We stumbled across Becoming… at The Old Library in Cardiff this weekend having seen the sandwich board at the steps of the building enticing us away from our retail therapy. As we discovered once inside the exhibition features work by graduates of the Masters of Fine Art course at Cardiff School of Art and Design from 2008.
When it comes to what’s going on in the visual art world in Cardiff We like to think we have our finger on the pulse but this exhibition had slipped under our radar. With that in mind we were intrigued by what we might find in the gallery having not been armed with press releases and such prior to our visit.
First impressions count for a lot, especially in the world of visual arts, and unfortunately Becoming… stumbled at the first hurdle. As we entered the exhibition space we were greeted by photographs mounted onto folded corrugated cardboard supports hanging limply from the wall. The first work we encountered was a shabbily cobbled together shelf of what we can only presume were supposed to be plastic bottles filled with urine. Things didn’t get much better as we explored the rest of the exhibition; poorly constructed light-boxes were hung with so many cables sprouting from them that we weren’t sure as to whether this was an aesthetic statement or a lack of professionalism on the part of the artist.
We can’t tell you whose work this was because none of the work was labelled at all. The only information about the artists and their work that was available took the form of a horribly produced ‘catalogue’. The copy we picked up featured a small amount of information about the artists involved. Clearly each individual had produced their own entry for this publication as the fonts change from serif to sans-serif and back again throughout and there are only one or two pages that share the same lay out. One artist’s page in the middle of the document had even been printed on card in contrast to every other page.
The information within the catalogue wasn’t in the slightest bit useful since the images accompanying the artists’ statements it didn’t necessarily match the work that was on display. As there were no labels next to the artworks we were left to entertain ourselves by trying to match the artists listed in the catalogue with their work. This wasn’t an easy task as some of the artists named on the list of exhibitors were not featured in the catalogue at all.
We tried to put the poor presentation aside, and having had a good look around the work on show we found three artists whose work we felt stood out above the rest:
Chris Short’s black and white photographs of the sea had a beautiful ethereal quality to them that drew us in to the work. Despite the mechanistic qualities of the media he successfully manages to capture the deceptively benign force of the water.
Ben Lloyd’s installation, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, features a large number of pre-owned soft toys that have all been dipped in building plaster. The objects allude to a sense of time passed and the preservation of intimate memories of our childhood. However, there is also a somewhat sombre undertone to these mummified toys as result of their bringing to mind an archaeological find. Whilst transporting us back to our childhood the objects also remind us of those memories that have been lost and of a time in our lives before our innocence was lost and we weren’t burdened by the stresses of modern living.
Kimberley Adams’ contribution to the exhibition was minimal. We almost passed by her heavily embroidered pieces of canvas that were simply tacked onto the ends of some exhibition panels. Adams’ practice explores ideas of identity. The work shown at Becoming… features portraits that only show a part of the sitters face; there is an eye on one wall and a nose and mouth on the other. The labour intensive method of production used suggests that the artist spent a lot of time studying her subject but we are only given small visual clues as to the identity of the persons pictured. Adams asks us to question How much visual information contributes to a person’s identity?
It’s a shame that the exhibition hasn’t been produced to a high standard as all the works on display would certainly benefit from a stronger exhibition environment and some curatorial nous. We would certainly like to see some of the work by the artists mentioned above in a different context to fully appreciate them.
This years exhibition by current students on the Masters courses at Cardiff School of Art and Design opens later this month. We will be fascinated to see how they compare to the class of 2008.
Becoming… continues until the 28 September 2011:
10:00am – 5:00pm Monday to Saturday
10:00am – 4:00pm Sunday