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Gray's Virtual Degree Show: A review.

There’s nothing quite like spending a day wandering around the Gray’s School of Art degree show. Sure, there are museums, and galleries, and sites of renowned cultural heritage, but a degree show holds something that none of those other spaces can: Hope. Promise. Excitement. Youth. The annual degree show holds a space for the graduates to showcase their work in a way that they never would have done before, to audiences they never would have expected. The buzz of a degree show lingers long past the initial opening night. The glasses clinked, and teary, joyful hugs linger in the halls and seep into each piece.

Sadly this year, a physical degree show was not to be. But thanks to the wonderful people at Look Again, Design & Code, and the staff at Gray’s School of Art, a virtual degree show was arranged in just four short months.

Although the degree show may not be accessible to all, the virtual nature of the show opens the graduates up to a global audience. The sheer amount of work that has gone into arranging this virtual degree show is nothing short of Herculean in effort by all involved.

The graduating artists and designers have gone to such lengths and truly shown their adaptability and capabilities. Graduates of 2020, you should be exceptionally proud of yourselves. I am in awe of every single one of you. Congratulations.

Ellie Jack's virtual degree show space

I spent most of my time in the Communication Design area of the degree show, mainly because it is my area of interest. I wanted to especially mention Ellie Jack for having the happiest room of all the spaces (perhaps even out with this degree show), and Tamara Lau who’s work “focuses on the creation of a collaboration platform that connects creatives globally”, which seems appropriate for a COVID afflicted world. Special mention to designers Charlotte Taylor and Thomas McKay who’s work I really enjoyed. Finally, to Holly Callaghan. I think my exact words on entering her degree show space were “fuck, this is good”. Her conceptual identity work for MAKERS20 is nothing short of inspiring. A truly creative branding prototype for a creative venture worth exploring and investing in. I hope to see MAKERS20 come to life. The graduates of 2020 deserve to have their work appreciated in real life.

Contemporary Art Practice is always an interesting space to visit because of the mix of mediums and the freedom allowed in this area of practice. I found Aleks Ka to have the most immersive room while Elodie Louise Baldwins’ film responding to Freud’s essay “The Uncanny” was particularly captivating. While Caitlin Robb’s work focuses on death, the use of light in her space juxtaposes the subject matter to the extent that a feeling of celebration of life is evoked, highlighting the precious and fleeting nature of life in all forms.

Over in the Painting virtual space, I found that I was particularly enthralled by the work of Alicja Rodzik and Elizabeth Wards, both of which I’d love to see in real life one day soon. Colleen Mahoney’s work reminded me very much of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Her work is a timely reminder of to review our treatment, both past and present, personal and institutional, of those with mental illness. While scrolling through Sophie Brown’s work, the infamous Cesar A. Cruz quote comes to mind: “Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable”. On perhaps quite a personal note, as a survivor of assault, I couldn’t quite decide where I belonged on the comfort/disturbance scale. It is a stark reminder of the seriousness and de-humanising nature of these crimes. I suppose no one should really feel comfortable viewing Brown’s work - as thought-provoking and brilliant as it is.

Jugs for Jugs by Megan Davies

Perhaps the most challenging sector to translate to a digital platform by its very nature, Three Dimensional Design proved to be the most surprising part of the virtual degree show for me. Kristián Karban’s work provided a dreamy escape from the practicalities of traditional structures. The virtual space was excellently thought through in relation to the project, providing a genuine emotional response to the work. I found Megan Davies work particularly touching. The inspiration behind her work brings beautiful meaning to her passion project Jugs for Jugs (which need to be trademarked immediately). 50% of the profits from sales of Megan's work are donated to Cancer support centres. (I won't lie, reading the little description of the Emma Jug (pictured above) made me cry.)

All in all, an outstanding effort from all involved.

Kirsty xo

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