Dotted among their fellow students from Fine Arts, the 14 graduates of DJCAD’s unique, interdisciplinary Art & Philosophy programme can be found at several locations within the Degree show, from the very top of the Crawford building to the outer wings of the Matthew building. The delightfully diverse work of this year’s cohort covers painting, as well as photography, film, sound, print-making, and even pottery. Unifying the very different styles of the individual artists is, however, a strong foundation in conceptual thinking which addresses topics such as iconography, post-humanism, bodies and motion, co-habitation, and documentation.
There are a few topics which seemed to have captured this year’s graduates’ imaginations in particular. A number of works address, for example, the idea of site and belonging. It plays a central role in the work of Mhairi Brown, Ellen Cruickshank, and Jodie Williams, while also surfacing in the captivating, multifaceted archival installation of Jamie Donald.
A second topic receiving particular attention this year is that of mythology and heritage. Renee Hunter’s series of mischievous screen prints which refer back to Scottish folk tales plays with this theme as well as the photographic work of Heather Millar and the installation by Sarah King. It was however the more personal pieces that really drew me in.
Katherine Fay Allan’s The rest of us, we just go gardening is a powerful, thought-provoking installation which reflects on the suspension between wellness and sickness during medical treatment. Stepping through the connecting door from the adjacent studio I am immediately enveloped in lively birdsong floating from a speaker above. It competes with the industrial hum emitted by an air filter in the ceiling – probably an unintentional addition to the soundscape, yet it helps to emphasize the contrast between the two elements Allan is combining in this installation: the natural world of gardening and the sterile environments of contemporary medical care. Allan transports the viewer into a reimagined patient bay, complete with dividing curtains, metal bed and a medical trolley. Yet, the hospital bed is simultaneously a flower bed, beautifully covered with herbs, ferns, and various types of flowers. Among the plants lie the disjoined parts of a human figure, moulded out of perforated plastic in a way that reminds me of topiary frames. I am touched, not only by the delicate display and the questions it raises about our modern notions of growing, mending and renewal, but also by the personal nature of the work. Having had to witness her mother undergo intensive treatment for a life-threatening illness, for Allan, this installation also presents a reckoning with difficult experiences.
Personal, in a different way, is the work of Iliana Francia-Elliott. Her installation Just trying to get through the week is a contemplation on the role of motherhood and its invisible forms of labour. Wedged into the farthest corner of Cooper gallery’s foyer, as if to add to the work’s struggle with marginalisation and omission, Francia-Elliott’s work takes the shape of a line of five old-fashioned TV sets and three tightly hung clusters of photographs on the wall behind them.
The videos on screen provide visitors with a taste of the tedium of a mother’s maintenance work, as they supply an endless loop of cleaning and waiting, interrupted only occasionally with the coloured grid of an old-time TV test screen. The long exposure photographs hovering above the screens show the disappearing figure of the artist in various positions and situations. The sense of invisibility and mundanity of being a mother is perfectly captured by the interplay between moving and static images and highlight also the inherent structural limits of each of these media.
What adds force and fascination to the work of all Art & Philosophy graduates this year is not only their conceptual ideas but also their beautiful execution. At the end, that is what invites us to linger, to marvel, to question, to reflect. Make sure you bring some time to do just that. It is worth it.