For many an art student, the creation of their degree show is not only a defining moment in what could be an exiting future career – but also for many, involves the use of interesting and exotic materials – whether in homage to the likes of Joseph Beuys in the use of lard from the local corner shop; or a Baconian slab of meat procured from the local butcher – resulting in a ‘Hirstian’ infestation of flies that might close the show for good.
But any self-respecting future master would also hope that their artistic use of substances would not result in any unfortunate alchemical processes ending in the destruction of their Art School.
For, according to a fire service report, the artistic use of materials was the cause of the devastating fire that ripped through Glasgow School of Art – designed by renowned artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh more than a century ago – an incident that made headlines across the world.
The undergraduate’s installation involved fastening foam panels on to three walls of a basement studio with another wall left blank to show images from a projector. On the day of the fire in May, expanding foam from a can was being used to fill in gaps between the panels for “artistic effect”, according to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).
The blaze at the Glasgow School of Art began when gases used as a propellant in the can were drawn into the projector by its fan and ignited, according to a summary of the SFRS report released by the art school. It was likely that the gas caught fire “as it passed in and around energised electrical components of the projector”. The foam itself was also “extremely flammable”, it was stated in the report.
The identity of the student has not been revealed by the GSA, saving the unfortunate individual any repercussions. It was after all not an intentional act.
“The fire was an accident and, like any accident, it’s caused by many different factors coming together and conspiring against us on the day,” stated The art school’s director, Professor Tom Inns to the Independent. “There are a huge number of lessons that can be learned and we’ve been working very hard over the last six months on our health and safety procedures, training and so on. We’ve been doing many different things over the summer to learn from the experience.”
The fire spread rapidly through the ventilation ducts and old timber walls of the building from a student exhibition space in studio 19, resulting in about a 10th of the world-renowned Grade A-listed building being lost.
It is therefore something to consider by any undergraduate constructing their degree show with a ‘conceptual truth to materials’ that they may inadvertently cause the premature demise of their exhibition, and possibly the building that houses it.