A small, unique and unusual art school, The Ruskin School of Art, stands proud as part of The Univeristy of Oxford. In line with our #StudentSpotlight season we wanted to find out about The Ruskin Degree Show 2015, hosted at The Green Shed in Oxford this June.
This year the Ruskin students are self-building their spaces, bringing a whole other level of creation and effort to the show, but three final year students were happy to take the time out to talk to us and let us know what's in store for their exhibition. Melanie Eckersley, Ailis Brennan and Zoe Dunn share glimpses into their practice at time spent studying art at Oxford University.
Above Image: Melanie Eckersley, The Tomato Room
Hi guys! Can you each tell us a little about your practice – the themes and processes behind it?
ME: Something not many people know about my work is that every piece has about ten sibling pieces; slight variations of itself. This is because, working digitally, I am able to modify a piece and simultaneously keep its original. Also, I tend to exhibit my digital audio/video pieces in installations which I then video as documentation. This documentation is then able to become a new piece in itself. If I tell myself ‘this is just documentation, not a new piece’, I feel limited. So now I assume it is all art. I like to call these pieces my Russian Dolls.
AB: I’m very worried about communication. The content of our admissions and their audience has swollen painfully within the last five years, our thoughts and actions finding themselves prey to a constant digital chatter, one typified by summary. Twitter and Instagram reduct our verbal and pictorial communications and recontextualize them within a newsfeed syntax. I am therefore interested in what is so little said, and how to say it. My work looks to challenge communicational frequency with pause, ease with reluctance, pragmatic competence with obscurification, and now with later (or potentially never). I like to think I’m in it for the long game, but I haven’t got much time.
Ailis Brennan, Excerpt from Dialectic (2015). Included in the Conditional Perfect series.
ZD: Through my practice I like to break work down to the simplest of shapes and ideas of often create things that are very tactile or relate to the body. I am very spontaneous and impulsive with my processes and works, often re-using materials in new ways. I am an obsessive hoarder and recycler and can always find a use for whatever I decide I needed to keep.
What are you exhibiting at the Ruskin Degree Show?
ME: I’ll be exhibiting an audio-visual installation called Object & Shadow. The narrative for this piece is loosely based on some ideas from 1999 about the classification of colour systems. The story revolves around two main characters, an object and his shadow, whose simple world changes irrevocably by the discovery of colour.
Ailis Brennan, Excerpt from 7 Ways To Cure/Cause Nausea (2014)
AB: I’m showing a piece entitled Whistle - Suggestion (I). The work consists of 12 parts, each constituting image and text, some parts only text. In the Degree Show, these will be displayed as a series of prints, each part mounted to a wooden tablet. This time, they’re icons. I’m not too keen on describing the content, because I’ll probably say it all wrong, but I can tell you that the work is a re-formatting of spatial experience for second hand consumption. It’s very worried about how to get around.
ZD: Some old ideas, and some new ones - mashed together to form a new environment specific to the space. To be honest even I’m not too sure what to expect from it yet as the walls of the building are still being built as I write this!
Melanie Eckersley, Betalogy (Screenshot), 2015
Which video/installation artists are you inspired by, Melanie?
ME: Artists like Lindsay Seers and Benedict Drew, whose work functions in the muddy barrier between fantasy and reality, have always interested me. Drew uses ‘blobby’ creatures in his work. Interestingly, because they ambiguous in their taxonomy, any traits that Drew does give them becomes significant (and unambiguous).
Ailis, you work with a mixture of collage and photography and installation, but which art materials/tools are integral to your practice?
AB: I like to work in layers – Photoshop suits me rather well. InDesign’s rulers are unbeatable. I have an Olympus OM-1 which does the photo graft (see what I did there?). I’ve tried to work with digital photography but it doesn’t work. It’s too easy to throw a file away. With film, you’re stuck with it, and there’s also no second chance with that exposure. It slows me down, makes me want to take what I’m taking. I’m not big on wastage. The words need either a notebook or a Word document – either is fine. A bit of quiet time is good too.
Zoe Dunn, Zhaoqing Foreign Language School Attached to Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Inkjet Photograph- Part of Triptic. 86cm x 130cm, March-September 2014
And Zoe, how has your practice progressed during your three years at the Ruskin?
ZD: My practice, like myself, has had it’s highs and lows whilst being at art school, but the strongest thing I think I have come out with is to be true to myself and my work; take on board what others say but never let anyone stop me from trying what I want.
What are your plans for when you leave the Ruskin, Melanie?
ME: I’m excited to say I’ve been selected to be one of Bloomberg’s New Contemporaries 2015! It’s very difficult for emerging artists to get recognition early on in their career so this opportunity is incredible. Come September, I’ll be joining their touring exhibition starting in Nottingham!
Melanie Eckersley, LauranDaniel, 2015
That's great news, congratulations! And Ailis, if you had any advice for someone wanting to apply to art school, what would it be?
AB: Do a good Foundation course. I study Fine Art, which has a very specific - and simultaneously non-specific - way of thinking. It’s often very difficult to know how you think straight from school. I know people who started their Foundation course (I studied at Kingston, and can highly recommend it), thinking that they were Fashion Designers/Fine Artists/Performance Designers, to find out that they were Graphic Designers/Illustrators/3D Designers and vice versa, etc, all of the above. Equally, if you stay in the discipline that you anticipate, you discover that there are infinite ways of thinking aesthetically. And that there are also grey areas, crossover points. It’s nothing to do with what materials you use or what you make, it’s how you think.
Zoe Dunn, Round Neck Tee, Photographic series, 2015
Zoe, if you could take one artist (alive or dead) to lunch, who would it be and why?
ZD: This is such a tough one! I have always loved Martin Creed’s work and his visual exploration into the gap between what we see and what we experience. I would love to quiz him about his thought processes and how he manifest these into ideas as sometimes I think my progressions are a bit mad- but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing!
Ailis Brennan, Excerpt from TSA (2015)
So let's bring it back to the Ruskin: Why should people come and see the degree show this year?
ME: This is the first degree show in which we have tailor-made our spaces. For example, I’m building three walls, a floor and a ceiling for my piece! The overall result will look like a maze of individually wrapped art. The audience should get excited about this level of consideration. Also, Ruskin private views are fun. So you can look forward to that too.
AB: The Ruskin is a very different kind of art school. For one thing, we’re outside the M25. Our work is therefore not so heavily influenced by the London art scene (I dislike that term, I’m so sorry) or by a large art school environment. We’re kind of sitting out here stewing on our own things a bit. Perhaps we think a little broader because of the space, or because you can’t help but befriend medics, historians, economists, physicists, theologians. There’s also only 23 of us in a year – I suspect our practices have a peculiar dynamic. I can’t tell you if it is better or not, but I’m pretty sure it’s unique.
ZD: For the variety and the honest exploration that every student will show in their work.
Zoe Dunn, Knitted Sound Sheet, 2015
The Ruskin Degree Show will be hosting its Private View on 19th June from 6-10pm, at The Green Shed, Oxford. It will also be open to the public from 20th-22nd June from 12-6pm.
Visit the Ruskin Degree Show website for more information.
You can visit the individual student websites by clicking their names: Melanie Eckersley, Ailis Brennan and Zoe Dunn.
Use the hashtag #StudentSpotlight to find our other blogs on student degree shows this year.