Hamish Pringle, Wimbledon: Lockdown 2020, digital print on canvas
❚ GENERATION Z ARE REPUTED to feel a bit down about the world bequeathed by their parents and the work of this summer’s art-school graduates has caught that mood – not to mention the lockdown blues. Their tutors seem to agree, at least in the synopses posted on the walls of a selling exhibition titled London Grads Now, hosted by the Saatchi Gallery in its new guise as a charity. [Update – Since extended from three to five weeks.]
This welcome but rum snapshot – many of its 150 artists were allowed to show only one work each – follows in the wake of this year’s cancelled graduation shows and expresses such zeitgeisty themes as political extremism, coronavirus and racial controversy. Many are largely sanguine about the new normals, except perhaps the feisty Black British History Quilt, which celebrates black artists, writers and figureheads including an 18th-century fop, by CSM’s Jahnavi Inniss and also Blackness (The Manifesto) by Michael Forbes at the RCA whose prosaic exhortations are listed on a vast board. Empassioned though this wall of words is, it does prompt the question, yes, but is it art?
Students and tutors have done the selecting and while there are impressively few copycat themes which often infect whole degree shows, there is a trend for titles to embark on narrative excursions, as for example these: Suddenly as if the moon trembled under my feet and every direction revealed itself … or Sleeping with the Enemy: Oscillations of a Fleshly Organ within a Jihady Cavity … or Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.
The tutors offer portentous “artist’s statements” to introduce each of seven London colleges spread across as many galleries. Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon’s declare: “In a world gone crazy, I’m a wild one”. In this year of cultural ruptures, conventions have been abandoned as students reflect issues of the moment: lockdown, the lure of nature, identity, gender fluidity and post-colonialism.
Click any pic below to enlarge all in a slideshow
Khushna Sulaman-Butt, Slade: Ascension (detail), 2020, oil on linen
Alejandro Villa Duran, RCA: Running until the end of the world as only lovers are left alive, Silhouette I, 2020, fabric, hanger
Daniel V Keler, Goldsmiths: Love Letter to a Stone 2019, tube lights, stones, vinyl, wood
Anna Baumgart, Slade School: in her own video, Fitting in with Nanny, Mutti, Mum and Omi
Rowan Riley, CSM: Legs 2020, unbleached filled cotton embroidered with metallic and cotton thread
Claudio Pestana, Camberwell: Fag Attacks The Country II, 2020, mixed media on paper
Topping this page you see an elegant but tough take on Lockdown by Wimbledon’s Hamish Pringle – a human eye photographed peering out from a head helmeted by what looks like a coil of rusty steel but, as Hamish comments below, is actually industrial sandpaper belting. At the foot of the page is a ghoulish family portrait painted on traditional canvas by Wimbledon’s Xinan Yang with the title I Still Care. . . while from Camberwell there is an in-yer-face clash between rustic rapture and urban sexuality in Fag Attacks the Country starring the artist himself Claudio Pestana.
A Goldsmiths tutor talks of reconciling crushed dreams and aspirations and in a wall-hanging textile Slay Within by Anosha Khan we see an axe-wielding dreamer dealing with her nightmares. Elsewhere four fluorescent tubes inscribed with a romantic verse by Daniel Keler titled Love Letter to a Stone actually support half a dozen varieties of rock evoking different eras in the Earth’s evolution.
The Royal College of Art curator dwells on “escapism, resilience, beauty in the mundane” and appropriately Alejandro Villa Duran selects a spartan wardrobe on a wire hanger, titled Running until the end of the world as only lovers are left alive. Quian Jiang’s One Minute of Photographic Time collages 60 separate snaps of a seascape which proves utterly mesmerising the longer you stare… Yang Xu’s Missing you is like Fire is painted in oil on synthetic carpet… while Emily Moore’s Chained is a huge lockdown collaboration in crocheted black yarn.
The Slade School curator reminds us to “breathe in and breathe out” when contemplating lessons learnt recently about cultural identities. This is evident in Khushna Sulaman-Butt’s Ascension, a powerful group portrait painted in oil which maintains tension between photographic realism and caricature. In one of the show’s rare videos Anna Baumgart transforms herself wittily into various female relations in Fitting in with Nanny, Mutti, Mum and Omi.
The Central Saint Martins curators conclude by suggesting that, in this post-truth era, nostalgia could gain new relevance, “not as a malaise in longing for a past moment, but as a proactive and sentimental yearning for continuity”, all exemplified in Legs by CSM’s Rowan Riley. Let’s call this one of the few pieces of sculpture in the show. The legs are made from filled cotton and bear personal messages and familiar quotations embroidered with colourful metallic and cotton thread: “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” and “This is a portrait of a green-eyed lady”. Either a whopping wallow in nostalgia or a necessary a kick up the 2020s?
Xinan Yang, Wimbledon: I Still Care, 2018, acrylic and oil on canvas
➢ Book tickets for London Grads Now at Saatchi Gallery
London, extended until 11 October 2020 – exhibition supported
by Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery