A Week for Impressive Student Shows

I’ve been to a lot of blockbuster exhibitions in my time. You know the type: massive retrospective shows put on by the likes of Tate and the National Gallery which throw as many works as possible at you as if compiling evidence to prove that this artist is genius, this artist is exciting, this artist isn’t like any of the others. Despite this being one of the most popular ways of taking in art and culture, it’s often the smaller, lesser known, lesser publicised shows by as yet undiscovered artists that are far more enjoyable for me: where a) you can see the work because you aren’t crushed by the throngs of other people who have heard about it too and b) the work itself consists of only a few select pieces so that you are actually able to take them in.

Don’t get me wrong, of course it can be great to experience an artists’ entire oeuvre, especially if it’s someone like David Hockney‘s, which is so varied in scope and ideas. But sometimes, seeing it all at once is just a bit too much. Personally, I usually feel far more enriched by contemplating just a few pieces. Sometimes these are ‘gems’ which have been picked out by a curator, but of course, it is entirely subjective what they present to you as the very best example of what an artist can do.

But in the case of an art student, the work you will see is always subject to what they are currently doing and is in this way truer to how they wish to be represented. Students who curate their own work can offer an insight into the ideas that are bouncing around their studio right now, and what could be more exciting than that?

This week, I had the pleasure of attending two such shows: one of them the HNC Fine Art Interim Show at Kensington and Chelsea College, and the other entitled Doleful Shades, a self initiated show taking place in none other than the crypt of St. Pancras Church.

On 25 March I headed South to Chelsea for the KCC private view and was immediately struck by just how small the show was: there are only ten people on the course! Far from this being a bad thing, I was charmed by the diminutive size. Apart from the friendly atmosphere the students generated, I could spend a good deal of time with all the works as I wandered around again and again. The standout pieces for me were films by Jonah Allan exploring the gender binary and featuring the artist himself in a beautiful dress reciting haunting monologues that echoed throughout the space, accompanied by contrastingly pleasant tingles of music that could have been emanating from fairyland.

A shot from 'Lost Lady' by Jonah Allen (2015)
A shot from ‘Lost Lady’ by Jonah Allen (2015)

His concept of performance does indeed seem to derive from something mythical, but also addresses the fact that identity (something we tend to think of as very real) is nothing more than performance – indeed, we are all just performing a certain gender, whether we think of ourselves as male or female or anything outside these boxes.

Speaking of moving outside of boxes, I was also impressed by the work of Abi Huxtable, who in fact won a prize consisting of Cass Art supplies for her playful use of the gallery wall, drawing straight onto it to continue the line followed in her surreal photograph as if it had smiled from the frame into the space of reality.

Untitled, Abi Huxtable, 2015
Untitled, Abi Huxtable, 2015

Other highlights included a beautifully marbled painting entitled Dreamland by Prachayaporn Vorananta and the organic forms of the large Treeman sculpture by Eleanora Alis Kala.

The very next day, I headed south again: this time literally, as in downstairs to the Crypt Gallery at St Pancras Church for Doleful Shades. The space was just as amazing and creepy as it sounds: a labyrinthine, cold, low-ceilinged cavern that smelled of incense, damp and dust. Scattered about was the occasional headstone, as if everything else weren’t enough to remind you where you were.

The show, curated by ArtAttacker Jerusha West and fellow student Shayna Fonseka and with works by a number of others from the Slade School of Fine Art, used this space extremely well. To start, visitors were greeted with wine and bread to dip in oil that emulated the Communion, a ritual which also seemed to influence the video of Nina Porter as she portrayed a strange cult ritual involving a floating loaf of bread.

image1 (7)
Nina Porter, 2015

What delighted me most was the multimedia work of Lara Smithson which featured the shapes of cut-out eyes that brought to mind the fate of St. Lucy, a martyr who supposedly had hers torn out.

Lara Smithson, 2015
Lara Smithson, 2015

Throughout the exhibition, the music of Geoff Hazelton-Swales, quietly strumming his guitar in a hidden antechamber, added to the atmosphere, and I was only sorry I couldn’t have stayed longer. Unfortunately, the show was a one-night only event, but I hope to see more from this budding group.

– Olivia Bladen

The HNC Fine Art Interim Show runs from March 26 – March 31; the College’s Chelsea Centre, Hortensia Road, London SW10 0QS; Open weekdays 10am – 4pm; Admission: FREE

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