Degree season is here. New Designers is just around the corner. It’s a slightly frenetic and heightened time of year. I always enjoy seeing new work, and it’s hard not to remember being in the same place 4 years ago, the relief at work being finished, the anticipation of what’s to come. But, once you have been going to degree shows and New Designers for a while, it’s easy to slip into complacency a little, and to start to feel a bit uninspired by it all. Looking through my writing archive this week I noticed a response I wrote to degree shows on this day last year. It’s not particularly charitable, as you can see…
This is a place that holds simultaneous ideas present: the idea of unbounded vitality and creativity in the emerging makers, the unleashing on to the world of new voices in making, and also the cynical idea of having seen so much of this before, of not feeling challenged or intoxicated as a viewer. How is it possible for both things to be happening? There is the immediate vista of work en masse, which vibrates and tantalises, the eye darting around taking in glimpses and getting excited. This is when the pulse quickens, and you sense that feeling that anything could be about to happen. This is where I am at my most positive and open to what I am about to experience. It is when the glances and quick survey become a prolonged gaze, when the work is encountered and attended to, this is when the work can begin to diminish. Not all of it. There is usually a handful of artists/makers whose work holds enough to demand my time beyond a quick acknowledgement. These are the beautiful moments, where something shared takes place, where I feel a kinship with someone who has connected to their work on a level that goes beyond the superficial. This may be entirely visual, aesthetic, or it may be coming from the world of ideas and thought.
I like to see a certain level of critical engagement. I do not want to see work that takes simply ‘nature’ as its theme, or which is inspired by ‘architecture’ - these are not specific enough ideas. They are broad genres which are indistinct and do not pose questions or resistances to be countered. Work which proclaims to come from such places, these non-specific generalities, makes me wonder if the maker asked themselves ‘Why?’ at any stage. When this should be the only question a maker needs.
If I am lucky, the words the maker has chosen will elevate the work and open it out for me, but often I am left feeling dismayed that the words do not sparkle like the work. With no makers present to engage with, no discussions to be had, I am left alone to be uncharitable, to make assumptions and be dismissive. So much changes with the maker present; I cannot ignore the reality of the person in front of me, and no matter how little I connect with the work, work whose creator I have met will always be elevated.
So, do I feel like that this year, as I ready myself for the long haul of visiting shows? Yes and No. I still prefer to hear makers talk about their work, and so I’m often disappointed if they aren’t around to chat to (and particularly annoyed when no one seems to want to talk at New Designers). But I am less concerned, this year, with finding work that engages me on a critical level. That’s not to say that I’ve abandoned my natural tendency towards this sort of work, but I think this year I’m hoping to re-connect with making itself. I’m eager to see those joyous expressions of material exploration and of new approaches. I’m hoping to be surprised and delighted by the execution and finish of work, by the craftsmanship involved. And maybe it’s because my own making is still a bit dormant, that I feel this way. But if the excitement of a new cohort of graduates isn’t going to stir my passion for making, what is?