“Let’s go back to the other art project, let’s go back to the snow,” my little guy said over and over. While some parents dread hearing “Are we there yet, are we there yet?” I was starting to develop pleadstoreturntothisparticularartpiecephobia. The “art project” he was referring to was Oliver Guy-Watkins’ installation entitled “Technicolour Process”, created with wood, resin, wax, reclaimed furniture, salt, Dacron, shredded poly, rockwall, spray frost and LED lights. I could understand his desire to continually go back to view this work; he was afforded his own mini winter wonderland. I too was intrigued by what I saw to be a slice of our modern age viewed through an apocalyptic filter.
For sale at the bargain price of £22,500, this piece was one of over 400 pieces on display from nearly 80 students at the Central Saint Martins MA Fine Art degree show. It was especially important for me to view this exhibition as it is the last show to take place at the historical Charing Cross site. So long Soho, hello King’s Cross and Archway, the two locations to which the programme is moving.
When my son was not even a week old, I took him to see a previous degree show there. Well, I didn’t really take him to “see” the show as his eyes were barely open. And I may or may not have had my own yearning to see the exhibition. I think I secretly hoped that all the energy and creativity in the works would somehow affect my breast milk production, and by some osmosis-like process find their way to my son’s psyche and bones when I gave him the boob. High hopes, you say? Okay, I’ll give you that. Delusional, freakish mom? Fine. You can have that, too.
The institution that is Central Saint Martins holds a distinctive place in my ticker. More important than it being the establishment from which I received my degree, it represents a wish I had that I was determined to fulfill, and it represents the mother of all psychological experiments.
In my final year as a US college student, I decided to study in London. While studying abroad – at a school that was a two-minute walk to the British Museum – one of my professors was keen to introduce us to different art schools throughout London, giving us their respective histories, telling us of different alumni, and explaining the schools’ diverse curriculum. Of all these art schools, Central Saint Martins is the one that stood out for me. There was an odour of imagination and authenticity, and a stench of sweat, acrylics, and varnishes that took hold of me and never loosened its grip. I told myself I would be back in London to attend Central Saint Martins one day.
Fast forward a decade later, and my husband and I were now living in London. There we were on a lazy Sunday, and out of nowhere, he declared that he was going to apply to get his Master of Laws. I told him that if it would make him happy to obtain yet another degree – he already had three – and if he thought it would improve his chances of being accepted into the Overachiever Hall of Fame, he should go for it. And then it happened. The thought. The thought of me realising my own dream of going to Central Saint Martins. I asked my husband what he thought, and he said, “Apply today!” He suggested I apply to more than one school, to which I responded, “There’s really only one.” So I sat down, filled out the forms and wrote my statement. That statement is an assemblage of the most honest words I’ve ever written. I started to write it, with words, sentiments, and examples pouring out, and I finished it in about ten minutes. And I felt strongly about not wanting to edit it.
When the letter arrived saying I was accepted into the programme, there may have been some yippeekayaying, some yahooing, some jumping on the bed. There is a possibility that I may have headed to Cass Art, Cowling & Wilcox and London Graphic Centre that same day to peruse some goodies. A slight possibility.
I met some exceptionally intelligent and ingenious artists on the course. I even asked one of my fellow artists to be my son’s godfather. That said, the experience wasn’t an all together affable one. In fact – probably because of my emotional makeup – I felt like the course was a psychological experiment of gargantuan proportions. Freud and his buddies would’ve had a field day, with the egos, screams, crying, grunting, perversity, and other unmentionables I witnessed. But with art and artists, as with almost any endeavour or occupation, there will be neuroses.
As my little fella and I walked from floor to floor to view this year’s degree show, memories of being there in my pre-mom days surrounded me. I was reminded of critiques from tutors and fellow students, of visits to certain exhibitions together, of discussions about Frieze and Art Basel, and of smoking Zhong Nan Hai reds for the first time on the stairwell (not me, of course, but my fellow students). Nicotine is bad, I tell ya, bad, bad, bad.
There were several pieces that both Enlai and I were captivated by, among them Pallas Citroen’s “The ecstasy of Saint Theresa” and Tan Peiling’s “Room with a postcard on floor”. The latter explores how visual media informs human perception and understanding of reality. While I was fascinated by how Peiling challenges us to reassess how a visual-biased culture shapes our attention and experience, my little prince wondered what the heck was going on in the space until he saw a portion of the postcard and said, “Ma, it’s a mystery. Let’s ask Scooby and Shaggy to help us solve it.”
Rock on in your new digs, Central Saint Martins, and if you happen to come across an application years from now from one Enlai Rooney, I can attest – with a tiny bias – that he’s an extraordinary artist, and you’d be crazy to not admit him into the MA Fine Art programme.