For art historians and art writers, graduate shows should be the stuff of nightmares, crammed with the pseudo and the meaningless. The Free Range: Art show is on the whole pleasantly surprising. There are very few very bad works. Many pieces clearly came from a rather good idea, but the exuberance of youth insisted on spiralling and sprawling this decent seed into over the top and fragmented installations. It takes enormous courage to trust your own ideas without being waylaid by the voices around you or relying on scale and shock tactics for effectiveness. And courage takes time to develop.
In saying this there are some very nice and successful works here. And what is extremely encouraging (and exciting) is that this is just the start of their careers. I have to begin by calling to your attention young Rob Negus. To say his work is absurd is an understatement. To say it is brilliant is a patent truth. How refreshing and how relieving to find a young artist that realises that art need not be an oppressively earnest and anally retentive world. Describing the endeavour of his practice as striving to ‘find the point of balance between genius and absurdity’ positively screams Duchamp but is inspired rather than derivative. We must never forget that despite today’s deadpan presentation of Duchamp’s readymade sculptures as abstract assemblages, in his studio-cum-laboratory, many of them were kinetic objects.
Negus’s work Fan, Can and Slope, a Heinz Baked Beans tin being pushed and dropped by an electric fan up and down its little ramp, is a lovely idea very well executed. In the artist’s own words, he is an inventor of ‘contraptions’: what a great word, and one we rarely hear. His choice of a Heinz Baked Beans tin draws the viewer in. Heinz is familiar, Heinz is approachable, Heinz is our childhood. An art object that is fun but inspired and attractive: quite an achievement.
Attractive in a different way are the photo-collages of Hayley Diehl and the innovative ink drawings presented in sliced and diced frames of Daniel Earey. Both of these artists have a fine eye for beauty. Diehl’s little, understated collages in particular, are rough and ready whilst delicate and detailed, installed with a talent and a thoughtfulness that maintains the integrity of individual works within the whole collection.
Pauline Lees’ microscopic images of human hair strands, Pilus, create beautiful alien objects of the abundant and the familiar. Scientific yet abstract, they remind us of the extraordinary within Nature’s most apparently ordinary creations. Science is an under-used but effective ally of art. Rather than a rational and unimaginative opposition, science can offer artists not only imagery but also processes from which to extract beauty.
Sarah Walker’s melting ice domino blocks, Untitled, are one example of how effective this alliance can be. Walker relinquishes all control of her artwork once it is placed in the exhibition. The water produced through the heat-induced destruction of the artwork is caught in clear Perspex tubes beneath; the ever-shifting form of the ice is collected as an entirely new material without any human intervention.
Claire Barrett’s simply presented but intense video work, Fluid in Motion
, showing chemical liquids spluttering, merging and clashing, is another fine example of Science doing the leg work and Art’s capacity to carry out transubstantiation on its practical findings.
Take your time with this exhibition. There is real potential here. Trust what you’re drawn to, and, for the most part, ignore the text that each artist has been forced to present as an appendage to their objects.