The seventeenth century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal wrote, 'our achievements of today are but the sum total of our thoughts of yesterday. You are today where the thoughts of yesterday brought you and you will be tomorrow where the thoughts of today take you.' To the visual artist, the achievements of today, and of tomorrow, are made material and accessible to others through individual works, which are in turn marked by the intentions of those who made them.
Central to this making is the culture of the studio, which within Fine Art extends across all disciplinary approaches and functions as something close to Martin Heidegger’s ‘clearing’ or space, in which practice is allowed to show up as practice. Whatever the material inclination of the maker the practice is rooted in, and never less than, the conditions of its making. Yet in moving beyond material limitations, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.
As a spectator it can be daunting to attempt to navigate a route through the maze-like complexity of contemporary Fine Art. As a maker the problem is magnified. In 1979, American art critic Rosalind Krauss mapped out an expanded theoretical field for sculpture in order to account for developments within recent practice. In so doing she drew from the history of modernism, from the logic of evolving forms, and from the traditional function of sculpture in the West.
Today, the speed of expansion within all areas of Fine Art has outstripped the capacity of the artist, critic, or even the art historian to comfortably fence off, sub-divide or sum up the conditions and objects of practice. Meaning has become more localised, more dependent on personal and cultural narratives and on drivers outside of practice itself, to the extent that practice is now, in spirit if not in form, perhaps closer to what it once was.
Within this climate, the contemporary Fine Artist is confronted by difficulties that can become burdens—history, technology, the sheer plurality of ideas and objects. Yet in spite of this burdened condition the Fine Artist is still able, through patience, application, imagination and intelligence, to find freedom and a personal space to think beyond and behind what has been, to test material and theoretical boundaries and to draw and re-draw lines of limitation in the sand. In sum: to understand that meaning functions ‘in relation to’ what is and what has been.
In the course of three years of study these young artists have met their challenges with vigour, sensitivity and humour, and in that time have striven to develop individual voices made audible along material channels of their choosing. The Fine Art programme requires students to acquire knowledge of a wide range of methods and practices, through workshops, studio development and critiques. History and theory are woven into this fabric in order to embed the notion of practice more firmly in the personal, cultural and material constituents of the discipline. Students are equipped with the tools to excavate their own field to reveal the interconnectedness of its layers.
The works of the students on show here bear testament to the accumulation of thoughts and the search for creative freedom. The paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, photographs and films are evidence of separate journeys across choppy waters. Happily, all have reached the other side—to embark once again. This exhibition is, therefore, an aggregate of parts and a point of location for future engagements. A sum is both a conclusion and an acknowledgment of identity, insofar as its particulars must remain visible, knowable and discrete from other things.
You will be tomorrow where the thoughts of today take you.
Tom Palin, 2014