It’s a Friday night and Central Saint Martins is live. Whilst performance often struggles to find its place within a gallery space, it certainly has its place in tonight’s event. The Fine Art studios are an organised mess of sculptures and screens, bustling with the bodies of excited students and performers alike. Audience reactions and interactions seem to be the theme and, with energy running high, the show offers visceral thrills and considered conversation.
With busking and tarot card readings, the 3D and XD pathways of BA Fine Art took their turn to deliver an Open Studio worthy of attention. Showcasing ongoing work whilst raising money for the approaching degree show, we talked to some of the students involved.
Bringing outside interests into an art context, Andrew engages with lowbrow culture in the form of YouTube and, most notably: The Simpsons. With tin foil, masking tape and a green screen, Andrew extends the weird and wonderful into the strange and deranged — think Itchy & Scratchy meets “Stark Raving Dad”. Slapdash replicas of America’s most beloved family are accompanied by unsettling wailings and an Amazon-purchased Natalie Portman à la Queen Amidala mask, with tongues for eyes, I might add.
At face value, Andrew’s work is absurdly entertaining. Sourcing material via computer or TV, his dedication to ridiculousness, the surreal and grotesque, questions our incessant “couch culture” and obnoxious laziness; perfectly characterised by the overweight consumerist body of Homer Simpson. This realisation is arguably as unnerving as being alone with Andrew’s creepy characters. Nevertheless, as an artist, he’s more than happy if a good laugh is all you take away from it.
Amidst a vast, crumpled canvas, I discovered a small screen and “脱, 穿”（Take off, Put on) by E Zhang. Part-filmed via drone, the piece’s visuals are romantic and cinematic, spanning the wild countryside before focusing on a solo silent figure. Originating from an image in the artist’s mind, we watch as the subject repeatedly removes and puts on his clothing, whilst also battling harsh winds. Commands in Mandarin (“take off”, “put on”) are cut into the strong gales, and the film becomes a messy display of emotion. This intended emotion is amplified by its surrounding paintwork. This mass of paint actually belongs to second year student Aidan Wallace, and the spontaneous decision to merge the two pieces worked unbelievably well.
Focusing on installation and performance action pieces, the audience is crucial to E’s practice. As an artist, she doesn’t shy away from doing things on a grand scale; despite its miniature display “脱, 穿” (Take off, Put on)” is a pretty big production. Her work ranges from a peephole activated from the inside, Op.Peeping.II, to a durational treadmill performance at Camden Arts Centre, in which the audience freely controlled the speed. In giving free rein to an audience, each piece becomes ‘alive’ and more about the individual’s emotion as opposed to the artist’s own. “The funny thing is that it’s like doing a test: anything can happen, and I only understand it when it’s complete.”
Framed by the green glow of Waitrose, Matthew took to the stage in an unmissable and sickly performance. With an array of reduced food items, totalling 2200 calories, he proceeded to blend his daily food intake into nauseating gruel. With the audience feeding his energy, he persevered and swallowed it whole. Whilst his practice explores bodily stress and tension, this piece aimed to pass comment on big-city life in relation to food. Taking our constant rush to eat to the extreme, the artist parodied not just our ridiculous wastage and over-production of food, but the grotesque over-consumption of it.
Concerned with the separation between a structural or logical perspective and human emotion, Eliot attempts to “design the systems to make conversations”. Deciphering where human feelings fit into these structures or systems, his work is incredibly open and continually unfolding. This is set into motion by what Eliot calls “process performances”; performances in which he appears to be making or building something, only to deconstruct it when it reaches an end.
Friday’s process performance was a recreation of an earlier piece in Peckham Square. Investigating places outside of art contexts, heterogeneous Peckham offers a different type of curiosity and genuine emotion. How this translated in Central Saint Martin’s institutional sphere is open to interpretation, as is the rest of Eliot’s work. Scrawling patterns on the floor in chalk, Eliot’s process appears mathematical, but it is a mathematical algorithm with infinite outcomes. These diagrams are merely “climbing frames for conversation”. Opposing the locked-in blocks of online messengers and modern society, Eliot encourages fluidity and a world of discursive possibilities. After all, “there’s always a dialogue between something, you just need two things to exist for that to happen.”
From pop music to Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Aidan’s enthusiasm for all that is lowbrow is unrivalled. A performer in his early stages, on Friday he showcased himself as spectacle and crowd-pleaser. With prizes and karaoke, he refused to be ignored and had the whole room belting out Adele before it was even 8 o’clock.
Currently undergoing a year out, Aidan is having fun after a rather tense Frieze period, exploring the endless possibilities and sites of performance. His practice converses with the kitsch and camp, pitting the two against each other in the loudest way possible. Whatever the gimmick, it doesn’t matter, “art should be democratised” and if you can’t draw, sing or act, Aidan is sure to find a place for you.
Words by Sian Toolan
Photography by Oliver Vanes
Video by Conor Rigby