I've done three more student shows in the last ten days - 2 degree shows at Huddersfield University & Leeds College of Art, plus a Diploma-level show from Mid-Cheshire College, which I stumbled on by accident at the Cube Gallery in Manchester.
I'm not proposing a detailed write-up here, though I have notes, but just to log the visits and to draw out any lessons/ themes.
· The quality of work that I've seen at Sheffield Hallam and in these three shows is, on the whole, good, but it is variable. By the end, I feel that I could have made quite a confident shot at ranking the students and estimating their mark. It does bring home the fact that Quality and Originality really stand out in this type of multiple show. And, one needs to remember, this is kind of what the assessor looks at. 3 or 4 'bog standard' A3 prints of a street shot look decidedly ordinary when others have gone for a high aesthetic in their presentation and/or taken a novel approach.
· The Most striking and memorable, for me, was Aaron Francis' work at Huddersfield. I can't refer directly to the actual piece of work, but his website is here - http://www.aaronjfrancis.co.uk/. His degree presentation was in a curtained off, dark area of the space, and it comprised - a table on which were laid out some old photographs of Sheffield's steel mills, some newspaper cuttings about the mill closures, a notebook that he had compiled, and some colour photographs of him dressed for hot metal handling; also on the table was a small monitor, on which a video was running that showed him melting down pieces of metal in a foundry-type setting; behind the table, several light bulbs were hanging at different levels, close to the floor, and fading on and off in an apparently random fashion; below them, on the floor, were round metal discs, which looked as though they had been melted. I stood, wondering, as one would - mildly fascinated, but puzzled. Fortunately, Aaron was on hand to explain. He had printed each of the old images onto pieces of steel; then melted them down - hence the video - and that was what I was looking at on the floor. In the ceiling, above the light bulbs, was a laptop, on which software was slowly and consecutively scanning digital files of the images, pixel by pixel. The light and shade in those pixels was what was controlling the level of brightness of the light bulbs - one representing each image. Aaron said he was interested in 'process' - and it showed. I wasn't the least bit surprised to learn that he had just been awarded a First, or that he already has a job to go to. There is a lesson there for all - about engagement and commitment and quality and originality.
· Leeds College of Art was probably the best 'quality' show, overall - rather more of a fashion bias there, and also some quite 'personal' projects. I particularly liked Alessandro de Besi's 'Makers', which can be seen here - http://www.alessandrodebesi.com. He has filmed artists in the process of creating their work - again, an exploration of 'process' - and had presented each video as a 'hole in the wall' above which he had placed a large, high quality print of his portrait of the artist. These front-on, deadpan portraits looked straight at the viewer as one watched them at work on the small screens. Whether deliberate or not, they challenged you to take them seriously; to really understand the depth of their creative process and the care they were taking over it - very effective! Bianca Wallis-Salmon's combination of images from her parents' photo albums - combining images of each of them at similar stages in their lives, but using prints on transparency to merge one image into the other - also caught my eye. It's a relatively simple, but highly effective means of presentation - both as individual print combinations on the wall and in bok form, with transparencies interleaved with paper prints.
So - as expected - very worthwhile to seen these shows; they were inspiring without being 'frightening', but, to repeat, really hammered home the need for Quality, Originality, Engagement, Seriousness of Purpose; but they also encourage me to 'give it a go'.