M.A.D.E Pick of the Degree Shows: Does what it says on the tin…
(M.A.D.E (Image by ASR 2016))
M.A.D.E Pick of the Degree Shows is a group exhibition of fourteen graduate works from South Wales Universities. As the title suggests, the work that makes up the exhibition was sourced directly from the degree shows of Cardiff School of Art & Design and The University of South Wales, so represents the most current student practice to come out of the capital.
The show brought together a collection of promising artists graduating from Welsh Universities this year whose works best demonstrate an affiliation with M.A.D.E’s endeavour to communicate the significance of, ‘self-expression as a crucial human endeavor’. Curators of the show and co-directors at M.A.D.E Zoë Gingell and Josh Leeson selected works that they felt were most ‘strong’, and feel the exhibition ‘stands up to the best of work coming out of Cardiff and its environs’; A tall order, although I would agree that the quality and diversity of the works in the space certainly warrant their inclusion in the gallery’s selection. There’s something to be said about balancing the aim to exhibit as many deserving students’ works as is possible in the space whilst maintaining the critical and physical distance necessary to surround each artwork. In this respect, it is necessary to consider the commitment to make quality artwork visible to audiences who might not have had the opportunity to visit each of the respective Degree Shows.
M.A.D.E doesn’t pretend. The space is not the expansive white cube sort we might experience at venues like Chapter’s gallery space; it has a character that calls for tricky display decisions and can account for a more intimate and relatable experience of the work. A proportionately large amount of artworks shown in the limited space of the gallery was surprisingly not to the detriment of the exhibition. Through careful placement of artworks and recognition on the part of the viewer of a few central curatorial motifs, the show remains legible and engaging and the artworks are given conceptual space enough to breathe.
(Julia Hopkins @ M.A.D.E (Image by ASR 2016))
The artists chosen for the show have all produced works deserving of recognition and I’m pleased to see two of my own ‘picks’ from the CSAD Degree Show, Julia Hopkins and Sam Wall, were part of the M.A.D.E selection. Julia’s miniature compositions implied interconnected movement, balance and reactivity. The structures were made ‘and frequently unmade’ in efforts to find some elusive meaning. Meanwhile, Sam Wall’s drawn works expanded and crawled over the page, a two-dimensional continuation of monster-making which begs, borrows and steals from the fantastic sculptural work presented as part of the artist’s Degree Show exhibition.
(Follow this link to my previous review of the Cardiff School of Art & Design Fine Art Degree Show: http://getthechance.wales/2016/05/27/review-csad-fine-art-degree-show-2016-amelia-seren/)
Novel approaches to storytelling were evident in several of the works. Rachel Lucas presented written descriptions in place of photographic equivalents. The accounts documented the lives of refugees and explored the desensitisation of society to a genre of harrowing images. Mikky Saunby’s ceramic works implied primitive narratives, while George Curzon casted Imogen, the artist’s sister, as the protagonist of Shakespeare’s tale, Cymbeline in a photo series exploring the trials of adolescence. Florence Fung integrated Chinese ceramic techniques into works more outwardly aligned with contemporary Western aesthetics. In Journey the artist referenced the traditional Willow Pattern, and through the craftsmanship of each piece illustrated the ‘inseparable relationship between the present and the past’.
(Mikky Saunby @ M.A.D.E (Image by ASR 2016))
Another recognisable thread, which linked works in M.A.D.E Pick of the Degree Shows, was an emphasis on personal expression through creativity. James Moore’s diptych video works, Headspace both demonstrated and validated the emotional extremes of anxiety and fear, whilst Melissa Hooper’s series of images, Unsettled explored her relationship to the outside as a sufferer of Agoraphobia. Macarena Costan also used photography as a medium, this time to question the disconnection experienced between our memories and the reality of past experiences after following a visit to her family home in Spain. Aaron Davies’ interest in issues surrounding gender identity was manifest in his ceramic compositional forms. Each piece suggested typically male or female characteristics and potentially endless combinations thereof, eliminating any inclination towards gendered binaries. Mylo Elliot’s painted works employed graffiti writing as a medium to explore language and communication of the self. Symbols and visual motifs made up a personalised hieroglyphic language subject to interpretation. The inclusion of personal experience in all of these works provided a useful entry to the artworks for empathetic viewers, and the reimagining of familiar narratives made for engaging artworks.
(Florence Fung @ M.A.D.E (Image by ASR 2016))
Consideration into the limits of specific mediums is evident in the remaining works. A reincarnation of Eloise Barratt’s light installation in the M.A.D.E gallery space made for an ambitious display. Viewers were encouraged to entertain their perception of colour as a legitimate medium by drawing attention to the illusionistic nature of colour and light. Whilst Sarah Barnes’ works explored the limitations of the Camera Obscura technique, set within the context of the custodial teen bedroom. Conor Elliot’s photographic prints undermined the visual language of art history by questioning over-familiar and preconceived ideas of what an artwork should look like. His witty photographs critique the ‘staleness’ of referential and ‘typical’ fine art using its own symbolic medium.
(Macarena Costan @ M.A.D.E (Image by ASR 2016))
Through their programme of events and workshops it is obvious that M.A.D.E possesses an ethos to nurture and support the creative and local communities. Their more recent endeavor to celebrate emerging artists is a welcome venture amongst the student community, and hopefully the general public as well! This opportunity for graduate artists to have exhibited their practice as part of an established platform affords valuable exhibition experience to all of the shows participants. Exhibitions such as this can increase the visibility of very early-career artists, encourage careers in the arts, and forge new relationships between artists graduating from creative university-level courses in South Wales.
The opportunity granted to exhibit these artworks was invaluable, nonetheless it was evident that the works chosen warranted their display, and I look forward to seeing all of the artists involved exhibiting in Cardiff and further afield in the future; A worthy show.
Florence Fung / Rachel Lucas / Julia Hopkins / Aaron Davies / Mikky Saunby / Conor Elliott / James Moore / Mylo Elliot / Eloise Barratt / Sam Wall / George Curzon / Melissa Hooper / Sarah Barnes / Macarena Costan
M.A.D.E is a hub for the arts and contemporary crafts and regularly exhibits a diverse range of artworks as well as performance showcases and pop-up events. Situated on Lochaber Street in Roath, the venue also hosts a small café which offers local and ethical produce.
(All photographs taken by the author on the occasion of the exhibition in question, for official images of works, please visit the artists’ respective websites).