also aware that some universities use Free Range as their degree show).

My first Free Range visit this year was to Photography week 1. I’ll be honest here, this is a controversial opinion! I am sometimes cautious of going to large photography exhibitions because I feel they can get repetitive. Not to say the work included is awful or boring, because it is not, but I am not someone who gets a great deal from photography. It is just not a medium I connect with easily- it’s personal preference. So I was pleasantly surprised to find some really fantastic work on display. These included works by Molly Snell, Katariina Leinonen, Hannah Detnon, Elena Cenedese and Jessica Nash. (pictured below)

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Jessica Nash

Free Range Art Week I was excited for, so excited that I went to the private view. I was looking forward to seeing how the UH show would differ from the degree show and seeing what other crazy things I would discover from universities such as Northampton, Leeds, Hereford, Colchester and Norwich.

Every year since I took part in Free Range, Herts has used the T3 space, it is bright, open and right in the middle of everything which makes it a great space for those big ambitious 3D works I mentioned earlier, its also great for performance because of the footfall it gets. This year was no different, it was packed. I know I am biased, but it looked amazing.

 

Next to UH was Hereford College of Arts. My eye was drawn straight to the work of Justine-Diane Winter whose installation, focusing on themes of feminism, attraction, repultion and decay included wilting flowers nailed to the walls accompanied by a video. It demanded my attention straight away, it was bold and obviously meant something to the artist.

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Also from Hereford was Tara Love and her panel of coloured ear casts. As someone who loves a repetitive process and casting objects this piece jumped out at me. It was quirky and fun to look at as well as a thought-provoking comment on our sense of hearing and the connections it provides us with.

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‘The Unnameables’ by Hannah Moulds were uncanny as they creeped around the entrance way to the T1 space. These faux fur forms almost seemed alive in the way they trailed around the space they were given. Reading what the artist wrote about them gave them a whole new context and conjured all kinds of weird imagery and stories. It would be great to see them again in some different spaces.

 

Back downstairs I found a couple of gems. A whole collection of small studies of nipples by Olivia Fenwick arranged in a pattern on the wall, reminiscent of a mandala. These accompanied a pile of sculptural nipples which were spreading their way across the floor upstairs as if they were multiplying. Always fun to see an invasion of nipples, right?

 

The second gem I found downstairs was the work of Alex Dixie Tobias. A small key hole in the wall led to a burlesque peep show, one designed to be a comment on feeling used, and performing for other people’s pleasure and entertainment. Some of Alex’s other works focus on identity and the struggles of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

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Art can be therapeutic for some, it can also be a way to document and make sense of a difficult situation or condition and I must applaud any artists who lay it all out in such a revealing way for the whole world to see.  I’ve done it and I know how hard it is to confront a demon everyday in the quest to create something great and regain some control of something uncontrollable.

These are just a few things which stood out to me at Free Range 18. I could go on for a while yet, I honestly thought it was an incredibly strong show this year. I even went back on the Monday before it ended to see a few art works without the massive crowds from the PV and to make sure I hadn’t missed anything special. I am already looking forward to the degree shows of 2019!

Did anyone go to any great degree shows? What stood out and excited you? Share in the comments below.

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