Goldsmiths has, over its 110-years of existence, developed a well-earned reputation as one of London’s pioneering institutions of contemporary art across a range of interdisciplinary approaches. Its rich academic history has ensured an international legacy of learning that has introduced us to some of the most influential practitioners of our day: figures like Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Steve McQueen and Sam Taylor-Wood who emerged from its Department of Arts to form part of the late 80s/ 90s seismic shift in British contemporary art.
The current BA Fine Art Graduate show displays much of the same investigative spirit that has led those earlier artists to push the boundaries for later generations. While many of Goldsmith’s most notable alumni of the past 30 years or so have been highly prominent in the integration of contemporary art into the wider public consciousness, the current crop of graduating students seem to suggest a future in which the forms of contemporary art production will become almost indistinguishable from the consumer-based actions and systems of our capitalist society. Art, in this ambiguous situation, becomes less of a reflection on the state of things than a product of it, dictated by the needs and desires of a hyper-visual complacent society
The rather ominous sense of collective acquiescence this conjures is foreshadowed before even entering the main exhibition building by Nik Jaffe’s ‘Helicopper’, an outdoor sculpture resembling a windmill whose identical vanes are each constructed out of a life-size figure of a gesticulating policeman, resplendent in his familiar high-visibility jacket, that rotate slowly in the wind. This banal image is subtly imbued with a sense of insidious consequence, and elevated through both the repetition of the copper and the futility of his continuous movement – aping the reassuring tenets of functionality with amused contempt and biting wit.
The omnipresent impression that actions are compromised by authoritarian forces of bureaucratic control is counteracted by the often recurring tendency towards participation flaunted by many artists in this year’s exhibition. Notably, Woonhae Yea has constructed an elaborate interactive environment that appeals to the base instincts of play and exploration as much as our senses, recalling the similarly engaging experiments of Carsten Holler whose participation-based work is currently being shown at the Hayward Gallery. Resembling a children’s playpen writ large, the scaffolding-based construction allowed visitors to engage with the artwork in a tactile way – poking their heads through holes cut into a suspended level of turf on which multicoloured beach balls and other psychedelic paraphernalia were scattered haphazardly. Like Holler, Yea seems to suggest that a ‘regression’ of kinds to a more childlike state of mind is in fact an effective method of accessing hitherto repressed modes of interaction. Placed in such a gopher-like position, strangers engage in dialogue with one another more freely than usual, amidst the inviting colours and shapes of this weird plastic utopia.
Emilie Peyre Smith’“P.S. Standing Pair, 12” by 6”
Meanwhile, Seulkinara Yoo serves up candy-floss for free in another part of the exhibition. We ask ourselves; is this action a supportive gesture of social solidarity and the relational aspect of art production and reception (akin to Rirkrit Tiravanija’s communal meals in gallery settings), producing a platform for discussion and sharing art? Or is it a comment on the fundamental weightlessness of the current contemporary art market, the copious consumption of an industry rotten to the core? Then again, are we just meant to enjoy the candy? Questions like this, strange and difficult and frustrating, flit through your mind as you masticate the sugary wisps into a sticky, syrupy pulp and wonder further away to find Amy Steel performing Lifeline, in which she manipulates a plastic window blind, becoming a puppeteer of mundane appliances – underlining the parallel between the mechanical properties of the human body in relation to the artificial, often mass-produced, products that surround it.
Amy Steel, ‘Lifeline’
In this case, Steel’s own body becomes the central pivot on which the actions of the blind are decided – her contortions rendering the object defunct by the standards of its own inherent (prefabricated) functionality yet imbuing it with a sense of discrete purpose through the personal interpretation of its physical form. The shutters become an expressive tool, not unlike Rebecca Horn’s performative appendages, that are manipulated to suggest some subjective logic or strategy to the performer’s movements, a kind of ritualistic costume salvaged from discarded office furnishings and adorned with objects that seem to hold some sort of fetishistic value. The blind is therefore both protective (literally and figuratively shielding the performer) and revealing, in allowing a sort of unfiltered expression of the self to leak through its flimsy plastic divides.
London based, Lapland born Riikka Hyvönen’s captivating canvases depicting bruised female posteriors in gaudily coloured pastel hues were a feat of technical brilliance interspersed with a refreshingly bizarre and original take on the sport of female Roller Derby. The bruises – referred to colloquially as ‘kisses’ – which the players accrue and wear like badges of honour., are a sign of experience within the Derby rink.. By collecting photographs of roller derby girls’ butts, the artist at first glance seems to present us with the Ballardian flip-side to the shiny surface of sanitised advertising, using the bruise as a sort of visual shorthand for the sublimated violence inherent in those sexualised media images and, as the artist states; ‘allowing us to appreciate the beauty of the bruise’. Such a vocabulary might call to mind any number of artists who sought beauty in images of corporeal violence, however there is no Bacon-like sense of bodily angst to be found here. These images stand as a paean to the strength and dedication of the athletes they depict. Hyvönen’s evident attachment to her idiosyncratic subject is commendable and her attention to detail and presentation are impeccable. These multi-layered mixed-media canvases grab your attention and exert a strong hold that will last a long time.
Emilie Peyre Smith’s “P.S. Standing Pair, 12” by 6” transcribes the hulking presence and latent energy of a Richard Serra sheet-metal sculpture into the everyday familiarity of commonplace items used in DIY and construction work. Brushed steel and lead are replaced by two 12” by 6” MDF boards that stand perpendicular to each other, creating a narrow pathway between them. They are bent and each held in place by a 8 meter ratchet strap. The stretched board, pushed to the limits of its malleability, is almost audibly straining to break loose of its binding and snap explosively back into its original shape. One understands this best when standing in between the two structures, where the painful possibility of the ratchet strap breaking seems to become more likely. The pieces rest on their own weight and are not harnessed to the floor in any way, becoming sculpture freed of its moorings – an anxious, uneasy pair of objects unsure of their ‘proper’ place.
The preserved energy contained within their voluminous mass renders them as some kind of primal battery – straining to exert a high force of energy in a single explosive moment. Smith constructs (alongside her other two works in the show; a totemic construction of flashing distress signalling lights and a thermal imaging video) a presentation of the unseen forces at play in the everyday physical processes that take place around us. In doing so she draws us away from the new areas of screen-based technology and virtual reality favoured by many other artists in this show towards the material reality that effects everyone one of us on the planet – a somewhat optimistic message in its apparent promise of something bigger than humanity, yet an uneasy one for exactly the same reason.
Riikka Hyvönen, <gasp> Oh Lord. Is That the One That Looks Suspiciously Like My Wheel?! God, I’m Sorry to Have Marked You So 🙁 … Um, Think of It as a Love Bite? xx
This sprawling show raises some timely issues around the problematic notion of the art school itself – what function is such an institution now expected to perform, what criteria does it need to meet today? At this moment of sustained economic drawbacks and cuts in the educational sector, especially with relations to the arts, the position of the art school as we know it seems more precarious than ever. An institute such as Goldsmiths seems to occupy a very ambiguous place between a pedagogical site of experimentation and the hierarchical point of transition for many emerging artists into an even more uncertain future of the art market and gallery circuit. It is certain that the current group of undergraduate artists seen here will face unprecedented challenges ahead of them, the probable dismantling of long-established modes of practice and participation, the interrogation of previous attitudes and presumptions.
However, the large degree of high-quality work on show and evident dedication and hard work of the students involved is certainly indicative of promising things to come. This generation of artists have a tough road ahead of them, but already a great majority are showing the skills and know-how to develop their practice in unforeseen and positive directions. I myself remain optimistic. I l very much look forward to seeing what they will do next.
List of Artists (in alphabetical order)
Arzu Altın, Elena Alvarez-Taylor, Robert Ashford, Feroza Bakht, Charlotte Barnard, Alexander Barrett , Liam Geary Baulch, Ela Baysak , Amié Blofield, Jack Bodimeade , India Boxall , Lia ten Brink , Chelsea Burkitt , Grace Buttall , Steven Cardenas , Kieran Carter, Minnie Casey , Sena Cetin , Ricky Chambers , Wing Chan , Jia Li Joscelin Chew , In-Young Cho , Michael Clements , Rachael Cochrane , Chase Coley , Hayley Connaughton , Daniel Crooks , Meghan Curteis , Mariana Marinho De Lemos, Maisie Dolan , Luciano Castanon Estrada , Nichole Fitch , Katherine Foster , Robert Fox , Rose Goddard , Ali Goksel , Tom Hadrill , Shunsaku Hayashi , Holly Hunter , Riikka Hyvönen , Nik Jaffe , Youngshin Jeon , Jack Jubb , Jiwon Jung , Shunghyuk Kang , Jun Kim , Laehyun Kim , Mina Kim , Myungji Kim , Sun-Hee Kim , Zara Lawson , Joshua Lenten , Mark Lewis , Bethanie Locke ,Catherine Lowe , Calliope Lunn , Gabriel Mansfield , Maisie Maris , Finnian McKenna , Eleanor McMurtrie , Miranda Morley , Glen Moxon , Patricia Mulligan , William Narby , Radoslav Ninov , Daniel Noon ,Gaini Nursapina , Tymoteusz Olczykowski , Sylvia Ooi ,Yumi Otaka, Ka Ki Pang , Dave Peel , Nicola Pope , Minhong Pyo , Sarah Quek , Heather Reid , Beatrice Robinson , Ivan Robirosa , Gabriel Sahhar , Luke Samuel , Rebecca Samura , Fina Schneider , Amanda Simon , James Lawrence Slattery, Monika Srodon , Emilie Peyre Smith , Tatiana Stancev , Amy Steel , Lucy Stephenson , Moemi Takano , Towa Takaya , Guilia Tommasi Holly Upton , Jules Varnedoe . Xi Wang , Elizabeth Watts , Dominique White , Morris Wild , Emma Wilson , Joseph Winter , Joshua Wirz , Kirsty Woods , Emily Woolley , Liv Wynter, Kaiyang Xiang , Meng Xiao , Margita Yankova , Woonhae Yea , Seulkinara Yoo , Kitty Zinovieff
Words/Photos George Micallef Eynaud Top Photo: Woonhae Yea’s interactive installation