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Top Graduate Shows

Manchester School of Art

Manchester School of Art


“The human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don’t need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the process are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate or control it.” John Holt, educator and father of ‘unschooling’.

A quick overview of the Manchester School of Art Degree Show: brave, reasoned, thoughtful resolved, impressively controlled in clear presentation of work allowing for readings that are both sensitive to each student’s work, in isolation, and to the show as a coherent whole. The students have been offered the impetus to discover their own language, a language that draws parallels between Fine Art and Interactive Arts and thus it’s a struggle to write about one without the other.

Thinking about education from a holistic point of view, the questions raised again and again relating to art education and the importance of the arts in the national curriculum might be thought of as pertinent when considered from a landscape that is becoming increasingly more digitized. As computer programming is taught in primary and secondary schools the capacity for communication increases and this needs to be measured and probed every step of the way. Harriet Coombe, for example, whose ‘Fine Art sensibilities’ are delicate, presenting glossy imagery, interrogates mass media within the frame of an oversized iPad light-box. Here, the media machine and its dissemination are analysed.

Matt Mullins goes online, appropriating exhaustive and terrifying imagery to create films. “The First Monkeys To Die In Space” screened downstairs in a darkened room beckons visitors to take a seat, but don’t get too comfortable! His distillation of YouTube videos, despite the jaunty soundtrack lulling you into a false sense of security, unnerve and compound any notion of waste and futility observed in our realities.

An Art School education, as evidenced through the reading of this show, equips students with the tools for critiquing the world, enabling them to retort with innovations, ask the right questions and reflect on their observations. The Holt quotation cited above formed part of the wall text accompanying Roger Bygott’s installations. Merging concepts relating to human productivity and biology, his work asks of education and entitlement: who is doing the leading? What is being drawn out? “In as much as we are complex beings education needs to address all aspects of that complexity.”

What is the purpose of education if it does not lead to “value defined in purely fiscal terms?” Bygott explains, “Cultural and social value includes but is not reducible to financial value.” These concerns are highlighted by the calculated and potentially threatening work by Emil Rusby whose The Message Market puts participants in a position of power, suggesting our online presence as complicit in corrupting and chaotic operating systems. The simplicity of the work references the addictiveness of gaming and “the role of communication as one of the biggest forms of data generation and analysis.”



Manchester School of Arts degree show presents work that is thoughtful and provocative.  It is balanced not only in its delivery of refined and beautiful work but in its graceful antagonism of the status quo: of culture, society, politics, economics and even the value of an art school education; quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Avenir Staff

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