Top Line
James Keiller Estates
Text Size: A A A A
banner image
Rounded Area

Duncan of Jordanstone degree show 2009

Fife

EXPLORING every labyrinthine corner of art colleges in a search for new talent is part and parcel of the degree show experience. Duncan of Jordanstone\'s complex of buildings is more than worthy of the term; it wouldn\'t surprise me if the place has its own minotaur lurking somewhere between the jewellery department and Time-based Art.

This year, though, the college has forsaken its labyrinth for the Vision Building, a new commercial property awaiting occupation, made available to the college (and to the Society of Scottish Artists, whose show runs until 19 June) by property developer James Keiller Services on behalf of Horizon Capital. Instead of studios and corridors, each department has a spacious open-plan area to occupy, a challenge to which they are more than happy to rise.

With more than 260 students graduating, the new surroundings move the degree show up a gear in terms of polish and professionalism. It was launched with a VIP opening which included a catwalk show by jewellery and textile design students, at which the guest of honour was supermodel Erin O\'Connor. She enthusiastically described it as "brilliant and bonkers in every way" before hurrying off to become one of the students\' first buyers.

O\'Connor is a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and her involvement is an indication of the part Duncan of Jordanstone (and Dundee University) is playing in trying to attract the museum, which is currently looking at the city\'s waterfront as a potential base for part of its contemporary collection.

Duncan of Jordanstone has a reputation for excellence in traditional media, particularly painting. In recent years it has been trying to balance this with more cutting-edge work from the Art, Philosophy and Contemporary Practices course (offered jointly with Dundee University\'s philosophy depart-ment) and Time-based Art and Digital Film, which concentrates on lens and sound-based media and perfor-mance.

For the first time this year, with Time-based Art taken out of its basement bolthole, the balance is firmly redressed. If anything, it is traditional painting which struggles in these open-plan spaces, shown on a network of partition walls. The work that looks strongest is that which can take possession of a section of the space and make it distinct.

Work such as Jamie Fitzpatrick\'s Unnatural History Museum, which explores hybrid human and animal forms, starting with a series of sculptures inspired by Ovid, and tracing the genre through a suite of drawings based on Durer to taxidermy inspired by the game paintings of Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Fitzpatrick\'s uncanny creations, which end with work based on modern medical experiments, are full of postmodern daring as well as a thorough awareness of their artistic antecedents.

In a degree show with a preponderance of bones and taxidermy, Richard Cormack offers another take on the natural history museum, the skeleton of a pterodactyl-like creature swooping over his space. Jessica Carden, one of several artists exploring the animal instincts latent in the human, features further taxidermy in her collaborative work with fellow graduate Emma McIntyre.

Omar Zingaro Bhatia paints and draws in a variety of styles: portraits with a nod to Chagall or Soutine, invented Tolkienish landscapes and witty captioned drawings à la Edward Gorey, but all this is dwarfed by the way he transforms his space into a "spuriosity shop" crammed full of trinkets, photographs, books and clothes. Oh, and a stuffed magpie.

Duncan of Jordanstone offers master courses in forensic and medical art, which may explain fine art students\' recurring interest in the human body. Jamie Irvine makes exquisitely detailed drawings inspired by the internal landscapes of the body, which begin to look like fantasy lands. Kyle Noble is interested in shamanism and draws directly on to bones. Kerry Lawrence and Fiona Stoddart look in different ways at the question of body image. Helen Lee\'s Contempt for the Flesh project (more bones) works in a range of media to explore where scientific practices seem to be forcing evolution forward for good or ill, comparing and contrasting notions of science and ritual. Fellow Time-based Art student Ailsa Lawson has a passion for special effects prosthetics: you can visit her "clinic" in good health and leave looking like an extra from a zombie movie.

Kezia Mernick\'s work takes the opium poppy as a starting point: beautiful, fragile but deadly. Her painting of poppies and abstract works inspired by bruises balance these tensions of beauty and damage. Her set of spoons engraved with the names of female heroin addicts who died in 2006 are domestic but also rarified. This is careful, thoughtful work with a social conscience. Jessica Ramm\'s kinetic installations are intricate and alluring. Operated by "old technologies" such as the mechanism of a town clock, they are inspired by elements of folk tale while themselves conveying a notion of the magical. James Kingdom Smith\'s Harmonious Discord project comes out of an interest in quantum theory but is equally mesmerising: an intricate network of pulleys, cogs and Newtonian apples which he drives by working at his typewriter.

Alasdair Smith (Time-based Art) has spent much of the year in character as eccentric professor Ahabrahim Sexian, whose Maarhaysu Institute is dedicated to experiments on the fringes of science. His "office" evokes the academic\'s lair in immersive detail, and visitors can watch flickery low-res "rare footage" video of his experiments.

There is some fine work in more representational styles: Ryan Gordon\'s large-scale portraits in pencil which depict young contemporary women with the glamour of black and white movie idols; Sarah Sandeman\'s fine portraits; Bruce Shaw\'s large pen drawings which seem to weave a narrative of troubled faces and gutted buildings.

Carolyn Scott\'s fine photographs taken in Dundee and the United States illuminate inanimate objects, from cowboy hats in Oregon to a cleaner\'s bucket in an art school corridor. Stephanie Harvey makes beautiful artists\' books of poems and photographs exploring the nature of meaning.

Jonathan Richards\'s abstract works look like sculptures made of paper, but they are made entirely of paint, built up layer by painstaking layer. Astrid Leeson\'s sculptures made in plaster – sometimes embedded with objects or adorned with drawings – are a thoughtful look at the urban world coming from a strongly abstract tradition. Lynn Baxter\'s hard-edged sculptures conceal a more ethereal source: they are "drawings in air" exploring mankind\'s historical desire to fly.

And there is more, as there always is. Ana Hamilton\'s atmospheric films inspired by parables; Alastair Condon\'s Fluxus-inspired experiments; Heather Chan\'s brave attempt to grow an installation made of grass; Katie Watters\' fusion of living-room kitsch with sexually explicit wallpaper; Kern Jamieson\'s engaging photographs and Tony Robot MK2; Gearaidh MacGriogair, who unites politics with vigorously coloured abstract designs.

There is Fergus Walker\'s People Powered Flour Mill (grind your own by cycle-power); Jane Gowan\'s wacky jewellery featuring prosthetic hands; Lynsey Coke\'s printed textiles exploring genetic manipulation (more taxidermy, folks); the clever, cheeky designs of furniture makers TWIG (Louise Forbes and Susan Younger, who work together as Two Witty Intelligent Girls).

After several hours, exhausted and invigorated by an overdose of youthful creativity, I\'m in no doubt that the degree show season has begun. And Duncan of Jordanstone has set the bar so high that the others will be running to catch up.

• Until 6 June. For more information, see www.dundee.ac.uk/degreeshow

18th June 2009