The degree show revolution is here
In the midst of global uncertainty and societal turbulence, 63 graduating artists from the University of Leeds have taken their Degree Show into the virtual realm.
Independently created by final year BA Fine Art students from the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, SIMMER is an online platform that stands in place of the ‘traditional’ Degree Show.
Due to the covid-19 pandemic, the construction of a physical exhibition was understandably not an option for this year’s graduating artists.
Refusing to accept defeat, the students rose to the challenge of lockdown and collaboratively created a digital ‘e-vent’ upon which to showcase their work.
SIMMER is a digital door into a contemporary art renaissance. It joins the first wave of physical digital degree shows moving to virtual platforms; a movement our students are calling ‘Cyber Shows’.
Dan Cole, Magic, 2020. Steel, ABS , Arduino circuitry, 2019. 107-109-114.com.
The online platform opened to the public on Friday 5 June and will be accessible beyond the standard two week span of the yearly degree show. It showcases a wide range of art practice, in addition to events and interviews hosted by students.
An online Viewing Party for VIP guests took place on the evening of Thursday 4 June instead of the standard Private View that would, in other circumstances, have gone ahead in the studio spaces in the School. Following short, engaging talks from students and staff, guests were given the opportunity to visit the online platform in advance of the public launch the following day.
Access to the Digital E-vent is via a portal on simmer.leeds.ac.uk — a website which charts the progress of the graduating artists over the past few months.
Giving site-specific work a whole new meaning, these environments are virtual replicas of reality. They allow the graduating artists to situate their work online as decidedly and specifically as they would do so in reality.
Visitors can take their time exploring each environment and observe each work in a purposeful setting as they would in a traditional gallery.
Ruby Blanchard, Poppy Princess, 2020. Video, 02:44. Dark Lobby, Simmer Digital Degree E-vent.
“When talking about the history of our School, our tutors never fail to bring up The Leeds 13 — a group of final year fine art students who created a media sensation with their end of year Degree Show Going Places in 1998. The students planned an elaborate hoax, pretending to have spent thousands of pounds of university money on a holiday to Malaga, when in fact the photos, tickets and suntans were all faked — the students had never left Leeds.
“This year we definitely aren’t going places, but our work is: taken out of the walls of the art school and moved into a new world.
“This Degree E-vent has been pieced together by a slew of posts and memes and countless video calls, in which we have familiarised ourselves with each other’s new static surroundings, watching time pass in the plants, puppies and pickles around us.
“We, the students, have wrestled a show out of the blank walls of cyberspace, and it feels like something we can all be proud of.”
Olivia Russell, Sans audience, 2020.
“In this time of restrictions and rules, there is freedom in our Digital Degree E-vent.
“There is no order to follow. Visitors may pick and choose which environments to visit at their leisure, in their own time.
“Working towards this e-vent has been a passion-project, powered by the heart and creativity of our collective year. After being presented with the possibility of having no show, we took it upon ourselves to adapt to the current climate and persevere — all the work, conceptualisation and production has been done in house by the students.
“We were determined not be broken by isolation.”
Image by Kathleen Lagan featuring work by (from left to right) Sophie Gottlieb, Imogen Dawe, Stephanie Zinonos and Ruby Richards.
“This is the most exciting event I’ve been involved in, working with an incredibly dynamic group of artists. Taking part in the realization of this project has been amazing and unforgettable.
“It’s also possibly the most affordable degree show ever. With only £10 spent on the URL for the online platform, it is amazing how far students can make so little money go.”
Victoria Shaw, Working on a Wish, April 2020, 1000 Origami Peace Cranes.
Dr Joanne Crawford, Head of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, said:
“This exhibition is not just about the objects on display, it is also about tenacity, frustration and acceptance. It is about each and every student digging deep within themselves and finding new levels of strength and determination.
“It is also about our students working beyond their usual limits and pushing their creative endeavour into new spaces and materials. They have been drawn into the chaos of ‘now’ in a way unthinkable only a couple of months ago, but they have endured and flourished and as a consequence have made the most amazing, imaginative and intelligent work.
“As a School we will remember this year’s graduating artists with great affection, as a remarkable group of young people. We are sure that they have the brightest of futures ahead of them.”
Image by Sarah Larby featuring work (from left to right) by Charles Steele, Hannah Woodward, Georgina Davies, Gemma Jones and Louis Dee.
In the absence of the luxury of using the School’s Project Space and studios as performance spaces, the students organised two days of virtual performances on 12 and 15 June, utilising a variety of platforms to showcase the work of six of the graduating artists. This ranged from live events to pre-recorded performances, hosted mainly on the Simmer YouTube channel and Instagram Live.
They included Grace Benita's Object Assemblages Performed, an audio-visual live stream performance by Olivia Russell, a lecture from Poppy Jones-Little on What is a ‘lump’? and Dan Cole performing live from his kitchen making dill pickles, sauerkraut and tomato chutney.
Live on Instagram, Sarah Larby took viewers on a virtual tour of her sculptural works (installed in the garden at home following the lockdown) and questioned what it means to exhibit outdoors.
Sarah Larby's sculpture garden featured in a programme of two days of virtual performances.
Check out the SIMMER YouTube channel for an in-depth look into some of the artists, their work and creative processes.
See the SIMMER website to keep up to date with the students’ progress and e-vents, to experience the digital fruits of their labour as they simmered away under quarantine.
And, finally, don’t foget to visit the SIMMER BA Fine Art Digital Degree E-vent — this can be accessed via the website or you can also visit the exhibition online platfrom directly at simmerleeds.com.
In the words of the 63 graduating artists taking their work to new levels:
We will not be restricted.
We will not be contained.
Let it rise to the surface. Show itself to the world in a state of disposition.
Let it rest, burn, destroy, simmer.
Imogen Dawe, Neighbourhood Watchtower, April 2020. Wood, PVC, rope.