Art and education are awkward but compulsory bedfellows. To be an artist you have to go through the institutional hoop, it is the professional thing to do – NO COLOURFUL OUTSIDER ART HERE! Amateurism is not a default setting on the career path of the would-be artist. Art and professionalism are also untidy companions – it’s like wearing eccentricity beneath the suit – you want to reveal your individuality, but you also want to ‘tie’ it in a professional curatorial bow at the end of the year show. The professional procedure goes something like this: deadlines, externes, supervisor marking, final coats of white paint, frustration, hands off, leave and wait for the response, if any! – and not to forget the

Aidan Dunne overview (who I saw by the way skulking [maybe and unfair description] through the National College of Art & Design corridors); and then it’s over, out in the real world of open submissions and expectant handshakes and emails.

The hope is that your work will translate into gallery work, public art or independent projects; catch the eye of a gallerist or curator. So, can we judge these claustrophobic displays of art so soon after the students’ torment to find an art identity among all the other identities within the institution, not to mention the artworld identities that we’re force fed over the four to six years of critiques, and seemingly fugitive efforts of object making, summoned from the pedagogical well of knowledge that the artist learns within the eight foot high white corridors of the art college? Of course we can. Sometimes we discover artists that negotiate the art college parameter brilliantly, and make art that trumps the stuff in the galleries. In some ways there is more freedom in the art college, although it is a freedom that is coloured by your supervisor and fellow classmates, if they told you the truth! It is also coloured from the perspective of looking out onto the artworld rather than being in it, although most have had skirmishes with the art packs at openings or Facebook! More importantly, without the room to reflect on what the final allusive art identity that you have displayed for the ‘outside’ world to see, the art student is left blindly to walk out into the real world of art- making to reflect (almost too late) on what they have achieved, and most importantly, have they developed an art identity that gels with their own way of existing in the world. In other words, does their ‘final’ way of working have a life after art college, or is it just a light institutional coat. More specifically, is it too dependent on the art institution. The ones that stand out at these graduate shows don’t over-display or describe the one idea in too many fashions. There is also an ease in their final output; a paring back of the hoarding mentality that is part of the desperate need to search for that allusive formal identity.

On the top floor of the Granary Building at NCAD (where the painting department is located), I mistook Caitriona Rogerson’s video work for that of a male artist. I don’t know why gender came into it? Maybe it was the manmade thread of her focus – the escalator, elevator, car; mechanical hardware that is necessary for our efficient movement through institutional, urban and rural space. Forgetting the case of mistaken identity, this confident, no frills output by Rogerson was more MFA than BA. In one looped video sequence the artist repeats a moment of expectant revelation when a large industrial elevator (found later in the design block of NCAD) opened and closed intermittently with the announcement: “door opening...door closing.” Although this may sound like a filmic cliché when described, this work was twinned with another video projection that showed a detail of the ‘workings’ of the elevator hoist cable located at the ceiling of the elevator shaft. The rupture in this banal focus was envisioned by inverting the video (or upside down filming of the event) , so there was an unease created by the question: which way is up and which way is down? The eerily uncanny tone of Rogerson’s work was doubled up with the symmetrically beguiling twinning of a continually shifting rural landscape, seen through two abutted sideview mirrors of a car. I don’t like the use of the term kaleidoscopic, but it is merited here. The folding of the real image and mirrored image actually collapsed the idea of time based media into one continually reflective work, giving this video an objectness – a real parameter with no narrative end in sight.

Up in a hideaway ‘attic’ overlooking the other artists on the top floor of the Granary Building, Tom Boland’s stacked cardboard boxes with cut-out text of ‘stock’ cynical phrases, was a brave and

confident way to end his term of college. Boland's recycled statements were interesting against the setting of learning; a space to make a mark through some formalised art identity. I wrote above

of the “hoarding mentality that is part of the desperate need to search for this allusive formal identity”; in Boland’s case, the hoarding of so-called original formalist and textual expressions that must have cluttered his studio, have been evacuated from the space, and replaced by cardboard boxes (that may have been better used to store whatever stuff he produced during the year), with cut-out empty phrases that have a political motivation, but will never amount to a cure. Hoarding is once again signified when the artist packaged the leftover letter cut-outs into a few free boxes. Out of the stockpile, one white box floated in the corner of the room with the word “REFLECT” excised out. I was told that you could put your head up into this specific box, offering the viewer a space to “REFLECT” on the phraseology before them. This ad hoc moment says so much about the process of art making,. Boland’s work is an escape from all the usual individualism on show. Although it must be said that this empty output is a full-stop – there is nothing left to empty out of his studio when the graduate show ends, so it will be time to begin afresh after college.

On the bottom floor of the Granary Building, Tom David Watt used similar methods of avoidance and disassociation from the usual mediums or forms of expression per se, by using the college and its contents to create “hidden and inaccessible spaces.” This process is obviously from the Mike Nelson handbook of fabricating in-between spaces behind the institution, but whereas Nelson adds his own thematic to the banal makeup of the everyday – with an admixture of fantasy and institution – I could not discover anything of ‘Watt’ in these fabrications that expanded a narrative for the audience that went beyond the walled parameters of NCAD.

Watt’s ‘closed tutors’ office’ on the bottom floor of the Granary Building offered a closed narrative at first. For a viewer who isn’t aware of the existence of this office they would assume it was constructed by the artist. A flashing red light on the phone, a ceiling prop, along with the cluttered messages and objects, didn’t offer an open narrative but closed it down. But it was the subtle glimpse of a space above

he false propped ceiling that gave you an inroad into what Watt was presenting – chance spaces that were devoid of personality, except for the treble barreled name printed ‘professionally’ on a foam board label; “Tom David Watt.” I was left to wander back into the bowels of the institution to find the access point for this work. I found it behind an ajar sheet of timber rather than a door, which led to a crawl space with three televisions with CCTV footage of other ‘Watt spaces’. What is certain, the majority of the audience that visited NCAD didn’t discover the spaces, and “Tom David Watt” was just a label. Watt’s efforts remind me of a group show entitled The Power of a Negative Remains Between Us at thisisnotashop in 2007, when Ciarán Walsh (who was an MA student at NCAD at the time) took over the basement of the art project space on Benburb Street, and not only utilised the piles of miscellaneous objects and rubbish that you would likely find in a basement, but also added subtle elements of his own design, such as an audio of undetermined noise, a Tarot table setup and other objects that provoked narrativity. We could defend Watt’s work by saying that the viewer doesn’t know where the institution ends and the art begins. It is also a work that negates identity and in the context of an end of year art college show, this is brave move. In the end, I will be waiting to see what “Tom David Watt” does next. The question is can the work emerge from the institution? n.


Reflecting in the Institution

Reviews of Dublin Graduate Shows at NCAD, DIT, and IADT, 2011.



Tom Boland, NCAD, 2011.

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