Brookes University Oxford, degree show (BA)

Not having been to a degree show before I wasn’t sure what to expect, least of all perhaps, a discourse on beauty. Maybe I was expecting radical ideas, politically opinionated work, the passion of the young, which to a large extent I did find; but it was the beauty that I found in abundance that marked this first visit. I plan to go to the show at Ruskin College in mid June as well as UCA with the TV group in a couple of weeks. Eddy (Lerpy) accompanied me for much of the show, he had though, to leave early.

The show was held on two sites, astride the Headington road and there were a few students about to talk and accompany the visitors around, which I have to say added to the experience immensely -especially when they were talking about their own work. I should have taken a camera, it would have been much easier to talk about some of the work which ranged from photography to performance pieces, from video installations to large scale paintings. The exhibition catalogue had an introduction to all 39 artists appearing in the show and an example of their work and it was professionally manufactured, a floor plan was given to the visitor, not needed as I/we were accompanied on the tour.

Of the themes that were being explored by the students, feminism, gender (and gender politics), politics in general, memory were amongst the common themes. I suppose what I noticed most – over and above the shear aesthetic beauty of a lot of the work was that most of the artists were clear about how their personal experiences drove their motivation, equipped them with their vocabulary that found expression in various forms. There didn’t seem to be a stretch into a genre or sphere beyond their realms of experience. It has to be said that these students – at least the ones that I spoke to weren’t in their first flush of youth (though all of course younger than me).

Interviews with many of the students exhibiting can be found here

On the feminist front Char Le had clear influences of Cindy Sherman, both in her representations of transgressive domestic bliss and also her use of masks, though Le used a fluid mask, almost it seemed to me to be an antithesis of the ‘Photoshopped’ world of youth and beauty we see today. I was interested to see Francesca Woodman as an influence in Alex Hackett’s work, seeing the artist participate into a well known local landscape, some of her work can be found here – Alex Hackett. I had a brief opportunity to ask her about this influence and also about the materiality of the accompanying text where she used a typeface and not her own hand, wanting, as she stated, to not impose herself, her signature on the words and leave them anonymous.

The work of Mita Vaghela, one of the student escorts made beautiful objects using disposable plastic, very beautiful organic objects with a strong contextual basis. The grips that hold shirts into place when packaged, similarly the collar rings that hold the shirt in place were both used, to create jewellery in the first place, and the collar units were linked to present a sari. Mita discussed beauty as part of her dissertation which she has kindly shared with me. Apparently there is a resurgence in objects that exhibit beauty as a fundamental component of it’s aesthetic and provided some other references. I will read with enthusiasm.

I didn’t expect to stay as long as I did. I didn’t expect to gain as much as I did. I didn’t expect to be able to connect to these artists as much as I did. My only lasting concern was one of Mita’s throwaway comments when she realised that I was a ‘distance learner’, “of course you don’t have workshops do you?” No Mita, we don’t, and we don’t have many conversations either, especially the sort we had when I came to visit your show, about exchanging ideas, about motivations, about…well Art.


6 thoughts on “Brookes University Oxford, degree show (BA)

  1. It was a very inspiring visit John and I’m sorry I didn’t have time to see it all but I am resolved to return and finish the show as it was, as you say, extremely beautiful.

  2. It all sounds very professionally presented which wasn’t my experience of my previous two visits to the Farnham show. I’ll be interested to read your comparisons of the two in due course.

    • All the work was wonderfully presented and, I think, curated such that it didn’t look as if it had just been thrown together in a few rooms. Still at £9000 a year (you find this after about six of seven clicks which doesn’t imply a confident approach to the fees I fear), you would expect an approach to match. At £27,000 for the course plus things like accommodation and living expenses etc, I think there is something to be said for a comment I heard from Tom Hunter at his talk in Birmingham recently – “Art College is now a finishing school for rich kids”.

  3. Pingback: Self portraits, this is a self portrait. Warning introspection alert! | John Umney - Documentary

  4. Pingback: UCA BA Degree show 2013 | John Umney - Gesture and Meaning

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