Art & Design Masters Exhibition 2012

We took the opportunity to sneak into Cardiff School of Art & Design at Howard Gardens earlier this week in order to have a look around their 2012 Masters exhibition. With smaller numbers of students studying at this postgraduate level Masters courses are held up as the flagships for their parent institutions. With this in mind we were looking forward to seeing whether this latest crop of students had produced any memorable masterpieces.

Those familiar with Howard Gardens will know that visitors are welcomed into the main gallery. This is a dedicated gallery space that hosts a programme of monthly exhibitions by both established and emerging artists. As with school’s undergraduate degree show earlier this summer this gallery space was given up to the exhibiting students for the duration of the Masters exhibition. In fact the main gallery housed an exhibition of work solely by MA Ceramics students.

We’ll come back to this exhibition space later though and instead start with a look at the work in the exhibition space behind the gallery. After all it’s better to finish on a high isn’t?

The exhibition space behind the gallery accommodated a mixed exhibition from students studying MA Fine Art, Masters of Fine Art, Masters of Design and MA Art and Design – no we don’t know quite exactly how all these courses differ from one another either.

With there only being nine students exhibiting across all four of these courses students work was scattered around the exhibition space making use of spaces that was most suitable for their work rather than being clustered together by course title as is sometime the case with the more jam packed undergraduate exhibitions.

The first body of work we encountered, by Jan Williams, was perhaps the highlight of this second exhibition space. We’ve come across Jan’s work once before but the work here was quite a departure from the traditional painting I’d experienced last time. One large wall was painted with geometric forms all in shades of white and the back wall was lime-washed. In the middle of the space hung a white painted wooden frame which could well have been the stretcher for a painting.

According the blurb accompanying Jan’s work she is interested in architectural forms and their relationship to memory and identity. This is quite apparent in the beautifully subtle work presented and in fact we found that the most engaging piece of work that she presented was a video documenting the lime-washing. Seeing the time spent working to repetitively wash the wall gave a good understanding of how the process could help the artist to contemplate her own identity.

The rest of the work on display in this second gallery space unfortunately left us a little cold.

Donna Lee Downe presented an MFA archive to which visitors were invited to contribute. This appeared to be cut up slices of paperwork and notes that she had collected throughout the course of her studies. The archive as presented was clearly a document of Donna’s MFA experience.

There was however, no direction for visitors; we were simply asked to make a contribution. As outsiders to the work we couldn’t really get our heads around the way in which shoe-horning visitor’s contributions into this archive was of any value to the project without any form of guidance. It seemed ill thought out and simply an act of audience engagement for the sake of it.

Paul Appleby presented a collection of photographs printed from glass negatives he found at the bottom of a cupboard full of junk. The act of presenting recently re-discovered images like this is hardly new and this presentation certainly wasn’t very inspiring. Of course there is a Romantic quality to old images like these but presenting them as the work of art themselves is tiresome. It’s a shame that Paul didn’t feel inspired to create some new work of his own as a result of this discovery.

Shaun Featherstone had created an installation based upon his Great Frock ‘n’ Robe Swindle newspaper which was an anti-Queen’s Jubilee publication. Obviously this exhibition was several months too late as the Queen’s Jubilee has been and gone and the work would have no doubt had more of an impact if exhibited at the height of the celebrations..The installation relied on a punk aesthetic to convey Shaun’s stance. This might have been effective in the late nineteen seventies but with the aesthetic having been popularised and made palatable by the fashion industry the impact of the work was questionable. We left the exhibition still undecided as to whether Shaun’s work was a serious stab at the monarchy or whether it was a tongue in cheek dig at those voicing their anti-monarchy opinions.

In addition to these art installations there were a number of other works by students who took a more design based approach to their practices. Unfortunately these were all let down by atrocious presentation.

Steven Coleman’s poster was slapped loosely across the wall whilst his panels of text were horribly mounted with grotesque bubbles of air between them and their foamcore support. Bobby Alkady’s name was hand written on his information plaque: clearly the student had forgotten to include this (some would say reasonable important) piece of information on his exhibition literature. Chris Moebus’s printouts were also horribly mounted.

There was also one sculpture constructed from magazines standing in the middle of two exhibition spaces that we were unable to attribute any credit to.

Fortunately our spirits were lifted as we headed back into the main Howard Gardens gallery. The MA Ceramics course in Cardiff is well regarded and it’s not hard to see why.

When recalling the show Sharon James’ ceramic sculptures are the first to jump into my mind. The sculptures were developed using 3D CAD software which produced the vividly coloured organic looking objects presented to us here. They were fair sized and somewhat surreal looking objects which gave us the feeling of entering into a strange world akin to Alice wandering through Wonderland.

Conor Maguire’s large black installation also made a lasting impression. It was great to see some work in this exhibition that really went some way to explode the idea that ceramics is ‘merely’ craft. The jet black sculpture was as far removed from the traditional pottery that the uninitiated may have expected to see as one could get. The work was comprised of elements including what appeared to be a brain alongside what could be read as a laden crucifix or even a pyre. This allegorical work provided a lot of fuel for thought.

The rest of the work on display fitted more closely with our preconceived idea of what a ceramics exhibition might look like but was totally engaging throughout from Alaa Abdullah’s Arabian influenced spheres to Laura Lillie’s objects exploring the processes involved in the creation and development of her work.

The exhibition of ceramics in the Howard Gardens gallery was produced to an exceptionally high standard as was the work on show. One can understand why the gallery was given over to an exhibition of work solely from this one course.

When the other courses involved in this postgraduate exhibition start to aspire to achieve the standards set by their Ceramics counterparts Cardiff School of Art will have surely have a Masters exhibition to be reckoned with.

Until then…

Cardiff School of Art & Design
Masters Exhibition
7 – 14 September 2012

You can view a digital copy of the exhibition catalogue as a pdf by clicking here.

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