Shetland College UHI stages superb end of year show

by Alastair Hamilton -

The excellent work done by students on the fine art and textiles courses at Shetland College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, was once again on display in their end-of-year show, Vision 18.

The event, which featured speeches and prize-giving, offered a comprehensive overview of students’ progress, including the BA (Hons) Contemporary Textiles degree show, as well as work in progress from Year 1, 2 and 3 students. There was also an impressive display from students pursuing the National Certificate Art and Design course, which focuses on building portfolios to ensure graduates go on to study at degree level in their specialist field of art or design. Other courses, including Vocational Pathways, were also well represented.

The BA (Hons) Fine Art course is now in its third year and students exhibited a selection of work. It’s a modular course, and, as course leader Paul Bloomer explained, it covers a very wide range of disciplines and skills. There are six modules, each 200 hours long, namely “a drawing module, a print-making module, a photography module, a painting module, a textual studies module – which is basically history and theories of art – and also a module called spatial practice”

Students begin to specialise in their chosen area in the second year of the course, perhaps in painting, photography, digital media, or printmaking. The course involves tutorials and workshops. “This year, we did aquatint etching and something called ‘materiality’, which is basically thinking about textures and surfaces from a painting perspective.”

In third year, the work is even more self-directed and four of the students recently mounted an exhibition – including the work by Marcia Galvin shown above – that demonstrated very well the range and quality of what they achieve by that stage. They build on that in the fourth (and final) year.

In the drawing module, six weeks are allowed for students to pursue their own personal project; an example is Susan Pearson’s large charcoal drawing, which, as Paul explained, explores “a dream-like vision based around a particular location in Whalsay where generations of her family have lived.” Her work also featured in another part of the show, as we’ll see later.

Nearby, there is an example from the print-making module, this time by Shannon Leslie. “This year, explains Paul, “we set a brief to explore the idea of journey, in any way you want to – it could be a physical journey, an emotional journey, a spiritual journey, an intellectual journey, any type of journey, through the medium of print-making. This student, with this quite strong circular composition, explored her own relationship.”

It, too, has a dream-like, peaceful and serene quality.

Lucy Wheeler’s work, from the first-year photography module, responds to a brief on ‘light, space and time’, which students could interpret either literally or conceptually. Lucy has explored “light on the land and reflected light, in peaceful black and white imagery.”

In a different vein, Jane Ridland, a second-year student who “consistently pushes briefs and boundaries” explored the process of aquatint etching, using copper plate and acid, using the idea of presence and absence. She made her own ink, too, and arranged the result (above) almost like a musical score.

Another striking example from the first-year print-making module, by Elouise Spooner, is built up from a series of small prints, “almost diary-like”, says Paul, “which are arranged like a crime wall in a police station. She’s making links between all these different scenarios, for the viewer to make up their mind what is going on”.

The work of students on the BA Contemporary Textiles course is equally impressive. “In second year,” Paul explains, “one of the modules is called professional practice. This is a module where students start to learn key ‘survival skills’ for being an artist or designer, putting together CVs, business cards, websites, blogs and plans for exhibitions."

Part of this includes taking part in a competition that, for several years, has been sponsored by local wool business Jamieson and Smith. Students have free rein in terms of how to respond, using the company’s yarns.

This year, there were several different approaches, including Navajo-inspired scarves by Susan Imrie - in the top picture above - and, below it, a more abstract work, by fine art student Rachel Jutkova, focused on colours, textures and the fleece.

Paul says that “the core modules in the textiles course are basically weave, knit, printed textiles and digital media, usually in response to a brief. The skill of being a textile designer is not just the actual making but going through the whole design process from idea and concept to experimentation, the use of colours and textures. Even within the weave, it’s not just about colour choice; it’s also about thickness of yarn, sometimes creating almost sculptural weaves.” Richard Main’s piece, above, is inspired by the architecture of the new V&A museum in Dundee.

One of the more intriguing exhibits involved a video presentation, in essence, a sculptural approach to textiles. Paul explains that a series of knits were frozen in ice and allowed to melt over a 24 hour period, during which a time-lapse film was made. “Basically, it’s commenting on global warming using knit.”

Rosalind Mair’s piece is “a crossover between a fine art approach and a design approach. It’s very sculptural, using textiles in a sculptural way”.

The module on spatial practice this year used the historic Hay’s Dock, adjacent to the Shetland Museum and Archives, as inspiration.

Vivian Ross-Smith, who lectures in both fine art and contemporary textiles, explained that first-year students come together on the first year fine art and textiles courses and indeed in other work.

Those on the fine art course are in a module entitled spatial practices (which she leads) while the textiles students pursue a module on material, form and context. “The two groups of students get together and we go to the Museum and the Hay’s Dock area as a place to inspire site-specific work. We go for a site visit and the students can choose any space within the dock area to respond to.”

The students work up some ideas before settling on one, and the final presentations of their work are done in that space. “It’s always a really interesting module because a lot of the focus in first year is about development of technique, but this is much more about asking them to think about space and conceptual considerations. It gets students into quite a different way of thinking and working, and opens up their understanding of what art can be.”

Vivian feels that there has been some really strong work in the past year. “Katie Leask was looking at the herring boats: in the past, standing on the dock, you would see the network of masts. She made this large installation piece.” Shown above, it’s constructed using copper pipes and coarse salt.

Vivian says that Kirsten Sinclair’s work was “an interesting crossover between fine art and textiles. She was interested in the herring girls and the fact that they wrapped their fingers for the gutting; she used to work in a fish factory and wore chain-mail gloves when she was working, so she was interested in this chain as a representation of the gloves. She chose that at this site and responded with textiles, stitching and lettering onto these pieces of fabric that she had her fingers wrapped in. The final output was an installation but she also made a performance of her gutting the fish, and recorded that in a video which we’re going to show upstairs.”

One of the most striking pieces was by Susan Pearson. As Vivian explained: “Susan responded to a space around the back, that was under-used; she looked at hand-knitting, and dipped it in concrete, changing the textures of the piece. She’s from Whalsay, and she was looking at these women having to come into Lerwick to live and work in the herring, so it has this sadness about it.” She made about ten pieces in this vein.

Overall, Vivian says that it was great to see such a wide variety of work. “It’s great to see the range of materials that they used, because there’s a real focus on material within that module but also responding to space; that’s how we frame the whole module – these are the two aspects that we want them to explore and experiment with.”

it was great to see such a wide variety of work

Vivian adds that the fine art degree is new “and I think people are still learning that we have this and that there’s an option to study art here. So, I think being able to highlight that, and being able to highlight the crossovers between our already well-established textiles degree and our new fine art degree, I think that’s a real selling point for the college and for students coming here. It’s an interesting place to study art. There’s obviously a very rich history and culture to draw on, and it’s really great to see the students taking these historical considerations into a fine art context and a contemporary context at that.

A wide range of work was on display in either the rooms or the corridors. These included exhibits from students on the course leading to the National Certificate in Art and Design and the Vocational Pathways course.

The Vocational Pathways scheme – which operates in a number of other disciplines, for example marine engineering, enables school students to spend some time in one or other of Shetland’s two colleges, Shetland College and the NAFC, in order to develop their skills and prepare for further or higher education. In this case, students experimented with line drawing, textile design, painting and printing.

College staff and students clearly benefit from the cross-fertilisation that occurs on all the courses. As Paul Bloomer says, it’s “what makes the Shetland College course quite a unique opportunity for students. There’s a fusion between fine art and textiles all the way through. It’s already producing interesting results and we see that continuing to grow.”

Graduates from the Shetland College courses have been notably successful in building businesses in Shetland. This year’s cohort gained national exposure when the work of three graduates from the Shetland College BA Contemporary Textiles course was on display in London in late June as part of the national New Designers exhibition.

Graduates from the Shetland College courses have been notably successful

Shetland College UHI warmly welcomes applications for either the BA Fine Art or BA Contemporary Textiles course. The college is the northernmost in the network that makes up the University of the Highlands and Islands and is one of two UHI colleges in Shetland, the other being the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway; a merger between them is proposed.

There’s no question that Shetland is an interesting place to study, whether in fine art, textiles or any of the other subjects available. It’s a welcoming and outward-looking community that continues to attract artists and craftspeople from many parts of the world.

As for the quality of work, the exhibits on show at the college, not to mention the success of graduates in business, speak for themselves. The islands' craft trail offers opportunities to see the very wide range of art and craft produced in Shetland, some of it by makers who studied at Shetland College.

Posted in: Creative Scene

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