Unique creativity of Extended BA students shines in Summer Show
As a proud former Extended BA student, I make no apologies for stating that this was the Summer Show I was looking forward to the most this year. Prior to the private viewing on 16 June, I was transported back to our show last year. Produced under the restrictions of the pandemic, it was a testament to the creativity of the students and the boundless positivity of the motivational course leader, Helen Markes. I was keen to see how the staff and students have responded to the returned freedoms and unrestricted studio access of the past year.
Of course, they responded magnificently. The ‘View 35’ show (named to reflect the number of students exhibiting work) not only showcased the unique creativity and innovation of the students, but also provided new perspectives that challenge the viewer to look at the world in a different way. I will mention some of these works to illustrate the point, but I am not singling anyone out. All of the contributing artists are fascinating and highly individual.
Met Office Content & Social Lead Ross Middleham gives out awards to Extended BA students alongside Subject Leader Helen Markes
Plymouth’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Sue Dann, who was present at the event, told me that she felt some of the work had the potential to change viewpoints. She mentioned how Rebecca Alford’s ‘Memory of Events’, made to reflect the gaps in the artist’s own memory, provided a symbolic view of her father’s dementia. My father had dementia too, so I knew exactly what she meant. Rebecca’s work really resonated.
Helen Butland’s ‘Eco Arms Race’ is a triumphant, tactile illusion and a reminder that art can affect all of the senses. Vases that look fashioned from opaque glass are in fact made from supple and collapsible latex. If that wasn’t enough in itself, I also discovered that the work evolved from the artist’s playful contemplation of escalating levels of human latex allergy.
Left to right: Rebecca Alford, Helen Butland, Darren Anthony
I am always drawn to politically motivated and topical art, so I was very taken with Darren Anthony’s ‘Polar Opposites’, comprising collages of found photographic material that juxtapose the everyday experiences of ordinary people with the daily atrocities of the war in Ukraine. The work also includes a fridge door with some thought-provoking and challenging magnets and adornments.
Jasmine Barton’s beautiful wallpaper is powerfully disarming when you take a closer look. ‘Smear Tests' is a remarkably mature and bold statement about the embarrassment suffered by many women when they attend medical appointments. The artist has sought to normalise and celebrate the beauty and diversity of the female form.
The diversity of work is incredible - from Max Wilson’s cleverly reimagined oil barrel and chairs, to Dorron Britz’s suspended sculptures; Joanne Gages’s wood carvings to Benjamin Younes’ fascinating short animation, exploring the rigours of physical and emotional self sufficiency.
My Extended BA year felt like a life-changing event, as I progressed from green, raw rookie to serious student and emerging artist. This sense of transformation isn’t lost on the current cohort. Helen Butland told me that, as she now progresses to her chosen degree course, “the Extended BA has transformed me; I saw myself as a capable maker before the course, now I feel like an artist”. Similarly, Nate Connor said the course has “opened my eyes to what is possible. I used to just draw. I’ve done so much more than that this year.”
Left to right: Max Wilson, Dorron Britz, Joanna Gage
Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader Helen Markes expressed much enthusiasm and respect for the students. She told me that everyone had contributed to make the show a success. The highlights of the year for her were the sense of collaboration and participation. She said the students were “heart warmingly supportive of each other”. Working alongside Helen is Barton Hargreaves, who remarked on the transformation observed in the students during the year. He says the course enables students to “take control of the creative process.”
Having experienced the Extended BA year myself, I agree with the sentiments of the staff and this year’s students. The ‘View 35’ show is a remarkable testament to all of them and the qualities of experimentation and exploration that underpin the course. I wish all of this year’s students every success as they progress through their studies at Arts University Plymouth. I also hope the Extended BA course continues to thrive and in turn transform those who are lucky enough to pass through.