Text by Rebecca Senior
Un-bursaried, a full-time MA in Fine Art will set you back around £7000. The School of The Damned is an underground alternative for those who cant afford a place on an already established programme. The current cohort meets twice a month for reading sessions and group crits at The Horse Hospital in London and have toured nationally for exhibitions, panel discussions and symposiums. Their aim is not to shun establishments of art learning, but to protest.
The works on display at the second School of The Damned interim show are so diverse in form and technique, their neon shadows cross each other’s paths like amputations. Cloaked in a radioactive glow, the lure of this exhibition is in the clarity of its cross- disciplinary works, the uniformity of its spectacle and the camaraderie between its thirteen contributors; all of whom are friends, artists, and unable to afford higher education.
Filling the exhibition space with synthesized indie-pop is Jack Barraclough’s To Make You Afraid – a 6 minute music video to Verity Susman’s 2012 song of the same name. It is a trippy mega-mix of cross dressing Star Trek women and pea green men with saxophone phalli. It is like a tye dye acid trip for the tv screen. Sticking out of the opposing wall are five oversized fingers; each of which reads ‘pick a winner’. The thumbless hand appears like a fairground game, tempting yet ultimately fruitless for those who would be willing to give it a try. Below this is Sara Nunes Fernandes’ Snake Hugs. An anti-draft excluder, whose lumped grey body skirts the entire outline of the room bar the door. By positioning itself on the uneven ground between what a work is and what a work does, the piece makes for an uncanny house-hold object and gives the entire space an impression of false-seamlessness.
Presence and absence are figured by works such as SBlood and Thunder Horse shoe Waterfall, Location, Quiet Thunder (156,146,21) price 11,000 linden dollars. The former is composed of khat which, as a flowering plant that can result in psychological dependance, is currently the subject of parliamentary discussion as to whether it deserves class C drug certification. The khat itself wrapped in bundles of banana leaves and free for visitors to take. Displaying a substance which is undergoing legal redefinition raises important questions about objectification and participation, will it be removed from the exhibition if it is declared illegal? Will it be still on display but unavailable for people to take? Thunder Horse shoe waterfall is a three dimensional image of a waterfall from Second Life. The waterfall has been created and sold to ‘enhance your experience of nature’. It is a framed memory of a never-existence; at once gaudy and quietly morose.
The middle floor space is held by Joseph Lewis’s Positiv Churches 1 to 3, and crossed by Stefan Sadlers’s in your house. Positiv churches 1 to 3 are three mahogany hurdy gurdys, each operated by a turn wheel and plugged into an amplifier.Their innards, whose string workings are traditionally on display, are concealed under collapsable pitched roofs. These beautiful inside out instrument-houses play aggressive noise, much louder than their size would suggest them capable of. They are both enigmatic and unnerving. Sadler’s work is comprised of the front and back view of a giant spray-painted jerk, who aggressively throws his weight from one wall to the other. His confidence is continual, even when you realise that he has (unbeknownst to him) trodden in a piece of chewing gum. The walls also play host to David Steans’ short horror story,The Swumps; three stanzas of which are scrawled on adjacent walls with graphite pencil. They begin with a medically accurate account of a stroke and continue to narrate the wall-pages through death and limbo.
The show is an enjoyably diverse riot of noise, colour and form. The quality of works on display attest to the diverse and mutually beneficial rewards that have arisen from this course and the significance of such a programme which creates an arena for discourse and production in an environment unmediated by the financial determinants of its students; one that cannot now be overlooked against the grimy backdrop of monopolized higher education.
Rebecca Senior is a writer based in Leeds, and a Phd candidate in History of Art at The University of York.