[UK] A cyclist who studies manhole covers and a snorkler who swims with sharks helped to make a lively night livelier as Newcastle University’s Master of Fine Art exhibition opened to the public.
The absorbing work by students on the two-year postgraduate course is on show until early next month at the Hatton Gallery.
Alex Charrington’s exhibition of mixed media works on paper is the first you will see in the main gallery. All geometric shapes and muted colours, it glories in the name Sigils of the Staveley Warriors.
A Newcastle University fine art graduate who returned to do the MFA course, Alex is well established in the city with a base at Cobalt Studios in the Ouseburn Valley.
A ‘sigil’, he explained, is a magic symbol. This had come to mind when he whizzed over the drain covers made by a firm called Stanton & Staveley.
“They’ve got the word ‘warrior’ written on them but they also look like tribal patterns, possibly Aztec. I’ve been cycling over them for years. The geometry of them also reminds me of the modernist abstract artists such as Bridget Riley and Victor Pasmore – so you’ve got this artistic significance and this ethnographic significance.
“I thought they looked exotic, as if they’re from a lost world. For me they’re like little time warp things.”
They might also help Alex to his MFA degree.
Downstairs you will find Nigel Morgan’s installation involving a wooden construction and piles of rubble. It is called Hiraeth which is a Welsh word meaning a wistful longing for an imagined or unattainable landscape.
Upstairs is Soonwon Hwang’s Into the Emptiness. “What do you think of as emptiness?” challenged the affable South Korean artist. Not quite like this, I replied… not as beautiful.
This, he explained, was the outer expression of what was inside his head. He added that it was ironic and that it had taken him two months to produce and hang the roughly 20,000 skeletal leaves that make up the fagile installation.
From leaves to feathers describes the journey from Soonwon Hwang’s installation to Sarah Dunn’s.
Between Fear and Mother Love is a room full of bird-related objects including a Reader’s Digest bird book which I used to love when I was a child.
People were carefully picking their way around books and other artfully arranged objects. Along one wall a sequence of enlarged images shows the development of a chick inside an egg.
Digory Kirke, a kinetic sculpture by Paul Martin Hughes, is a jolly but noisy affair, a mechanically-driven dancing wardrobe inspired by an investigation of the childhood imagination.
Narnia fans will know that Digory Kirke owns the house (and the wardrobe) in CS Lewis’s novel The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which provides entry into the magical kingdon for Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.
Yein Son’s work takes up a couple of linked studios. Chasing the Light is a large work taking up one entire wall and comprising a white board studded with nails linked by silver string.
Nocture 3.12 conists of hanging fabrics inked over in shades of grey.
“My work is the trace left by my responses, experimental yet respectful, to this space in this time in this place,” she explains.
“Chasing the Light is like a race for drawing the shapes and lines of the light coming through the windows into the space every moment in a day. I chase and tracing the silver lining of the sunlight.”
Of Nocturne 3.12 she says: “Every night after work, the nocturnal air inspires. In this city of wind and clouds, the sky is creating different textures and changing quickly each time.
“With this, I am expanding the energy of the nature of painting through my improvising gestures by using ink marks and experiments within painting.”
Climb another flight of stairs and you will find A Yellow Tongue by Sofija Sutton, from New Hampshire, who explained that she was going to move to New York with her sister but then chose to come to Newcastle “for an adventure”.
In her studio you will find writing on the floor, writing hanging from the ceiling, various colours and dividing lines and a set of headphones through which you will hear a good deal of shouting and yelling.
“It’s my father and sister,” explained the artist with a smile. “I had tried to do screaming sounds but they laughed at them because they were too high-pitched. I challenged them to do better and so they did.”
Sofija said the text-based installation is a 3D short story collection with the painted lines delineating the boundaries between them. It is also an exploration of mental health using therapy-based language and the fruits of her own self-analysis.
As much writer as artist, Sofija said she had been snorkling with basking sharks off Oban in Scotland in preparation for her next collaborative project. “They have small brains but huge mouths and it’s quite something when they swim right at you, turning away only at the last second.”
If you sense a vaguely fishy smell in Helen Shaddock’s studio, it’s nothing to do with sharks. One of her exhibited works is a wall hanging comprising squares of printed seaweed. It’s far from unpleasant. There are also screenprints on tissue paper and a piece called Strut Your Stuff made from lotus leaves, pegs and an aluminium rod.
As I was about to leave I was introduced to Chinese artist Liying Zhao who came to Newcastle from one of China’s most modern and dynamic cities, Shenzhen.
She said: “I got an offer from London too but I chose Newcastle because the group is very small here so you get more turtorials one-to-one. It was a good decision.”
A thoughtful student, she said she was struggling to find what medium interested her most. She had played around with different materials but settled on video installation.
“I also like to perform and to have a personal narrative in my work,” she said.
In the end she had allowed her allotted gallery space to dictate the terms of her exhibition, Walking in the Paradox, and had four days to install everything.
Film of a musician is projected onto a wall through a gauze, a girl with needle and thread seems to be repairing a curtain hanging over a doorway and there is a tiny image of the artist herself, dancing.
Prof Richard Talbot, head of fine art, said: “The MFA exhibition at Newcastle University is always an exciting melting pot of ideas.
“The two year course gives these artists the opportunity to explore their thinking and develop and hone their practice.
“Having the setting of the Hatton Gallery in which to show their work gives them a fantastic springboard to launch their careers as professional contemporary artists.”
The exhibition is open to everyone until September 5, Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Admission is free.