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Reviews

Review

Remote Togetherness. Review: School of SimVis

27 August 2020

The MDes Sound for the Moving Image programme is singularly well suited to the digital showcase format of 2020: each of the five students here explore the uniquely digital possibilities in audio-visual design, posing complex creative questions about glitches, distortion, mashup, immersivity, un/naturalness and what remote togetherness can feel like.

 

For instance, Sam Welch’s My Panic is Your Panic… is overwhelming and uncomfortable even through my tinny-sounding home set-up – a testament to the power of the piece. Part of Welch’s work-in-progress show (they are due to graduate in January 2021), it neatly distorts and pitches the sound of a New Year’s Eve party, turning that noisy joy into an oppressive and claustrophobic audio-visual panic attack. The bodily, heart-racing sensation of panic is portrayed through disorientating, blurred lights and shallow, rushed gasps – all of which could feel too on the nose in less capable hands, but are used by Welch with nuance and sensitivity.

 

Aidan Lochrin’s Veil of Mist, an experimental overlapping of drone improvisations, would also suit far more dramatic environs than my living room. Imposing and intricate, it journeys through the unexpected possibilities that arrive when sustained sounds collide. Lochrin also presents a film of seven performance art pieces, the best of which is List (starts at 18:00). Four performers receive a list of instructions – imitate, abandon, compliment, copy, destroy – and complete them in their own time. The result is playful and abrasive but, some seven minutes in, they arrive at a kind of unity that’s really rewarding to witness.

 

The sheer range of work that falls under the Sound for the Moving Image programme is wholly impressive, and well-illustrated by Elizabeth Appelquist’s presentation – a persuasive piece of research into ambisonic sound and its storytelling potential within the gaming industries. As the game’s protagonist stomps across the deck of a pirate ship, Appelquist constructs an impressively detailed three-dimensional space from the cry of seagulls overhead, the wash of waves ‘below’ the player and the ability to eavesdrop on a gruff conversation in the captain’s cabin. It’s engaging and witty, and no surprise that 85% of her participants found it to be more immersive than the same game with stereo sound.

 

Elsewhere, Palindrome, an audio-visual work by Tom Forbes, explores the artist’s interests in mash-up and remix culture. Manipulating samples – some of which might be familiar to the listener – Forbes begins and ends in the same aural ‘place’, using an organic vocal loop as the key that locks everything together. The dynamic, found-footage visual component is psychedelic and seamless, contributing a heightened sense of pace and movement to Forbes’ clubby, euphoric mix.

 

Ruofan Zhou’s film Day Dreaming takes us to the club, too – but this club is, in fact, a recreation of a New York City subway station within Animal Crossing (a Nintendo game that’s found a huge global audience during the pandemic). In this gentle machinima that teems with life, Zhou’s avatar bobs and weaves behind the decks in the game, juxtaposed by a montage of tap-tapping “real” feet dancing to the beat as if yearning for the digital dance floor. It’s a touching insight into the artist’s lockdown life, as well as a warm, moving dedication to the moments of connection that communities have found in unlikely places this year.

 

*Katie Hawthorne is a respected freelance culture journalist specialising in music, theatre and technology. Recent bylines include The Guardian, The Stage, Crack, and Q.

 

Image Credit: Sam Welch, Expanded Field.

Review

Home to where the art is. Review: School of Fine Art

27 August 2020

If, like me, you have reached the stage in 2020 when you are sated with the digital world, the prospect of diving headlong into an online showcase is a daunting one. Especially, when it funnels the thoughts, hopes, fears and frustrations of hundreds of artists who were half-way through their year-long Masters programmes at The Glasgow School of Art when lockdown began.

 

In the UK, at the time of writing this review in late August 2020, we are five months on from the defining moment of the year (if not the century), when we were all told to go home, stay home and save lives. “Anyone can get it. Anyone can spread it” said official government messaging. This proved to be true when Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was admitted to intensive care in early April, having contracted coronavirus.

 

As the intensity of lockdown eases, it’s an interesting stage at which to gauge how artists have responded to the challenges of Covid-19. In looking closely at the work of students on three of the 21 Masters courses; MLitt in Fine Art Practice; MLitt in Curatorial Practice and MLitt in Art Writing, we are offered the opportunity to look outside our own “bubbles”.

 

Penny Anderson, who presents her own work on the MLitt in Fine Art Practice, also appears in a short film on the Curatorial Practice section. Healing in a Broken World is presented as part of Joseph Henry’s submission. Penny has Multiple Sclerosis and last year was forced to declare herself homeless after her landlady announced she was selling the Glasgow flat in which she lived and loved. In this meditative 25-minute-long piece, filmed by videographer Stewart Campbell, Penny is asked what the word “home” means to her and if she feels at home with who she is. “You have no choice in the matter,” she declares. Later, Barrie-James O’Neill, who composed, arranged and performed the haunting score, describes healing as “something that all of us should experience in life.”

 

This film, with its considered merging of lockdown stills and moving images together with an omniscient narrator and two one-to-one interviews, is a gem and I urge everyone to seek it out.

 

In the Art Writing section of the showcase, a closeup image of a tiny bat in front of a microphone is used on the pages of three of the four students on the programme. The words underneath state: “I have had a very long day… I am very small and I have no money so you can imagine the stress I am under”.

 

Jessica Higgins, Maria Howard and Timothea Armour have submitted a collaborative piece of writerly rage aimed at the art education machine or, as they put it, “structures that make things not fun anymore”. Part-poem, part-essay, it responds to a text called The University: Last Words by American academics, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. It reflects on their own experiences of “the institution”. They all preface the piece by professing “solidarity with those embroiled in complaints against GSA”.

 

My reaction to this piece of writing? Frustration mainly; especially when I got to the line which declared, “The institution are uncomfortable”. Before Art Writing there was the art of writing. If you are angry with the institution, remember it is a singular entity.

 

With no venues open to test their theories, students on the MLitt in Curatorial Practice progamme have explored ways to curate work and support artists. Certain themes float to the surface, such as isolation, black identity and queer lives.

 

Kat Zavada’s approach is straightforward. “I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all model,” the Polish curator says. “Instead, I approach projects by learning the process and needs of my collaborators.” This collegiate approach is much in evidence. Like most of her fellow students on the course, her studies will be ongoing. Kat’s Crypto H(e)aven project with artist, Letta Shtohryn, explores the “data beings” phenomenon following the mysterious death of cryptocurrency founder Gerald Cotten. It will have a digital and physical form, with the launch of the digital version being scheduled for December 2020.

 

Carol Dunn, whose first degree was in Jewellery Design and Silversmithing, has launched a fascinating website called Now You See Us, which aims to educate the wider public on the historical facts of Afro-Caribbean textured hair while introducing them to new artists inspired by, and using this texture of hair as a muse.

 

Moving on, there is a “back to nature” thread weaving its way through the work of the 39 graduating students emerging from the Master of Letters (MLitt) in Fine Art Practice programme.

 

Take Claire Kidd. She had not long returned from a trip to Pakistan when lockdown hit and she headed for the hills. In her case, to a friend’s seawater farm in Glen Shiel in the North West Highlands. The sense of “discombobulation” she felt informed the drawings and paintings she went on to create. One of Claire’s paintings, Times of Entanglement, presents figures in a Highland landscape hard at work trying to untangle a complex web of hose pipes. It could be a metaphor for all our lives.

 

Vivian Ross-Smith retreated to her home on Shetland and began to made work inspired by her surroundings. Shetland is renowned across the globe for its textiles and Vivian created a series of “wearable paintings” which she then knitted into a performance video piece called BROADCAST. In July, she travelled to various sites which are part of the Shetland Webcam network and in an inspired Dada-ist intervention, she’d appear in all weathers wearing her outsize paintings.

 

Alexander Anderson went home to the USA to take refuge in his late mother’s childhood home in Phoenix, Arizona. There, he engaged with the landscape of the Sonora Desert and frequented an art sanctuary, The Land With No Name, located in the high desert grasslands of occupied Tohono O’odham ancestral lands. The photographs of his assemblages; kinetic sculptures made from found objects, remind us we are all but blips in infinity.

 

Every day In lockdown, Gabriela Lesniewska uploaded a video showing a five-hour-long time-lapse of plants growing inside a creamy wax sculpture. It’s mesmerising. Gabriela’s website is an excellent platform from which to view her work. The oddly beautiful and highly textured photographs of dead birds in her Birds of Paradise series burn their way into the synapses and remind you of the fragility in all things.

 

The postgraduate digital platform uses the same format as the GSA Graduate Showcase, which launched in June. While it’s a functional enough setting, it can be overwhelming and I urge anyone surfing around the site to take a detour into the students’ own social media and websites (linked through each student’s showcase).

 

Clean lines and vivid patches of colour are the hallmark of James Pfaff, who works across various mediums, including photography, painting and sculpture. Clearly influenced by Japanese culture, there is a mature and confident hand at work in each and every one of his submissions.

 

Alanna Blake‘s take on early Renaissance painting mashed up with her personal memories leaped off the screen and I found myself longing to see her big figurative paintings in an actual room, especially CARRY OUT, FIRST BUS, which is both poignant and en-pointe.

 

Georgie Mac‘s cosmic drawing came alive in his Instagram @hellogeorgiemac, especially the one posted on August 15 with the pertinent description “Casual levitation”. He is a featured artist at the top of the Fine Art Practice showcase page with his excellent Charcoal Claw video. Strapping on bird-like claws, he creates an ink drawing augmented by terrific scratchy sound.

 

Chenchen Yang‘s fascination with Britain’s class system led her to create delicately beautiful and intricate collages based around costume. The sting is that each figure has a wasp for a face.

 

Penny Anderson has been drawn to shiny things in her new collection, Enargeia Arcade. Using ready-mades, dolls house furniture, self-assembly kits, collage and mirrors which can be manipulated like a tiny fun fair, Penny has created the possessions of a fictional character by the name of Enargeia Crow. His playthings, she tells us, have been bought on the back of him having “made billions from his international warehouses, shipping, storage and a fleet of delivery drivers and cyclists”. They have now been “seized in lieu of outstanding taxes by HMRC”. It’s a clever take on the excesses of contemporary global capitalism.

 

Creatives are always quick to sense the ways in which the wind of change is blowing and adapt accordingly. The majority of students in this cohort have risen to the Covid-19 challenge and made the best of a bad job. Nothing compares to the real thing, but as Tom Graystone points out, his key aim was “how to break down the boundary of the screen in a time where we are, more or less, restricted by it.” In creating a 3D reproduction of his tenement flat for his body of work, he brings it all home – to where the art is.

 

*Jan Patience is one of Scotland’s most well-known and respected arts journalists. As well as writing a regular visual arts column for The Herald, for the last decade, she has been a regular arts expert on television and radio programmes. Listeners to and viewers of BBC Radio Four’s ‘Front Row,’ BBC Radio Scotland, the new BBC Scotland channel and Scottish TV.

 

Image Credit: Claire Kid, Times of Entanglement.

Review

Has there ever been a greater need for innovation than now? Innovation School Digital Showcase

27 August 2020

Has there ever been a greater need for innovation than now? With Covid-19 disrupting many aspects of normal life and exacerbating existing political, social and economic concerns, it is vital that we begin to adapt and evolve our society in order to achieve a better and fairer future for all.

 

Fortunately, this is just the sort of task students at the GSA’s Innovation School specialise in confronting. This year’s hardy group of graduates have had to overcome extraordinary challenges within their own practice, but they have risen resolutely to the challenge of compiling meaningful research in isolation and developing empathic design solutions despite watching the world being turned upside down.

 

As Jonathan Baldwin, Programme Leader MDes Design Innovation, points out in his introduction to this Showcase, the graduates’ work deals with topics that are exceptionally pertinent as we gradually leave lockdown behind and begin exploring what a post-Covid world might look like. These include the future of work and education, the impact of social isolation, approaches to end-of-life care, and the effect of urban environments on mental health and physical well-being.

 

Inevitably, some of the projects here reference the coronavirus, although most were well underway before the pandemic’s full impact became apparent late on in the academic year. It’s likely the fallout from Covid-19 will become a major topic to be explored in 2020/21, but for now it’s refreshing to see positive and innovative thinking applied to more familiar issues.

 

Typifying the Innovation School’s disruptive approach to everyday concerns, Imanina Hamzah from the MDes in Design Innovation and Citizenship programme wants to take back control of the media from global news corporations. Her proposal for a citizen-owned media aims to be more representative of people’s views and provide a platform for positive public interest news.

 

Mugdha Patil also looks to shake up the status quo with her project The Design of Dissent, which would see the creation of a museum dedicated to protest, human rights and underground movements. Her objective is to raise awareness of the public’s role in holding governments to account and promote the benefits of civic participation. In a year that has seen the Black Lives Matter movement gather momentum, and protesters in Hong Kong demonstrate against the government’s introduction of its Fugitive Offenders amendment bill, Patil’s project offers an insightful overview of the taxonomy and anatomy of dissent.

 

The democratic process also gets a going over in Mafalda Moreaud’s From the Multitude to the People project. Inspired by the Yellow Vests protest movement in France, Moreaud provocatively maps out how the political system could be reformed to create greater autonomy and truer forms of representation.

 

Appearing to respond to the #MeToo movement, Carolina Moyano Izquierdo’s project called Bam Bam examines how stereotypical male behaviours could be addressed through an educational platform that instead promotes responsibility and respect, especially for women.

 

Maja Naumczyk’s research could be valuable for urbanites seeking to reengage meaningfully with their communities post-lockdown. Her service proposal includes new spaces for outdoor activities and a free magazine providing news, stories and details of events that would encourage citizens to step outside of their routines and discover the rich potential of the people and places on their doorstep.

 

Sustainability is a consistently popular area of research for the Innovation School’s graduates, who are intent on making a positive contribution to the future of our planet. Based on studies into the loss of fish biomass in the oceans, Struan Fraser devised a campaign to promote practices that cultivate biodiversity. He wants to prompt city dwellers seeking a greater connection with nature to work on projects that help improve biodiversity in the oceans, such as running farms dedicated to integrated multi-trophic aquaculture.

 

Audrey Vadukkut, a graduate from the MDes in Design Innovation and Environmental Design course, designed a toolkit that would help aspiring gardeners to grow more produce at home. The project is informed by her experiences visiting relatives in a rural community in India and aims to provide a more sustainable alternative to the way food is currently farmed and shipped around the world.

Andrea Yurie Ando Yau from the MSc International Management and Design Innovation programme also presents an alternative food system for Glasgow designed to use locally grown produce. An urban farm would provide healthy ready meals that would be distributed through a network of small businesses, thereby supporting employment in underprivileged areas. It’s a considered and well-researched proposal that offers broad societal as well as health benefits.

 

Other graduates from the programme tackled issues affecting businesses and communities around the world, ranging from a proposal for accommodation in regions of Thailand impacted by rising sea levels (Sukingchaya Punaram), to a concept for improving the post-Covid museum experience (Yian Chen).

 

Among several graduates examining the difficult topic of death and grief is Matija Barovic from the MDes in Design Innovation and Environmental Design course. His project, Grief and Growth, proposes a new service that would see memorial grounds incorporated into sites of great natural beauty. Mourners would benefit from spending time in nature and profits from the enterprise would support the preservation of these fragile ecosystems. Barovic took inspiration from funerary rituals conducted around the world and spoke to experts including a doula about the importance of understanding the cyclical nature of life.

 

Pärtel Unga’s role-playing card game aims to provide a playful and engaging way to help users cope with bereavement and the prospect of dying, while Sangeeta Jaiswal’s Future Present project reimagines rituals around intergenerational gifting. I liked the idea of families investing in urban gardens or forests that future generations can enjoy rather than giving presents with limited lifespans that will inevitably end up in landfill.

 

I was interested in Christopher Wild’s disruptive approach to supporting artisanal traditions using technology. The graduate from the Master of Research programme travelled north to the Shetland Isles to explore how digital techniques could be integrated early on in the design research process and used to reexamine aspects of the traditional Fair Isle knitting process.

 

I also enjoyed the professional look and feel of Xiang Yan’s Cubee service, which aims to promote financial learning in young people. Like a cross between an advent calendar and a piggy bank, kids open doors in a custom-designed box to reveal money-based tasks they need to complete before receiving their allowance. If it had existed when I was growing up my personal finances might be in a better shape!

 

Xidan Tu’s thoughtful project about the importance of independent pubs in their local communities struck a chord at a time when social distancing means visiting hostelries still feels slightly strange. Her Home on Tap project aims to enhance well-being and social engagement by providing a set of tools to help welcome newcomers or those who don’t drink regularly. As we exit lockdown and gradually rebuild our social lives, this project seems to provide an ideal tonic to the isolation many have experienced in recent months.

 

Finally, congratulations to Letao Li from the MDes in Design Innovation and Interaction Design, whose project From the Grounds Up was ‘Highly Commended’ by the jury of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise’s SIE Fresh Idea Competition. Li took inspiration from her caffeine habit when developing a system for reusing waste coffee grounds as a binding for growing mycelium – a fungal material that displays similar properties to some plastics. This material could be shaped into new coffee pods, creating a closed loop that minimises waste.

 

Inevitably, there is far more to explore within this exciting showcase than this brief overview is able to communicate. It can be somewhat overwhelming to scroll through, and a few of the graduates could do with tightening up their presentations, but when dealing with issues affecting the future of humanity it is understandably difficult to summarise the projects in a few paragraphs.

 

The Showcase does a fine job of cataloguing the graduates’ ideas, but it’s a pity it isn’t currently possible to visit the Innovation School’s degree show in person to interact with the engaging presentations they typically produce. The digital platform does, however, give the graduates an opportunity to continue evolving their projects and I, for one, will be logging back on with interest in a few months to see how some of these innovation specialists think our future might shape up.

 

*Alyn Griffiths is an Edinburgh-based journalist, editor and copywriter specialising in architecture and design. Former Design Editor of biannual men’s lifestyle magazine PORT, Alyn is a contributor to leading print and online publications, including Style, Wallpaper, ICON, Blueprint, Dezeen, Dwell and Interior Design.

 

Image Credit: Christopher Wild, Generative Knitting Motif Software.