John Lennon Art & Design Building 27 May – 10 June 2016
Words and pictures by Patrick Kirk-Smith
The all-encompassing degree shows at Liverpool John Moores University are near impossible to truly understand. They put on such a spectacle of creative categories every year; of architecture; of fine art; of design; of fashion; and everything in between. Every floor has something different to offer, with picture perfect landscape models and a top floor exhibition that used its view over Liverpool as a made to measure gallery wall.
The only thing that let the Fine Art show down was how professional it was, at times, maybe slightly forgetting its place as a degree show. As an exhibition in its own right it worked perfectly together, but working together isn’t the exciting part of a degree show, the thrill of that is in the individual strengths. Finding highlights that leap out at you throughout the exhibition. In a space as open as LJMU this year, it was hard to find anything leaping out so much as searching very hard to find the boundaries between each installation.
Once you find those boundaries this show has a great deal to offer. The standard of ideas is what has stuck with me since the opening, and I don’t mean to suggest that the standard of production was low. The level of critical thought relating to the slightly challenging top floor exhibition space is incredibly high, with engaging language based works that sit discretely on the screens of laptops, or even Mark Simmonds’ inspiring degree show magazine that I could scarcely believe came free.
It’s that critical engagement that sets them apart from other degrees throughout the UK, not simply finding a theme and making work to suit, but finding situations, understandings, points of view, relevant artists, relevant buildings, relevant groups, and making themselves relevant within that.
Again, reflected in their partnership with Liverpool Biennial, FACT and Tate Liverpool, who have provided three students with an award so overwhelmingly challenging that for the graduates to just turn up would be applaudable. Leading figures from the three institutions are offering eight hours of their time to three graduates, who are able to choose between themselves who would rather be working with Tate, FACT or the Biennial. The three artists are Raphaella Davies, Bertie King and Amy McSavaney.
I wouldn’t particularly like to be any of them right now, as they all have to step up and fight it out to make sure they get whose right for them. And before that they’ve got to work out who they think that might be, and why. For recent graduates this is a step into an incredible abyss that could lead to much, much bigger things for all of them.
The ways in which these artists have caught the attention of three of the biggest organisations in the North West is testament to how this exhibition layout is supposed to work. It might not work for the many, and on the most part, doesn’t work for the few, but it highlights the even fewer who have willed themselves further, and turned themselves into artists with eyes for the future. And if there is any advice to next years’ student contingent, it would be to make sure they see themselves in a wider context and use their ideas to stand out; forget about any visual quality; and make what is right for your own process. In being that honest, and that dedicated to your own idea, you can be the one to work with next year.
The degree show is open to the public until June 10th in the John Lennon School of Art and Design Building.