We took ourselves over to the Howard Gardens galleries at Cardiff School of Art and Design last weekend to have a look around the Masters Degree shows. The exhibitions feature work by students studying postgraduate degrees in Art and Design, Ceramics and Fine Art.
The main gallery space through which we entered the exhibition housed work by MA Ceramics students and we were pleasantly surprised. I must admit that we had fully expected it to be an exhibition of ceramic vessels and figurines. What confronted us instead was an array of abstract ceramic objects and installations that certainly bucked the notion that ceramics is craft and not art. Work by Julia Rempel and Michelle-Rose Quinn in particular stood out as we explored the gallery.
One of Rempel’s exhibits consisted of oversized salt and pepper shakers fixed high up on the gallery wall with piles of salt and pepper beneath them apparently having fallen forth from the perforated letters on the top of the vessels. There was something of a fantastical quality to these shakers that perhaps could have been exploited even further. As we stood beneath them we were reminded of tales such as that of the Borrowers or even Alice in Wonderland as she shrinks before falling down the rabbit hole.
Quinn’s work consisted of what appeared to be items cast in clay which included a pair of boots, a pair of gloves and an empty coat hook. The objects were not coloured but all presented in a white ghostly finish. There was a really lovely subtle suggestion of presence without presence. There was a definite sense of time, and to some extent place, about the work that certainly set our imaginations wandering. Our only criticism would be not of the work but of the space allocated to it. Quinn’s work would definitely have benefited from having more room to breathe. This feeling was exacerbated by the apparently disproportionate amount of space that was allocated to the Fine Art and Art and Design students.
You would have to be beyond blind to miss Dom Williams’ work as you enter the Fine Art exhibition space. The giant, hot pink, plush toy in the centre of the studio space towers over visitors. The creature has an amplifier installed inside it and so could be heard grumbling and rumbling as its tail was agitated by visitors. Accompanying this was a graffiti wall upon which gallery goers were invited to make their own contribution to the exhibition with Posca pens and markers. Williams’ work seemed to us to be indicative of a trend that we’ve seen in the arts over that last year or so which has seen more urban art forms encroaching upon the world of fine art. It is something however, that until now we have not really seen within Welsh art.
Exhibited alongside these bright bold works were some more traditional drawings and paintings from Hilary Wagstaff and Cathryn Lowri Griffith. These works were interesting but ultimately didn’t grab our attention. Dan Griffiths’ video installations however, divided our opinions. The first that we saw was a dark room in which broken skateboards and old skate shoes were suspended from the ceiling. The floor was littered with reclaimed TV screens on which were playing videos which had been recorded whilst the artist had been skateboarding around Cardiff. On the wall was an inscription indicating the number of skateboards and shoes that Griffiths had been through and also suggesting that all of the recordings being show had taken place over a two year period. Although engaging, the presentation of the work did nothing to convey the passing of time that the title suggested was of importance and ultimately the work felt somewhat fragmented.
The second video by Griffiths was a reel that was over twenty minutes long showing him trying to perfect a hop on his skateboard. One could imagine some visitors dismissing it far too quickly (as we witnessed) assuming that because it featured skateboarding it wasn’t for them. However, the endless repetition was fascinating. It is something that most all of us have experienced at some point in our lives: repeating an action to perfect it, and after having spent some time sat watching the video we actually found that it became somewhat soothing.
Minna Oberg’s work was also rather fascinating. Entitled Failed, the artist presented a number of photographs of an installation that didn’t quite happen. It was clear that photographs had been taken in the space in which they were presented. It was lovely to see that artist had been able to see, and accept, that the work she had intended to present was failing and that she had the confidence to react to this situation and still produce something note worthy for the exhibition. It was a shame since we are rather partial to a little installation art but the photographs presented the possibility of such a work of art and in some respects allowed the visitor to imagine the finished work themselves.
There was further work on display on the fourth floor which included prints, paintings and drawings but unfortunately these left us a little cold. The fifth floor was occupied by just one artist; Alan Goulbourne. His exhibition consisted of a number of abstract paintings and prints alongside some large installations which included an effigy of tree assembled from the branches of felled trees. If nothing else you can clearly say that Goulbourne is prolific but ultimately he failed to inspire us on this occasion.
Overall we enjoyed our little excursion to Cardiff School of Art and Design for their postgraduate exhibitions. There really is a little something for everyone on display whether your passion is for ceramics, painting, sculpture, print making or drawing. There is far more on display than we have managed to covered here as some of the work was just not to our taste and some was unfortunately so poorly labelled that we have no idea whose, or in some cases even what, it was.
You should definitely go and check it out for yourself whilst you can. The exhibition is open now and will continue until the 24 September 2010.