The Slade Graduate Shows A Dissection of Contemporary Life

The Slade Graduate Show

Degree Show season is upon us once again, and a trip to the Slade School of Art is an opportunity not to be missed for art-lovers and aspiring collectors alike. For an institution that has introduced us to figures as diverse as Mona Hatoum, Martin Creed and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd; it is not surprising that the Slade should present us with such a wide variety of emerging artists working across a range of different approaches.

Fortuitously, it is this very scope that marks out the current Slade MA/MFA/PhD graduate show as such an effective gauge of our uneasy times. By all indications, the current condition under which practitioners work presents a fragile sense of augmented reality, one that is readily tested by the graduating students here – often with what one imagines is a somewhat gleeful irreverence in the face of questions we may prefer to leave unanswered.

The word ‘dissection’ comes repeatedly to mind, enforced by Natalia Janula’s forceful interrogation into the connection between organic and synthetic materiality and the changing nature of new technology, which is becoming more liquid in both application and substance. Janula’s practice features a recurring cast of base metals, found objects and natural motifs – mainly mollusc shells – often employed as sculptural stand-ins while injecting a subtle strain of humour within the work through association. This is evident when Janula dissects an Oyster card and transplants its inner workings into an oyster shell, rendering it into a functioning device for navigating social spaces, as well as goading us into questioning the patterns of behaviour we perform unthinkingly on a daily basis.

Natalia Janula, Speculative cryonics #1: heart backup

The relationship between social measures and abject materiality is further emphasised through the effective curatorial placement of Janula’s work in relation to the two other artists who share the same basement space. Eiko Soga has constructed a multilayered soundscape that engulfs the viewer in a discombobulating harmony of discordant tones that serve to amplify the uneasy silence of her mute wall-hanging objects consisting of discarded clothing and functioning MP3 players. Similarly Luca Vanello evokes a lingering residue of traumatic experiences which remain undisclosed but integrated as material afterthoughts and pseudo-sculptural artefacts, often hidden away on the periphery of perception (under the skirting or scattered across the floor), objects fraught with a chronic sense of disquiet.

A recurring theme is the cultural dislocation represented by tourism, an industry which renders political and geographical boundaries increasingly fluid through the availability and speed of international travel. This is evident in Rebecca Loweth’s grouping of work, collectively titled Bronze Ambition after the instant tanning lotion of the same name, a tube of which is left inconspicuously outside of the main gallery space. The vacation serves as an indicator of economic status as well as a subsidisation of bureaucratic entities, revealing a bourgeois sense of entitlement. The evocation of these ritualised excursions, once appropriated by the German artist Martin Kippenberger as images of middle-class aspiration, strike a chord today with an audience only too familiar with low-budget airlines and package holidays.

For Loweth, the vacation becomes the impetus to produce video, prints and objects presented centre around the search for (self) perfection. This is represented by the tanning lotion and the holiday process itself, as a sort of holistic grasp at sanctity, an attempt at reconciliation with the self at whatever cost and the inevitability of disappointment inherent in this Quixotic quest.

Rebecca Loweth, Bronze Ambition

In a similar vein, Trent Bates evokes the queues, depersonalised infographics and boredom associated with automated air travel through his video projection of blandly-rendered plane shown rotating continuously along the interior loop of a circular construction, infinity rendered as a purgatory

of eternal air-miles. Richard Müller’s absorbing video-installation Crowd 1 immerses the viewer within a sweeping shot through a large, anonymous crowd of minimally delineated people, who resemble either Julian Opie portraits or the featureless figures that inhabit public advertising. As we speed through the crowd we are engulfed by a deafening crescendo of sound known as the Shepard tone – an audio illusion which seems to rise continuously but never quite peak. The overall effect brings to mind a rush through a distinctly demonic Oxford Street. Müller extends his hold over the viewer through an engrossing installation environment in which sound plays an integral role – speakers send ripples of bass across a pristine water-filled structure that comes across as the psychedelic cousin of a Donald Judd module, while elsewhere a stage seems to be set for some Acid Western in the making, imbuing the space with a sense of abandoned narrative, performative potential and uneasy apprehension.

Richard Müller, Crowd 1

Lea Collet has constructed an elaborate space that lies somewhere between makeshift television studio and sculptural installation, incorporating both Collets’ own work and other random objects donated by volunteering artists. In this ambiguous non-place (somewhere outside the intermediary of both ‘real’ and virtual reality), the assorted detritus of the artist-participants is sold on air by an actress in the manner of telemarketing commercials, endowing junk with new value as both an artefact of pseudo-commercial worth and artistic merit; raising the problematic ghost of Duchamp’s urinal on the gaudy set of late night television. Collet’s ambitious project, Circular Stream Corporation, incorporates a fully functional programme of activities scheduled to take place throughout the duration of the exhibition, including pop up performances, quiz shows and more. Intriguingly, cross-cultural irregularities are made evident by the traditionally homogenizing medium of television – specific tropes particular to the format and customs of French TV lost in translation to a foreign audience with destabilising results.

Viewers also have the opportunity to watch the action unfold via live-stream, allowing for unexpected occurrences on air. In this way the artist-director relinquishes control to chance; her authorship of the space unravels across various modes of participation.

Lea Collet, Circular Stream Corporation

Valinia Svoronou’s bed-like sculptures (Bones_ΔΔΔΥ2) also seem to provoke some participatory reaction from the viewer, however a closer inspection soon reveals the uninviting concrete-like texture of the surface, glowing with an ominous red light and bristling with cable ties. Projected in the same space, the video piece Bones_ΔΔΔΥ1 shows the uncanny form of a digitally rendered nude female avatar superimposed and appearing to levitate over an unremarkable urban landscape as seen from the window of a London bus – the 8 to Tottenham Court Road, as the eerily disembodied voice on the PR system intones incessantly. Reminiscent of online RPGs (Role-Playing Games), this figure presents a strange ghost within the machine that transforms into more of an abstraction as it deconstructs and its programming becomes evident. Svoronou’s video raises a multitude of questions, but as with many artists represented here answers are left tactfully unresolved, true to the uncertain nature of contemporary life.

These few artists are just a small example that indicates the wide range of work on display at the Slade MA/MFA/PhD graduate show. There is a multitude more artists whose work merits a mention in this short summation of such a dense and varied exhibition; however I would simply not be able to do justice to them here. Instead, you will have to go and see this thought-provoking show for yourself. It is consistently a thought-provoking, sometimes challenging, yet so very rewarding experience.

Valinia Svoronou, Bones_ΔΔΔΥ1 (Top Photo) 

Artists (in alphabetical order)

Iain Ball / Tristan Barlow / Trent Bates / Rory Biddulph / Sara Borga / Rutie Borthwick / Sarah Boulton / Naomi Bourne / Alex Carmichael / U. Kanad Chakrabarti / Ngan Leong Anna Cheung / Lea Collet / Stefano Cozzi / Michael Delacruz / Frederick Duffield / Leni Dothan / Stuart Doncaster / Jacob Farrell / Yiru Feng / Alastair Frazer / Konstantinos Giotis / Mariana Gomes Gonçalves / May Heek / Eunhee Nina Hong / Natalia Janula / Sarah Choo Jing / Yva Jung / Robin JungHun Kang / Sarai Kirshner / Olga Koroleva / Nektaria Lampitsi / Elizabeth Lands / Katja Larsson / Rebecca Loweth / James Lowne / Natasha Malik / Matt Morris / Richard Müller / Aaron Murphy / Rory O’Connor / Anja Olofgörs / Sophie Ormerod / Zsofia Schweger / Noga Shatz / Lucy Smallbone / Myung Hoon So / Eiko Soga / Agnieszka Stone / Yi Sun / Valinia Svoronou / Tessa Tapscott / Rhys Thomas / Luca Vanello / Renate Weberberger / Jun Ha Yang

MA/MFA/PhD Show: Thursday 11 – Sunday 21 June, weekdays 10:00 – 20:00, weekends 10:00 – 17:00tg 

Words/Photos George Micallef Eynaud © Artlyst 2015