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DJCAD’s Degree Show sparkles with energy, wit and a force for change

DJCAD's Degree Show produced some provactive, witty and clever work from students who largely worked through lockdown. Here is Farah Hussain's a colourful exploration of identity.
DJCAD's Degree Show produced some provactive, witty and clever work from students who largely worked through lockdown. Here is Farah Hussain's a colourful exploration of identity.

In the wake of two years of Covid-imposed online showcases, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design has once again welcomed the public to view its annual Degree Show in person.

And while the Dundee institution continues to offer graduate work in a virtual setting, you would miss out on much of the energy, wit and verve displayed across several floors and two buildings of the Perth Road campus.

A playful feel with a darker twist

Having spent much of their student years curtailed by the pandemic, there is a playful feel to many of the projects on show, ranging across disciplines from textiles to architecture and jewellery to animation, often mixed with darker undercurrents.

Dana Leslie’s provocative Installation.

This seems the case with Dundonian fine arts graduate Dana Leslie, who allows us to test our skills on a funfair-style claw machine.

Except hers – hand-built with the aid of inhouse technicians – is painted a clinical white and instead of cuddly toys the prizes are anonymous, sinister white masks.

Exploring identity in multi-media

Elsewhere, Farah Hussain entices you into her immersive artwork via an entrance that mimics the dark corridor leading to a nightclub.

Farah has snagged a whole studio to herself for a colourful exploration of identity that combines video, sound and visual art. Its hedonistic atmosphere was only slightly undermined by sunshine streaming in through its skylights.

“I was hoping for rain,” she sighs.

An generation coming out of isolation

Clearly a generation of young people, having been isolating or distanced for the best part of a couple of years, are now keen to explore their surroundings as well as the toolboxes that enable them to create art and design.

Representing the digital interaction design course, Jonathan Anderson proudly shows off his clubometer, a device to warn clubbers how busy a venue is – similar to those road signs that tell you the number of spaces left in a car park, but with added details on humidity and beats per minute.

Jonathan Anderson’s digital interaction piece.


DJCAD’s dean Anita Taylor is keen to celebrate the hard work from staff and students that enabled the art and design college to adapt to fast-changing circumstances, introducing online teaching and socially distanced access to studios.

However, she acknowledges her relief that graduates are able to show the fruits of their labour in the flesh.

‘It’s about discourse’

“Some disciplines do take place behind a screen, like animation, but everybody needs to come out from there,” she says.

“It’s about the discourse as much as it is about the practice. The last two years have been incredibly challenging, but we maintain that it’s not been lost time.

“We worked hard to bring groups of students in when we were able to, and they have been incredibly resilient, imaginative and innovative in the ways they’ve responded to the challenges that they’ve faced.”

Sara Pakdel-Cherry’s installation.

Anita points to the remarkable diversity in how this year’s graduates have referenced or been inspired by the events that have affected us all.

“They have produced designs that address where we’ve been,” she explains,

“It might be ideas around bacteria and microbes, which we’ve become less resistant to, or it’s reflecting what it’s like to be distant from your home or each other, or connected in different ways.

What design brings into focus

“This show is hugely pleasurable because it’s very much about the things design brings into focus, using our senses, whether that’s touch or visual stimulation.

“It’s not all dealing with the big challenge, but also issues around inclusion and social justice. Some of the work reflects on nature or space. And it’s also celebratory and joyous.”

In the interior and environmental design gallery, Kirsty Baker has taken on one of the bigger issues – mortality – in her proposal to turn West Dundee’s long-derelict Tay Rope Works site into a space for the “education, experience and expression of dying”.

Its sinuous, organic form looks much more inviting than it sounds.

Work by Interior and Environmental Design graduate Kirsty Baker.

On this floor, Andrew Milligan, senior lecturer in design and making, points to the importance of a live degree show cementing the bonds between the college and its surroundings.

“We’ve realised that the art school has always punched above its weight in terms of having real public impact,” he says. “

This show demonstrates the value of the university to the city and to the country.

“Our students have benefited from being back in the studio from day one of their final year.

“Studio culture is an incredibly important facet of the learning experience. They have had access to each other, to workshops, metal, wood, digital fabrication, even things like printmaking, fine art workshops and clay.”

Feminist issues and culture

Several graduates from the fine art side have brought together a variety of media to create eye-catching, ambitious works.

Among them is Sara Pakdel-Cherry’s powerful Cooper Gallery-based exploration of feminist issues arising from her Iranian heritage, with an installation that includes video, the kind of table and sink used to wash a corpse, and chador cloths hung like banners.

Sara Pakdel-Cherry’s Installation in Fine Art.

Downstairs, Charlotte Maishman has ingeniously crafted her sculpture of a house from porcelain segments that are both strong yet brittle.

The piece is apparently the same weight as an average human body, perhaps representing our fragility over the past few years.

More subtle works are just as affecting, among them Isla Davie’s meditative pencil drawings in muted pastel tones, including a tiny, delicate book you wear gloves to handle.

The natural world

Other artists have brought the natural world into the studios repurposed as gallery spaces. Eilidh Guthrie has dug clay and sand from Invergowrie’s shoreline and sourced long, curving branches from Dundee’s Botanic Garden.

Scattered among these are ceramic forms created in primitive pit-fire kilns, a reminder of the ingenuity these students had to show under lockdown restrictions, creating an uncanny testament to the cycle of life.

Eilidh Guthrie’s work.

Stacey Hilton, meanwhile, recreates humanity’s relationship with the Scottish landscape, specifically that of her Traveller forebears.

This artist has created a nomadic encampment in one corner of a shared space, with a traditional bow tent and hand-painted kettle hanging over a fire.

Monument to a way of life

The canvas is decorated with images drawn from her paternal grandmother’s family album – an elegiac monument to a way of life long gone yet still fondly remembered as lore passed down through generations.

Stacey Hilton’s homage to her Traveller heritage.

Respecting the environment also comes into urban life via the architecture course.

Here, you find many engrossing designs for inventive, contemporary structures.

Glasgow-raised Evan McColl stands out for resurrecting a lost Dundee structure – the Halley’s Mill jute works controversially demolished four years ago.

To break the eternal cycle of demolish and build anew, Evan suggests we should instead repurpose existing structures, in this case as carbon-neutral housing, while recycling other materials – “urban mining” he calls it.

Evan McColl’s tribute to Halley’s Mill.

Some districts, though, could do with an uplift, as interior and environmental design graduate Chloe Robertson suggests with her Sea-Keeper Centre, a shoreline community building for her native Carnoustie.

For this project, the Angus-raised football fan, who has played for Dundee United, collaborated with the local council and members of her hometown’s Men’s Shed to devise a striking structure to modernise the golfing resort.

A direct approach to change

Other graduates have taken a more direct approach to encouraging change.

On the jewellery course, Rebecca Boyle combines craft with street art, creating objects that allow clients to carry around stencils to spray images onto walls or sets of stickers to distribute messages.

You can always return to fantasy via the textiles department, where Evie Thomson has created a ravishing red-and-white outfit inspired by Snow White – and, a fellow graduate tells me, the University of Dundee’s forensic science course – though there is nothing too explicit in her organic design while on a neighbouring video screen a dancer in a similar creation performs to moves Evie has choreographed.

Flirtation in a new tongue?

In the graphic design department, my eye is caught by a flash of bright lilac neon signage – Hazel Duncan’s message: “Don’t let love get lost in translation”.

Her concept, Duoship, combines two popular apps: dating platform Tinder with Duolingo’s foreign language tutorials. Flirtation while learning a new tongue?

What could be more positive while war wages and issues around borders become ever more fraught?

I am reminded of dean Anita’s parting words about her former students: “They’ve engaged with real issues and real concerns, how they can affect the world and make it a better place, whether that’s through commentary, product design or making art that’s affirmative, challenging or questioning.

“They’ve all faced these challenges, but it’s interesting to see how optimistic their shows are.”

So there’s still hope for us, then? “Yes,” she laughs. “Always.”

The show is still on until tomorrow, both on the campus and online.