Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA) recently became a member of the ECA and it was with some of the ECA's themes in mind that this review is written. With only limited time and so much to see unfortunately not all departments were visited but I hope this gives a snap shot of some of the diverse and inspirational work on offer.
The new principal of NUCA, Professor John Last, says "Our degree shows are a celebration of excellence. The high standard of work is impressive and reflects the broad range and quality of courses at NUCA, recently ranked as the country's number one specialist arts institution (Guardian 2011 Higher Education League Table) which has attracted a 15% increase in applications for 2012".
My first stop was the Fine Art department simply because it is the largest, spreading over three floors of St Georges building. Michael Hewes' piece 'Rose Co' was a humorous and visually stimulating display with a plethora of varied eyewear in all shapes and sizes. Michael had painstakingly removed the lenses and replaced them with a beautiful shade of rose pink, hence giving the viewer a new way of looking at their surroundings through rose coloured glasses. Beside the display there were endorsements from fighter pilots, mechanics, office workers and celebrities stating how they could now not go anywhere or even function properly without wearing their rose coloured specs - and in fact once I had placed a pair on I too didn't want to take them off, the world certainly looked a warmer, sunnier and fuzzier place with them on. To tie into some of the ECA's themes 'measuring wellbeing' and what makes our lives worthwhile and what things improve or detract from our wellbeing, I would certainly recommend a pair of rose coloured specs.
Beautifully displayed with wonderfully drawn images of mythical creatures upon a tablecloth as its centre piece, Alanna Richardson's piece 'Kedgeree Kit', brings together contemporary concept and traditional drawing skills in a holistic an 'wellness' message of food sourcing, sharing meals and getting together as a community. Alanna endeavours to use food as a catalyst for interaction and solidarity between people, the 'Big Society' message couldn't be better highlighted. Unfortunately all too often we seem to live in isolation and forget that actually we live in a community where sharing ideas, skills and food is so important and that this is what makes a group of people a community. The underlying message of this piece is the issues regarding the ethics of meat production and social naivety as to the origins of our food stuffs. Alanna is quick to point out that this is not about vegetarianism, but rather an observation that whilst we should enjoy our food, we should also think respectfully and responsibly about our food sources. This is certainly a piece of work to chew on.
I have to admit initially I completely overlooked this piece of work, as it was discreetly placed at the far end of the wall but I am very glad I re-visited it. Joe Baker's work 'Slaver/Tanker'consists of a print of a tanker, a cut-out of what looks like a shadow puppet and small bronze tanker on a plinth. Very discreet, very minimal and as I say easily overlooked but the work is commenting on the oil trade, consumerism, capitalism and environmental disasters associated with this area. The piece which draws you in is the Slaver/Tanker screenprint, if your're technically minded it is beautifully executed, as it happens I'm not, it was the shoulder to shoulder cramped figures of slaves held in the cargo hold which drew me in. I nearly overlooked Joe Baker's work, a comment perhaps on the message it is portraying, all too easily we overlook the effects we contribute to constantly consuming fossil fuels and glibly overlooking the consequences.
The traditional art of cross stitch juxtaposed with contemporary phrases was interestingly found in two students work and I wondered whether this was a reflection on some intergenerational skill sharing. Alice Freear (Visual Studies) and Jaclyn Gilmartin (Fine Art) had both used needlepoint to highlight certain specific contemporary messages and phrases producing traditionally framed samplers which wouldn't have looked out of place on a National Trust property wall. However, a work of warning - this work may offend as it alludes to strong language, having said this there are some beautifully stitched **. Certainly it is refreshing to see the traditional arts and crafts being displayed in a contemporary art exhibition.
I have to make a confession here and say I don't often find textiles very inspiring; however, there were two pieces which caught my eye. In particular Emma Daniels amazing paper cut lampshades, these pieces were on first glance ephemeral and delicate pieces intricately cut into beautiful patterns but on further investigation the subject used were recent news events covering such topics as Bin Laden's demise and the Royal Wedding. It appears Emma (like many students) is also of the make do and mend culture, being a strong believer in 'upcycling' and using found materials. Secondly Emily Charman's printed fabric pieces were visually engaging and stood out from the other work with their strong colours. Emily creates images that shock but also bring a smile drawing on such topics as local street scenes and the characters found there. Both students are passionate about using traditional skill (paper cutting, drawing and printing) and both are passionate about using those skills in a contemporary manner.
Finally I managed to squeeze in another department and raced to Illustration before my car park ticket ran out and thank goodness I did. Illustration always seems in vogue and accessible with amazing technically adept drawings for publishing, advertising, film and the Internet. The overall feel is one of professionalism and
tight ideas presented for a growing and competitive market. The subject areas this year ranged from class division to gutting a rabbit and from a children's book illustration to a book of the dead but one piece of work which made me smile was Natasha Kinrade's piece. It wasn't the table of found objects which interested me (been there/done that) but her quirky definitions of everyday objects which captured my imagination. I might even take on some of the uses suggested, I believe we should all help out with wildlife and arthritis in the thumbs always need exercising!
Review by Kate Hodges
Kate is an artist who studied at NUCA gaining a First in BA Fine Art Sculpture. She has also worked for the ECA. For more information on Kate and her work visit http://katehodges.com/