By Abigail Yue Wang
It is the time of year when new talents are crowding the town so suddenly like the blossoms in your English garden, that is, if you’re lucky enough to own a garden in London. It is officially graduation season, and I was certainly lucky enough to have witnessed some unmissable young artistry at last week’s Central Saint Martins Degree Show 2014.
When walking into the darkened room of BA Graphic Design (Moving Image), a space furnished with flickering screens, it was a delicious anticipation and quite a decidophobic moment to pick one headphone from many showing films. I reached for Becca Hyman’s documentary The Bull & The Bass out of the lure of analogue images, and it was a good move. The film is a personal repertoire of the filmmaker’s own grandfather, who wended life from being a RAF soldier to a jazz bassist and then a father. With found 16mm home footages and narration of the bassist’s daughter, the murky remembrance is as revived as the recordings. The film is luxuriated in archive images, kaleidoscopic accounts of a father’s many past lives. In resonance with the poetic legacy of Black Audio Film Collective, Hyman pieced together the filmstrips through a flatbed editor, a film-editing machine of the golden days – for those who hasn’t had the good fortune to see its grace. For this very process, the editing of The Bull & The Bass is more like a handful of puzzles to be taped and composed. Past reminders shine through new fingerprints in which memories are as intact as a fresh reel and sporadic as the bass notes in the soundtrack.
Modern reading opens up more options than just perusing through a hardback Camus full of paragraphs and decent point size. New storytelling could now be customised, interactive or simply digital. Kyung-Hee Baek from MA Communication Design proposes a way for classic novels to join the blissful age of new reading. Her printed representation of Hermann Hesse’s classic coming-of-age novel Demian is gracefully divided into 8 volumes of bewildering design. Separate voices come to light through rearranged texts, the graphic and the word occupy the space ever more lyrically. Submerged in astrological symbols and cut-out art, the geometric abstraction within pages certainly finds its way into Hesse’s psychoanalytic theme. As I held the slightly textured books in my hands, they felt cosy yet venerated. The cryptic motif guards the runes of Hesse’s spiritual ideals, but with a modern agenda. Who wouldn’t love classic books with exciting design and radical new vision? Only this time, the retro hue is not from collecting dust on the shelf. After all, printed literature deserves a little bit more love since reading is not yet a lost virtue.
Unlike other exhibiting space at the degree show, BA Ceramic Design divided its display into several intimate rooms. The lighting effect plus the proximity to the ceramics puts a very affectionate taste in the air, making me somehow serene but timid, although, the work by Will Krause made a slightly different case. His upper body portraits sat in certain politeness, rugged but unrushed, addressing the many faces of anonymity. With bold shaping and remaining traces of artistic process, down to each clothing detail, Krause is not sparing in the slightest at his audacious mark making. It might take a second look to make a note of the poise from the sombre tint, but once you did, you may begin to catch sight of that poignant presence under the painted everyman skin.
In case you haven’t looked around, ‘biomaterial’ is a hot word in fashion and design. Central Saint Martins has a fond affinity with biodesign over the years, just look for the tub-grown jackets from Suzanne Lee – researcher on bio-based materials at CSM and founder of BioCouture. This year at MA Textile Futures, Zuzana Gombošová tackles the micro organic matters even further by building a ‘biological printer’ that is programmed to control the growth of micro-organisms. Subtitled “How can nurturing inform making in the age of biomaterials?” Invisible Resources looks into the potential manufacturing of bacterial cellulose in a calculated method. The results are vastly different in textures, colour and shape. It joins the dialogue between the manmade and the organics: whether our “constant efforts to control nature” can indeed alter its volatility.
To summon up Jiamin Liu’s work is not an easy task. Having had a taste in most formats of animation, she’s not your usual seen-one-seen-them-all type of girl. This year, at the studio-turned-disco semi-loft of Saint Martins, one of the best-hidden sites for the most spirited bunch, MA Character Animation celebrated its grand annual finale. Among the flamboyant round of screenings, Jiamin Liu has managed to transfix us with her nearly monochromatic film Animate. A surrealist fusion of cut-out art and stop motion, starring herself, Liu demonstrates what it is like to clash the worlds of an animator and the character. And clash it is. Strawberry dreams, open heart and splintered head all caused by an animated boy refusing to settle in one world. But make no mistake, for the faint-hearted there’s nothing grisly to keep away from; the ever-moving greyscale has turned all horror into kinetic delight. Presenting one’s own creative process as the final piece could risk criticism of self-serving. But in this case, we found ourselves happily startled for all her overt “self-interest”. Already making several appearances in Liu’s previous films is her bob hair alter ego, who has been a consistently enjoyable persona to watch and hopefully soon a familiar one for all of us.