It is the beginning of the summer yet it is still raining in London. This time of the year is degree shows season and today I am trying to get to the other side of town through the manic traffic to check out the work of the recent graduates at Camberwell College of Art. As I am approaching the school, I can see nothing but a sea of people outside the building and as soon as I enter, the throng increases. The place is packed and it feels good. I attempt to make my way around through the different floors and the maze of corridors. The atmosphere is warm and exciting, everyone is relaxed now that most of the hard work is done and it but remains to discuss the work at hand.
Straight up to the top floor then, where I find the pieces from the sculpture department. I help myself to a catalogue from a pile laid on a table at the entrance. It is entitled Stage and features a text entitled The City of Materials: A History of Making. I peruse the booklet full of images of the work displayed in the gallery and I am immediately struck by the photograph chosen by Annette Madsen to represent her work. I feel that her contribution to the catalogue is the only one that refers to the title of the exhibition, that is to both materials and process, rather than simply to the final product. The picture shows a detail of her working environment, a space strewn with wood, nuts, tape, paint and various objects squeezed against one another, plus what I think must be her discarded dirty shoes. Her work for the show is equally interesting. While offering me a piece of typical Danish sweet made out of marzipan and chocolate called Kransekage, she shows me around: her work is an installation consisting of several objects that relate to each other in a triangular formation. Rubber packing, a couple of beautifully made red paddles and, built as what reminds me of an armadillo, a portable boat the pieces of which fit into one another. The work gives one a sense of the sea but also paradoxically of the city: a mixture of remembrances from her own sailing experience and a tangible impression of the domain she now inhabits in the limited space of the British capital. She talks about transformation from design to sculpture and back to design. A great start to the show.
The first thing you see as you enter the room that displays the work of the drawing contingent is an installation by Thomas Preceval entitled Cultivated. It consists of a metal structure in which people were invited to climb inside and sit down. The viewer is surrounded by what appears from a distance to be a set of beautiful geometrical and almost tribal patterns. Once inside the work, the material is revealed: thousands of Yorkie and Milky bar wrappers. As one recognises these familiar brands the work turns from one of banal beauty to a comment on waste and consumerism, perhaps inferring that by stepping into this work we are entering another dimension of reality and gaining a new perception of everyday items. Thomas uses donated, waste and mass-produced materials from different companies to give colour and shape to his work. He generates an alternative product to consumerism, transforming a material that has been created for financial purposes into an aesthetic and symbolical artefact. All of a sudden I find myself reflecting on issues of over production and mass demand, a crashing spiral, an everlasting loop of repetition. Not bad for what at first sight seemed to be just an enjoyable conservatory.
It is now to the Illustration course to show its might. The show is for the most part imaginative, narrative and incredibly pretty. On display are an amazing variety of materials and techniques. I can see as much 3D as 2D material. This is fun. Using laser cut MDF and acrylics, Karin Söderquist tells the story of two backpackers looking for an adventure and making their way to the North Pole through forest, sea and the inside of a polar bear. Very colourful and sweet but with a clever and smart dark side too. The heads and watercolours of Cressida Knapp are playful and very expressive. I would have quite fancied seeing the illustration of a bullfighter woman she was using on the back of her business card on the wall with the rest of her work. There was a lot of dynamic in her themes but also an interesting political criticism lurking behind her apparent kindness. I finally find myself amazed by great designs of ceramics and fabrics (yes, I am still in the Illustration course), an octopus hanging from the ceiling, Bonnie and Clyde, and the impressive dissection of a bear by Lizzie Scarlet Towndrow.
Eventually the shop closed down. Now comes the time to go to the pub nearby. And still the thundering crowd. After seeing most of the exhibition, it is interesting to talk to some of the graduates about the process of creation but also about the overall experience of the course and the B.A. I was glad to have a couple of conversations and in particular with Niclas Olsson. He tells me about his performances even though he belongs to the Sculpture department. In the exhibition he is showing a piece called Survival kit for a swimming pool which consists of several objects like gloves and raincoats which self destroy in contact with water. I am very curious about how he came up with such a result. He tells me that everything started with a journey he did across different European cities in 2010. He was asking people to breathe inside individual glass bottles, reminding me of Manzoni’s own endeavours. However this was done at the time of the swine flu epidemic. After collecting all these breaths, he then did a performance where slowly he inhaled every single of these bottle-captured breaths, with the inevitable result of him catching the flu in the following days.
Now that he has told me that, I wish I could have had the time to talk to more people and hear all their stories about the works standing inside a now quiet and empty school building.