Chelsea College of Arts Degree Show 2015 – Abject Dynamism Prevails

Chelsea College of Arts

Chelsea has established itself as one of London’s most prestigious art and design colleges and over the years has produced an illustrious alumni including Anish Kapoor, Steve McQueen, Haroon Mirza, Mariko Mori, Mike Nelson, Chris Ofili and Mark Wallinger. Its Grade ll listed Pimlico campus – a former military site constructed around a parade ground – overlooks both the River Thames and Tate Britain. In itself a bastion of grandeur, and flanked by such allegorical neighbours, Chelsea’s foreboding appearance inadvertently molds its own perception in its visitors, one shaped by history and regimental tradition. And yet this school’s abject dynamism is apparent the minute you prise apart the black pvc strip curtains to enter the show.

Navigating around the myriad of rooms, corners and corridors, wherein conflicting sound systems and slamming doors battle for a deafening dominance, a series of patterns begin to emerge. Without surmising, Chelsea’s vision of the contemporary world is one saturated with ambiguity. How typical, you might think, that contemporary art remains bound to such an obscure economy. Yet it is the unfailing pursuit of meaning, or indeed its renewed articulation, that is the modus operandi of this future generation of artists. Owing to such multifarious approaches to contemporary life, it is difficult and indeed misguided to approach degree shows with a predetermined sense of ‘theme’. Nevertheless, the prevailing concerns of these artists around various contemporary states of affairs are perceptible and as such noteworthy.

Throughout this show, it was clear to me that three distinct but confluent categories were unanimous among Chelsea’s students. The first was their concerns surrounding decay and distortion. Concerning the latter, among the most literal dialogues were Henri Charreau’s contorted congregation of figures. Naked, defaced and sexless, lingering shamefully up against perversely pink walls and kneeling on the pebbled ground, Charreau’s figures seem to echo the world’s incessant violent brutality on human beings, often stripping them bare of their identity and material effects. I was reminded of Giorgio Agamben’s seminal reading on ‘Bare Life’ – that is, the politics of exclusion and what constitutes a citizen from a mere body – in tandem with the sculptures of Jake and Dinos Chapman, where this idea of the ‘reject’ society is played out so implicitly.

Sculptures by Henri Charreau, Chelsea College of Arts, June 2015

In a similar vein, Kristen Kong’s sculptural series ‘Back to Nature’ explicitly engages with waste and rejection in contemporary society. Where convenience supplants consideration, our crazed ‘bullet’ juice and liquid smoothie surrogates for concrete foods creates a huge amount of spoiled waste. Investigating the properties of melon skin as a sustainable material for daily use, ‘Back to Nature’ is a poetic and somewhat Biblical engagement with cycles of life which begin and ultimately end in the earth. Presented almost as a topographical analysis, we are invited to reconsider what we otherwise deem dispensable.

Kristen Kong, Back to Nature, Chelsea College of Arts, June 2015

Amy Fletcher’s photographic series ‘Sites of Violence’ tackles this notion of profusion through the process of the documentary. Selecting a photographic array of various locations historically subjected to external forces of governance, power, territory or religion, Fletcher is intrigued by the indelible effects of crime on a contained site. Her accompanying factual blurbs to each individual photograph alter their otherwise internalised narrative and our relationship to them. Reminiscent of Alfredo Jaar’s literary work ‘The Politics of Images’ in tandem with his own artistic practice, ‘Sites of Violence’ tackles the superfluity of images in contemporary life, their over-abundance and paradoxically their insignificance.

Amy Fletcher, Sites of Violence, Chelsea College of Arts, June 2015

A second prevalent investigative theme was this idea of deconstruction/reconstruction. Teresa Byrne’s Reconstruction (wall piece) recalls the famous ‘Combines’ of Robert Rauschenberg in their hybrid interaction between painting and sculpture and the evocation of experiences and recollections of the everyday world. Akin to veritable and tactile puzzles, each facet of the total is abstracted to the extent that only an essence of its original form remains, assuming a new identity of its own. As such, the constructions remain incomplete, locked in a space/time continuum and open to a ‘multiplication of gazes’.

Teresa Byrne, Reconstruction (Wall Piece), Chelsea College of Arts, June 2015

Through the corridor and crossing to the other side of the building, Hannah Wyman explores the idea of boundaries and thresholds as physical and conceptual representations in her three-dimensional works. Indexes of the British countryside flank one another – the stye and the unmistakable fragment of a pill-box  – to manifest paradoxical themes of ‘fear’ and ‘pride’ imbued in contemporary dialogues on mass-migration and border controls. The uneasy tension between ‘the great British outdoors’ and self-conscious mechanisms of defense presents a renewed engagement with the subject of controls on human movement in Europe and the historical/present day values we project unto such forms.

Three-dimensional work by Hannah Wyman, Chelsea College of Arts, June 2015

As a somewhat organic continuation of these ideas on boundaries and deconstructions, comes the third perceptible grouping gathered around the concept of transcendence. The theme of physical and non-physical boundaries appears in Jo Gilford’s work which, as a whole, questions the imposed logic of categorisation. Indelibly influenced to view life in grid-format by Instagram and Tumblr, we are reluctant to question the imposition of such platforms in our daily lives. Comprised of porcelain vessels, hollow objects, shredded and pulped paper and set upon the floor in an ordered and categorised structure, we are able to make sense of this display yet without totally comprehending it. The piece serves to reiterate how we view people and things as distinct from one another and ourselves and to provoke an idea of what could happen should these boundaries be destabilised.

Installation view of works by Jo Gifford, Chelsea College of Arts, June 2015

In a convergent bid to realign our approach to both the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, Jo Penso presents a subtle but challenging examination on default behaviours when encountering art. Intertwining the roles of both artist and curator, Penso’s practice is one entirely process-based and considers how curation can be used as a means to make art, and vice versa.  Confronted by a glass window panel in the ground-floor corridor, we read what appears as a syllabus in alphabetical order, with familiar art world names such as Bourriaud, Kruger and Ruscha appearing in black marker pen paired with a  brief one-line synopsis i.e. ‘Baldessari, John: I will not make any more boring art’. A little bit of humour never hurt anyone.

Installation view of Syllabus, Jo Penso, Chelsea College of Arts, June 2015 (Top Photo)

Not even a comprehensive catalogue can do justice to the works on display at Chelsea so much as can this brief synopsis give the full picture of the true scale and versatility in this show. And yet through just a comparatively feeble admiration of a few works are we be able to appreciate the exceptional quality of the cognitive realignment on offer in this 2015 degree show. Visitors will be sure to feel at times uncomfortable, challenged, humoured but moreover realigned with the contemporary world as they knew it.

Opening times: Wednesday 24th June – 10am – 8pm Thursday 25th June – 10am – 8pm Friday 26th June – 10am – 8pm Saturday 27th June – 11am – 5pm

Other Noteable Artist Exhibiting:

Hannah Wareham//Hansaem Park//Jiyeon Micaela Koh//Ruby Waugh//Jasmine Clift//Amy Fletcher//Kelly Bishop//Jasmin Derham//Matthew Burdis//Jo Penso//George Sopwith//Hannah Le Feuvre//Eleanore Booth//Mustafa Choudhry//Simone Barnes//Alexander Webb//Beverley Chapman//Heejung Choi//Anna Sampson//Jihye Kim//Jamie Bradley//Yufei Zhang//Georgia Jennings Moors//Naomi Crede//Alexandra Bell//Wilson Chan//Saskia Roslin Little//Joey Phinn//Prae Lamsam//Bethany Naylor//Rosie Keane//Anna Eliseeva//Vanessa Teperson//Sue Seo Hyun Park//Naomi Figueiredo//Cedric Ng//Ali Hogden//Eugenie Rasche//Robyn Graham//Hakyung Michelle Choi//Hayley Jukes//Lily Brooke//Soojung Seo//Glynis Minors//Poppy Rooney//Olivia Foster//Callum Worsnop//Mirta Imperatori//Teresa Byrne//Jo Gifford//Ouyang Yangyi//Jongwon Yoon//Maria Luisa Sanin Pena//Madeleine Bates//Henry Burns//Henri Charreau//Ali Glover//Marina Ritschel//Rosalyn Ng//Jung A Lee//Ao Chen Li//Liberty Hodes//Sylvia Sosnovska//Bruna Fontevechia//Jialu Chen//Yorkson (Yimin Chen)//Polly Robinson//Jasmin Spires Harrold//Saira Hussain//Faron Ray//Colette Shaw//Masha Biryukova//Zahra Yousefi//Jagdish Kahlon//Ellie Binnie//Stephen Eyre//Katherine Spence//Miju Lim//Finola Simpson//Bruna Pereira de Souza//Gabby Colledge//Laura Duvall//Joice Cheung//Ruby Law//Ye Jin Eom//Eleanor Bultitude//Emily Anne Murray//Frankie King//Caroline Gray//James Cabaniuk//Bejamin Madden//Lexi Stones//Natalie Dann/Sophie Mullaney Bambridge//Anna Spain//Yuting Sun//Anta Germane//Caroline Foreman//Michaela Wetherly Davies//Ohrim You//Yasmin O’Grady-Walsh//Lucy Ellis//Pollyana Johnson//Amy Dixon//Hannah Whitfield//Joanne Chan//Karis Clapperton//Sara Flynn/Harriet Foyster//Freya Froggatt-Smith//Daekee Hong//Bethany Travis//Heidi Lee//Susie Jackson//Ryan McNeill

Words/Photos Hannah Rosanne Poulton © artlyst 2015