CSAD Graduate Roundup 2014

Every year, I must mention how great it is to have the School of Art & Design in the city hundreds of times. When people ask me what it’s like to live in Cardiff – CSAD is one of the first things I talk about because they produce such great work: in the community, research and young artists and designers.

So every year, it’s a pleasure to get to go into their buildings and get a feel for how the students leaving the School to go work in jobs all around the world have done.

In one sense then, it’s a pleasure to write this piece every year because it’s a chance to praise the creativity of a large number of people. On the other hand, it’s sad because there’s only so much time to write about the work – a lot of people’s work gets cut out of these roundups. Usually, there’s no reason other than the volume of great work on show versus my own capacity to see it all.

More notable than ever, this is the year when CSAD waves goodbye to Howard Gardens – its home for several decades – and moves to another building across town to begin a new era in the institution’s history.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to discuss the furnishing of the new building with Richard Morris, he mentioned the idea of looking at existing furniture differently and so here we start:

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Lydia Spurrier-Dawes questions the social norms of acceptability and entitlement that we have built for ourselves in the western world by taking a sideways look at the idea of a table and a teaset.

If for no other reason than the playfulness of her work, Spurrier-Dawes deserves recognition for her piece Milk and Two Sugars – during the brief minutes I spent looking at it, several others entered the room and squealed with joy. Art should do that to people.

To those who read the previous paragraphs and thought: that’s not art, my child could do that, graduating Fine Art student Esther Burns has some things to say to you. Or rather, she’ll let you do the talking.

Her series of cut out mannequins allow you to put yourself into the art. Just like at the seaside, you can place your face into the hole which she has cut out. Picture yourself as a boxer. As an artist. As x, y or z. The point is: by allowing you to play at art, she’s putting herself onto your level and encouraging you to create something. She’s saying, ‘If I can be an artist, so can you. Your child could do this.’

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Dementia affects a huge number of people and so it’s quite normal that an artist tries to portray the idea of coping with dementia. Beth Marriott does this with a fantastic installation of matchbox dioramas.

Marriott explores her own relationship with her grandmother who suffers from dementia in these collections. The dioramas each look into a word that has been played in their long Scrabble games together or seeks to solidify a memory that would otherwise be lost by her grandmother. There is something very touching about the idea that a memory can be solidified through something so fragile as an empty matchbox.

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Probably one of my favourite pieces in the degree show this year is Elle Barnard’s illustration work in A Sense of Solitude. Really, I am not sure what she’s trying to illustrate other than possibly the feeling of quiet and calm.

Her work is a cut out which allows the sun to blaze through it – on Saturday afternoon when I saw the show, the heat through the window was unpleasant but the light was beautiful. Perhaps there’s an esoteric message in there somewhere, I don’t know. But when I stood in front of this wonderful little piece, I felt as if I had been transported to some empty Maltese cathedral, an after hours viewing of Sainte Chappelle, when it’s only you and that peculiar feeling that it’s not only you.

One of the remarkable things that has come out of the illustration department this year is a collaboration with the Department of Anaesthetics, Intensive Care and Critical Care Medicine at Cardiff University.

Both departments have the breadth of vision to see value in one another and have encouraged joint work.

One way that this has come across is in the work of Helen Turnbull who has spent time observing the day care wards. Her illustration in red make medicine and its daily practice look almost charming.

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Finally from the Howard Gardens show, I was quite struck by this painting of muslim men at prayer. Helen Bur seems to have captured a moment in a way that painting does not normally capture.

In a room of bowed men, you can not avoid the one man who is looking up.


Later in the week, I finally made it to Llandaff to the new campus. I can see the new building from my studio window. It’s a work of art in itself and is principally what an art school should be: a blank canvas waiting to be worked in and to find out who it is going to be.

Inside, there are students who are already trying to paint on that canvas. This year, the show there was limited to graphic communication, textiles, architecture and some photography. Next year, it will contain everything that the School has to offer.

But it’s this year, with the former, that we continue.

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More specifically, let’s go with what Michael Boulton’s doing. His display is a series of playful slogans which find common ground between people who are very different. His brief was apparently esoteric and he’s probably gone seriously off course with it – at least I don’t see it – but regardless, his comparisons of interior designers and astrologists based on their work with space are very funny.

Those who were looking through the posters beside me found the comparison of the carpenter and the porn star very humorous. I’ll leave that to your imagination.

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I happened to bump into three students who were waiting around at their show. They agreed to show me their work and it just so happens that their work is also great. First of all is Alex Meek.

Alex explores the idea of Anarchy by creating a series of posters which are tearable. In fact, you are encouraged to tear the poster right down the middle to reveal more information.

Next up is Richard Paterson who has an unusual amount to say about the nature of a chair and a table. Or rather, he has not so much to say as he has questions to ask. His is a book which examines (graphically) what makes a chair or a table and even where one begins and the other ends.

His work is entertaining and definitely worth more of a look.

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Finally, Poppy Matilda Reay takes a turn showing me her work. She has created work in response to a brief to celebrate one album from XL Recording’s 25 year back catalogue. Her piece looks at Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ which was a pay what you want release.

Interestingly, she picks up on the idea that Radiohead were putting across by only mentioning the album title at a certain time on the album which fits into the golden ratio.

While I fail to remember the details, Reay’s piece echoes the band’s obsession with the golden ratio and it appears throughout her work.

Before we finish, a quick mention of the incredible piece by Steffan Cummins – a person who is sure to go on to have some really really great work behind him wherever he goes.

Cummins’ work is based on the word innovation. He set up an iMac and a board which the viewer holds in front of them. There are a series of cards with objects printed on them. When two cards are stuck onto the board, the iMac creates a layer of augmented reality which shows what those two objects together could make.

Innovation indeed!

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And so as this year’s show comes to an end, so does the life of Howard Gardens. There are those who will be resentful of that, those who will be sad and some who will be happy too but let’s face it, the building is not what makes the School. Wherever the people are, that place will be great.