The Wimbledon College of Art MA Show 2011 is diverse as it is large, sprawling across the entire Wimbledon site and including a wide variety of work-types from painting, drawing, and film, to sculpture, and installation.
We are proudly told that the exhibition this year is particularly strong because those involved ‘are first artists, and only secondly students’: a grand claim, perhaps, but one that is, in the event, largely substantiated by the work on show.
Scott Mason is one such artist as evidenced in his Barthesian video-investigation of authorial authority in text construction, ‘A Solitary Plume Overwhelmed’, in which the texts of four seminal writers – Poe, Huysmans, Baudelaire, and Blake – are continuously and irreverently mashed together to generate new texts and fresh meanings. Mason seems to dispossess these literary gurus, appropriating their words as his own via an essentially cheap trick, and audaciously asks Who are we to stop him?
Abigail Duffty, aka the ‘Institution of Meaningful Interaction’, presents us with an equally mischievous piece in her ‘Nodes in a Social Machine’, a performative installation in which the audience is invited into the inside of ‘a social networking machine’ (a world made up of squishy Oldenburg-esque objects) to engage in simple social tasks and play games such as ‘Facebook Wall’, ‘Twitter Feed’, ‘Tin Cans’ and ‘Message in a Bottle’. Not only a faux-naive literal-minded rendering of virtual space, it is also a dig at the low-browness of social interaction in its reduction to digital interface and miniature, meaningless speech acts.
The show furthermore lives up to its promise as to the absence of a ‘house style’. The work of Rivkah Hetherington, ‘If Only…’, is the polar opposite in tone to the work of Mason and Duffty, being a worthy and hard-hitting audio installation that explores the experiences of Argentina’s ‘deceparacidos’, the political prisoners of the Military Junta regime (1976-83). Most successful here is the way in which the English translations of the Spanish interviews are listenable-to only by lying down and placing your ear to a pillow – an act, paradoxically, both reminiscent of the forced subjection of individuals under military rule, as well as highlighting the deeply intimate nature of the presented memory material.
Christina Bryant’s ‘The Island’, is another standout piece, taking Wimbledon’s charge to its students to conceptualise their art practice as ‘a project of research’ literally and consisting of a painstaking survey of a small plot of land, ‘a contained wilderness at the edge of town’: in it, found objects (such as a charred school report, a plastic trumpet, and innumerable Durex wrappers) are meticulously recorded alongside their ‘Estimated time on the Island’, ‘Location’, and ‘Category’ (‘Animal Remains’, ‘Pleasure and Play’, ‘Food Related’ etc.), and presented to the viewer in the form of exquisitely precise pen studies. It is piece that finds its aesthetic twin in Alex March’s ‘Does the Thought of a Knife Feel as Sharp?’, a set of hand-drawn scalpels set-down on paper as if clinical specimens, and so keenly rendered that they retain the menace of their original subject.
The work which forcibly steals the show, however, is Sabina Stefanova’s ‘Tight Connections Tape’ in its appropriation of the entire exhibition space via great lengths of electrical tape ‘roads’ running through the Main Building, and drawing visitors inevitably to her designated plot where the multiple rolls meet: ultimately, it is a wonderfully bathetic effort to (in the artist’s own words) ‘get you into my space, cos there is nothing really in it’.
With the MA coming to an end, the professional lives of these artists are just beginning. The art future looks bright: the art future looks set to contain Wimbledon alumni. Illustrated: Rivkah Hetherington “If Only” Photo/words Thomas Keane© ArtLyst 2011