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  Intelligent Art
Art and Design degree show, Edinburgh College of Art, London

Shaun Hadnett
posted 22 June 2007

This year’s Art and Design degree show from the Edinburgh College of Art presents a small amount of intelligent and figurative work amidst many bland exhibits. The displays of three artists are particularly stimulating.

The most striking work on show is from Charlotte Jarvis, who criticises modern mainstream pornography with a satirical calendar from the fictitious publication ‘Bollocks! Weekly; for boobs with balls.’ Each month on the calendar re-casts a strong woman from history, such as Joan of Arc or Elizabeth Tudor, as a degraded figure of fun. This is truly photography as art. Each female icon is accompanied with a slogan alluding both to historical achievement and the seamy language of erotic fantasy. The representation of Margaret Thatcher is overlaid thus: ‘With a string of pearls and an iron fist she's not so conservative in the bedroom. 'Bollocks!' thinks this Lady IS for turning!’

This creative use of the glossy format goes beyond the fake irony of lad culture to a genuine engagement of the intellect. It raises the question of where we are on the journey towards equality. I asked Charlotte Jarvis about this. She said that pin-up imagery has almost become invisible and ‘by making it feminist so it’s quite heretical I wanted to make you think about what those images mean.’ She also wanted to challenge the notion underlying many tabloid and magazine publications, ‘that life is too short and too hard to criticise these kinds of immediate pleasures.’

A different use of a gloss finish is seen in a series of face portraits from Rachael Bibby. These are approximately life size, perhaps slightly larger, and the application of shiny trails and drizzles of paint on board gives precedence to her subjects’ hair, eyes and lips. This is art to show aspects of human beauty, in counterpoint to the illumination of stunted human status in the Jarvis display. Bibby’s statement on her work highlights her ‘automatic approach’ and use of the series method as a way of dissipating the pressure of capturing a subject in one painting. She explains that rather than depicting one person when really we’re all feeling the same things, she ‘preferred to work in series because it’s all coming from the same place.’ The result in this set of paintings is to attribute longing and desire to her subjects’ images in a touching, yet non-cloying way.

The third noteworthy artist in this year’s show, Kristian Evju, displays a number of paintings and drawings containing the human figure, each approximately one square metre in size. Essentially these are line drawings coloured boldly. Evju’s stated aim is to use ‘the instantly recognisable shape to pull the viewer’s gaze into the more ambiguous realm of layers, lines, shapes and patterns surrounding it.’ This done, he wants the viewer to relate the images to personal memory and ‘create their own imaginary void.’

I asked Evju if there was a nihilism at the heart of this and if personal memories are a guide to making sense of the present. The artist replied that his work could ‘maybe make sense or create dreams - positive delusions – of things that we want, but these were not necessarily based on facts.’ When I wondered if his art was perhaps more escapist than descriptive, Evju said that would depend on the viewer’s outlook. Reflecting on this year’s show it seems that the output of Rachael Bibby and Charlotte Jarvis expresses definite elements of the human condition with clarity. The work of Kristian Evju is not as moving, but still holds the attention. All three artists have created art worth seeing.

Till 26 June 2007 at Edinburgh College of Art, 74 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh EH3 9DF. Admission is free.


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