The End Is Nigh!LJMU Art and Design degree show 2019 24/5/19
As an early major platform for many of the artists involved, degree shows are a unique prospect. LJMU’s 2019 edition – dramatically titled THE END IS NIGH! – is big in both significance and size, occupying every floor of the John Lennon Art and Design Building. Four subjects have been given space: alongside fine art there’s graphic design and illustration, fashion design and communication and architecture.
The fine art presentations cover pretty much every medium – film, painting and sculpture. There are a couple of rooms dominated by installations that are clearly meant as ‘big statements’. The ambition to do something large-scale must be tempting when several years of study have all led up to this moment. The success of these pieces, though, must rest on the same question as any artwork: what’s their point, or purpose? Is it clear, and do they succeed in moving the audience? In a couple of cases, this isn’t entirely successful. The best is one of the simplest: a tent-fort made out of dyed sheets. Inside music plays, soundtracking videos of people being unequivocally themselves; whether dancing semi-naked or dressing up, this is a space for expression without shame, and filled with warm feeling because of it.
Among the rest of the show, in the objects of the walls and floors, there are some really great pieces to discover. An armadillo-accordion hybrid creature, standing in a sea of torn fables, is totally endearing. There is a corner of weavings stretching up from and down to the ground like braids – slightly unnerving, but irresistibly tactile. An intricately detailed, sexually charged dragon appears to shoot lasers from its eyes at anything that might disturb its power.
Despite being closely related disciplines, there’s a massive difference between the work by the fine art and graphic design and illustration students. The graphic design and illustration section is somewhat more straightforward in terms of message and medium – more enjoyable for it. It’s not that politics isn’t present – there are zines about the environment, cults and Trump. But there’s a sense that the more defined medium unlocks a different sense of play. Details of everyday objects are enlarged to abstraction; new worlds are filled with characters ready for you to join their adventures. These artists have produced work that is confident in its own ability to make a point without feeling a need to overthink things
The fashion design and communication show is predominantly based around the publication of UN_FOLD magazine. Combining design, editorial, photography and graphics, the look and feel is polished and it feels ready to sit alongside any other publication on the shelves in a gallery gift shop. It’s an impressive vehicle for conveying the students’ skills.
Architecture is arguably, in terms of its impact on the way we live, the most significant discipline here. In exhibition form, however, it can be difficult for a casual observer to relate to. Each building comes with a significant amount of rationale and exemplification about its approach and solution to issues. This isn’t to say it’s not impressive, but it’s a very different kind of experience to engage with. So as well as being here for design value, the decision to have these presentations sharing the space with the more immediate visual disciplines is interesting for the questions it raises about what it interrogated in each type of work, and the complexities of defining success.
The End Is Nigh is a title that really only tells half the story. The degree show marks the end of one phase, but the beginning of another. So the ideas here represent the end of learning, and the beginning of practice. Should we expect the finished article? Or should this be seen instead as a starting point for the next stage? The world offers huge learning curves: if an idea doesn’t land now, it can still be a point for the development that comes with experience.