Visited on:- 04/06/16
Before the visit, I browsed the ECA website preview and picked out some art works that looked interesting.
I searched for reviews of the show and found one on the hearldscotland.com website from last year, and another by Adam Benmakhlouf on theskinny.co.uk website for this year’s show.
The reviews seemed to concentrate more on the installations and paintings, than the textiles and jewellery, which I was more interested in visiting, but it was useful to get a foretaste of what I could expect to see.
I understood the stated objectives to mean that I should explore the show and study the techniques used, development process, and presentation of the art works and to explore the particular pieces that I was interested in. It was important to speak with the students at the ECA to learn from their first hand experiences. Interacting with my fellow OCA students was also important to share experiences, opinions and ideas. Finally, reflecting on the study visit and the learning that can be applied to my own practice.
The Study Visit:-
After introductions within the study group, and initial discussions about our experiences of being an OCA student, we started our visit in the ECA Textiles Department. The walls had blown-up photographs of the student’s work, and the hall had textile banners, and display benches or manikins featuring the work of each student.
I was immediately drawn to Performance Costume student, Zoe Longbottom’s, highly textured long green coat. It was part of a costume in which the artist had imagined “… Peter Pan as an evil spirit that steals children and takes them to Neverland.” The garment had an exaggerated military styling with oversized metal buttons and a green, camouflage/woodland feel with stitching that gathered and puckered the fabric giving a reptilian skin effect, with burnt holes in places to give a worn and torn, “post-apocalyptic world” feel to the costume.
I rather nervously approached one of the students, Danielle Ward, to ask about her collection, ‘Distort The City’. How had she come up with the ideas for her designs, what was her process, etc? She kindly showed me her black and white photographic references, featuring angular architectural details, forming lines and geometric patterns. The photographs themselves can be folded, before light and colour are added by using angular glass jars filled with brightly coloured substances suspended in liquid, and adding these images to the mix. She then developed a process of distorting the images through scanning and moving the images as they were scanned. This produced, often colourful and abstract versions of her images. Sometimes wholly abstract, some, in which the architectural details dominate, and other pieces, a mixture of the two. The fabrics are produced through a combination of digital and silk-screen printing. Danielle then adds further distortion to the fabrics by introducing sewn seams and/or folds to make the fabric three-dimensional; additional, laser cut embellishments are attached to provide another layer of interest, texture and movement.
There were many other wonderful creations to explore. Some students focusing on updates of traditional techniques like embroidery, appliqué, weaving etc. Others had used cutting, folding, embellishment and/or digital or hand printing techniques to achieve their aims. Here are a selection of images from the show.
We moved on to the Painting Department where the students’ workspaces (normally occupied by four students) were now featuring an exhibition of one or two students’ work, as were corridors and stairwells. We were lucky to find many of the students ‘in residence’ and willing to talk about their work.
Rachel Alice Johnson’s portraits centred around the public ‘breakdown’ of American celebrity, Amanda Bynes, and her subsequent hounding by the media. The final portrait features the artist imagining herself in Amanda’s position. The paintings felt like a mixture of traditional oil paintings with a modern twist, featuring words along with the portrait. The brush strokes of bold colour had an almost electric, obliterating feel to them, which I felt portrayed the lack of control and annihilation of the individual’s personality. Rachel is also a singer in a band and once she had mentioned this, I felt that I could see a musical rhythm in the brushstrokes.
Lily Macrae’s beautiful paintings were a mixture of abstract and figurative work. The artist explained that they formed a series, each of the four pieces having more complexity than the previous one. The canvases were primed with ordinary emulsion paint before oil paints were used over the top, allowing the artist to move the paint around more easily. These colourful pieces had all sold.
I was fascinated by the surface textures and layers in these paintings, which I believe had a rusted metal base, salt and paint, with layers stripped back and peeled away; drips and runs in other places; the rust and salt adding naturally formed textures to the artworks. It made me think of the weathering, ageing and the disintegration of abandoned, man-made objects. The artist’s name is Richard Nauyokas.
There were many other artworks to admire, using a variety of techniques, materials and interesting presentations. A theme of hanging or arranging groups of smaller artworks in scattered groupings, or neat lines at different levels. Pieces that could be viewed from both sides could be hung from the ceiling to be free hanging, or mounted on brackets extending from the wall. Another theme I noticed linking the textiles and paintings was that many featured layering of materials to give added textures, glimpses through a transparent layer with patterns on it, or a semi-opaque layer. One artist worked with cast wax shapes, with added threads.
Here are two collages of some of the many art works we saw:-
After a picnic lunch, during which we discussed the artworks we had seen and enjoyed, along with many other topics, the group split up to explore their own areas of interest. I went with Olivia and Margaret to the Jewellery and Silversmithing Section at The School of Design.
Two of the students whose work had piqued my interest initially, were exhibiting here:- Li Wanshu’s wonderful “Go With The Glow” Collection was developed from her observations of deep-sea creatures. The three-dimensional pieces suggested the shapes and forms of those creatures, with moving ‘tentacles’ of beads, acrylic and UV reactive nylon wire and paint. The artist showed us how they glow under UV light with fluorescent colours becoming apparent. They are made to wear and enjoy while dancing and clubbing.
Eileen Xie’s thought-provoking pieces were exploring the refugee experience of belonging and safety through her nautical theme. A poignant compass-like piece says “Some Where Not Here” and has what looks like blood specks around the face of the compass, requiring some input and thought from the viewer, as to its meaning.
Many of the works were more like miniature sculptures than wearable pieces, demonstrating cross-over skills and overlapping boundaries. This was also evident elsewhere in the exhibition – painters making installations and sculptures, for example.
We met up for a discussion of what we had seen, what had inspired us, and what we would take away from the study visit and use in our own work. This being my first visit, I was not sure what to say, but did pipe up with some observations about some of the artworks that had inspired me (discussed above). We also talked about the OCA course and its downsides, such as being isolated, or having too much written work to do. Solutions were also shared, for example, attending study visits and extra-curricular workshops and groups to overcome feelings of isolation and to build confidence, skills and a supportive network.
I really enjoyed the visit, and felt that I gained a lot from it:- inspiration, camaraderie, new outlooks on what is possible in the field of textiles, the potential for branching out into new areas such as sculpture, three-dimensional artworks, jewellery, and using new techniques such as layering in my work, abstraction and simplification, working in a series, and variations on a theme. Seeing the development work and process of the students was also very informative: seeing an initial idea explored, researched and developed, then presented as a finished collection.
A page of business cards, postcards and reminders of the trip (some with fold-out hinges and comments written beneath).