Student Screening: Field Test

Katherine Stanley (Edinburgh College of Art), Grainne is a mute, 2020, ‘Field Test’ (Part Two), 20 May 2020; photograph by Aideen Barry, courtesy of the artist

STUDENTS FROM LIMERICK SCHOOL OF ART AND DESIGN AND EDINBURGH COLLEGE OF ART TALK ABOUT THEIR PARTICIPATION IN A RECENT OUTDOOR SCREENING EVENT, ORGANISED BY AIDEEN BARRY.

Cáitríona McClay and Éiméar McClay
Intermedia Art, Edinburgh College of Art

‘Field Test’ was a showcase of student moving image work, presented remotely in a field beside the Silvermine Mountains in County Tipperary. With horses as its sole physical audience, the screening was accessible to the public via a web livestream on 19 and 20 May. Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) was one of several institutions invited to participate, with students across the School of Art contributing work, resulting in a diverse, exciting programme.

Over half of the ECA students involved study Intermedia, a specialism defined by its emphasis on the production of interdisciplinary, conceptual work. The rest study Sculpture or Painting, degrees traditionally associated with formalism; however, in recent years the parameters of these courses have expanded to incorporate contemporary media like video and performance. Fourth year sculptor Zac Hughson’s offering for ‘Field Test’, titled Off Days, signifies such a development into moving image.

Many of the ECA participants have recently completed their final year of undergraduate study; the screening marks an opportunity for them to display work outside of their postponed degree shows. Since the premature closure of the art school campus in March, due to the COVID-19 crisis, students have developed alternative approaches to making and displaying work. Without workshop or studio access, many artists have lost the facilities that support their core practices. Living in shared flats with limited space to store or document physical work, some have turned to immaterial media like video.

Many of the works contributed by ECA students feel particularly pertinent to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For example, Aisling Ward’s Performing Labour II addresses unity, labour and collective resistance – themes related to the current geopolitical situation – using documentation of a performance she executed in the ECA Sculpture Court. Similarly reflective of the current global condition is Gabriel Levine Brislin’s You Should Get Paid To Waste My Time, a piece focused on the limits of communication within the saturated 21st-century digital landscape; with strict social distancing guidelines in place in the UK and abroad, many have become reliant on fallible modern technologies to stay in touch. Furthermore, Evie Edwards’ video, Zoom, marks the reshaping of her artistic practice in response to the lockdown. This video documents Edwards’ circumvention of current travel restrictions through her virtual exploration of popular landmarks, like Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, using Google Earth.

The screening’s geographical setting was especially appropriate to the work of student Katherine Stanley. An advocate for Irish culture, her videos often feature Celtic gods; using them as mascots, she communicates humorous, bizarre narratives, accompanied by visuals borrowed from children’s TV shows. Our contribution to ‘Field Test’, Queer Use, is similarly surreal: inspired by an essay of the same title by cultural theorist, Sara Ahmed, we transformed images of our bodies into abject pieces of furniture to represent the rejection of queerness by heteronormative patriarchy.

Several students contributed films documenting performance, demonstrating the function of video as a recording device. Michelle Wolodarsky’s piece, Special Thanks to John Barry, marks the beginning of a trilogy playing with illusion to challenge the idea of ‘honesty’ as an indicator of quality in creative expression. Through this work, Wolodarsky explores the tension between earnestness and theatrical artifice, and subverts viewers’ expectations by focusing on the build up to a performance, rather than the main event. Florentina Abendstein’s Umbrella Dance is a performative exploration of the mutual conditioning of movement between objects and humans, using an umbrella as a prop. Connected by a string, the umbrella and Abendstein become puppet and puppeteer, moving together in a spontaneous choreography. Georgia Gardner’s Dyadic Preparation considers our focus on progression and subsequent ideas of self-worth. Gestures move through prolonged self-reflexivity and stillness, drawing connectivity from quiet introspection. Through this work, Gardner questions how we both situate purpose, and identify fulfilment.

Finally, fourth year students Maddy Scott-Berry and Cal McCormack have both produced works focused on memory. Scott-Berry’s work in progress, Bodies of Water: The Bridge, pieces together the ethnography of place, self and intimate experience in an exploration of her personal memories of water; while McCormack’s Preserving Fruit harnesses the iPhone camera as an extension of the body, capable of capturing intimate relationships, hedonism and peaceful natural phenomena.

Finn Nichol (Limerick School of Art and Design), Pluto, 2020, ‘Field Test’ (Part Two), 20 May 2020; photograph by Aideen Barry, courtesy of the artist

Cormac Hughes
Fine Art (Photography, Film, Video), Limerick School of Art and Design

A digital online submission of works is how one completes their art school studies in 2020 – a surreal end to the college experience. My four years of study at Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD) have been extremely formative, in both personal and creative terms, an experience marked with comradery, collaboration and now, a post-college opportunity to participate in Aideen Barry’s ‘Field Test’.

PFV (Photography, Film, Video) is a relatively new Fine Art course at LSAD. The course is led by Lorraine Neeson and while it specialises in lens-based practices, there is room to explore alternative mediums and processes. Having returned to the course following a three-year absence, a period of self-reflection, I was encouraged by the wide variety of work produced by fellow PFV students and inspired to approach my own work with broadminded and exploratory ambition. By my third year, I had made forays into performance, a natural progression from a series of images I had produced. I was apprehensive to venture into this territory and am grateful for the continuous guidance and support provided by my tutors.

‘Field Test’ displayed student films on a 16 × 9-foot screen in a gently inclining field at the foot of the Silvermine Mountains. 29 art students submitted video works to be screened and broadcasted live on Instagram. Over the last year, artist Aideen Barry was visiting tutor for students in Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). She devised ‘Field Test’ as a platform for emerging artists to display new work, while providing a window of contemplation within our current global situation. While congregation in public space is still limited, the screen suspended in darkness, almost represents the refuge we seek in our devices; it conveys the tension between physical and immaterial distance that both separates and binds us now. This is a field-test of creative endeavour adapting to the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My fellow LSAD students of the Sculpture & Combined Media and Photography, Film, Video courses, in their varying states of isolation, took this opportunity to submit works. Some are produced specifically with the epidemic in mind and others, produced in a pre-COVID world, are now viewed from new perspectives, offering alternate reflections.

Our precarious relationship with the natural environment, subject to increased scrutiny during this time, can be seen within the works submitted for ‘Field Test’. The contrasting landscape of Adela Passas’s Soundscape and Jamie Burke’s Cryptic Darkness imbue the natural world with a sense of unease, evident in the halted, broken rhythm of Passas’ work and Burke’s foreboding woodland. Organic barriers of earth and water present themselves in Sibéal Riordan’s Triptych and Ellen-Rose Wallace’s Under, whose characters almost probe the elements for response – are they ignored? 

The indoor life of the quarantined experience is addressed in Ailbhe McGowran’s Chair Fort and Sarah McGlone’s Pops. They present our fluctuating responses to those we share space with, as we either embrace the desire for community or avoid it, seeking further isolation. We may struggle to occupy ourselves, to fill our days, often prolonging menial tasks, as conveyed in Caoimhinn Ní Dhuinn’s Quarantine Boredom, where a playful mania starts to surface. Similarly, Fiona Gordon’s BORED BINGIN’, wonders if our crafted online personas will remain intact, or whether an inner turmoil will begin to emerge. The virus, as an unseen, relentless force, is acknowledged in Maria McSweeney’s The Vagabond Virus and Clara McSweeney’s Scrubbing in Silence, depicting our resilient and repeated efforts in the face of the unknown.

The expressionistic and painterly qualities of Finn Nichol’s film, Pluto, captures an inner-dread and melancholia toward our unpredictable future while his hand-drawn animation, Quarantine Assessment Report, invokes sinister tones through apocalyptic figurative representations. Existential dread resurfaces in the somatic and metaphysical qualities of Shane Vaughan’s This Mortal Flesh and my own film, Performance to Camera, as though the body seeks to temper the mind through physical and psychological ritual.

We are experiencing an onslaught of positive and negative in our current daily experiences, which we may struggle to process with clarity of mind. Sean Cahill’s Heaven/Hell captures a blurring of time, journaling a continuous and spiralling account of the days. If we can maintain clarity, can we move past the inherited guilt – poetically depicted in Beate Gilson’s film, Billet Doux – to make sufficient change? With the live broadcast of ‘Field Test’, we came together, not primarily to converse, but to look. The value in art – no different now than before, but perhaps more apparent as we yearn, not for things to return to ‘normal’, but for something exciting and new – is in how it reflects societal shifts. The first signs are between us and within us, in isolation and contemplation, like a glimmer of light viewed through a distant window.

The ‘Field test’ screenings are archived on photographyfilmvideo.com