I went to the Chelsea College of Art Postgraduate Show last week and even though it was September, it felt very much like a summer evening: it was warm enough to hang around in the outside spaces, and there was a lovely party atmosphere. In the middle of the parade ground, Anna Nelson-Daniel’s display of white ceramic roses apparently growing out of a square of turf struck me at first as a pretty piece. But its meaning was revealed as I read the label nearby: One Hundred and Two is an installation created to honour 102 non-Serb children from Prijedor, who were killed in the 1992-95 conflict. Commemorating the dead with flowers has a long tradition, of course, and it’s good to see it has a place in contemporary art – I recently saw the installation of ceramic poppies by Paul Cummins at the Tower of London. Laying a wreath on Remembrance Day or flowers at a funeral says something beyond words.
With so much work to see inside the college, I didn’t know where to start. Luckily, my painter friend Julie was there and we made a beeline for two of her friends who were in the show. I say beeline but it was more like wandering through a labyrinth, as the college is a baffling warren of corridors, studios and fire doors. We were looking for the studio of Rebecca Molloy, on the ground floor, but only found it after going upstairs. Becca’s work has a wildness about it, like something on the loose with no boundaries to restrict it. No picture frame to contain the content – it just grows like a rampant fungus over the walls and spills out onto the floor. She calls it Expanded Painting. The main installation, called Hue Hefner, is a joyful mess, with sculptural forms and surfaces splashed with paint. It looked to me like a home decoration project gone wrong – maybe it was handed over to a bunch of 6-year-olds who just had a wonderful time making a glorious mess. But those paint bags are disturbing.
In another part of the building, we stepped into the crazy, exhibitionist world of Joshua Raffell. It was a hilarious and chaotic space, full of rag-doll constructions and rude messages stencilled on the walls. I asked him what the hell was going on here, and Josh said it was all about Clusterfucked Aesthetics. I’d never heard of that, so I Googled it and the Urban Dictionary says ‘clusterfucked’ was originally a military term for an operation in which multiple things have gone wrong, and it’s related to SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up) and FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair). In NATO-speak, it’s more politely referred to as Charlie Foxtrot. The whole thing was a piece of inspired lunacy and I had added some marvellous new words to my vocabulary.
Julie’s other MA friend in the show, Xiamiao Wu, is a textile designer with eco-friendly credentials. Her work is all restraint, control, muted tones and exquisite craftsmanship. Her raw material is rubbish, a particular kind of rubbish. Something most of us use hundreds of and chuck away, day after day, without a second thought. Used teabags. Mia collects them (the college canteen has an endless supply), takes the tea leaves out and turns what remains into hand-made paper, which is then cut into strips and woven into organic-shaped baskets. I think Mia should be in the government, heading up a department for transforming waste products into artwork through traditional craft.
Back to the crazy stuff. A massive multi-media drawing by Tezz Kamoen could be described as awesome (in the true sense of that much-misused word). It’s a seething mass of confusing shapes, colours and lines in pencil, pastel, ink and crayon, like a school jotter doodle that got badly out of control. It verges on madness with its discord, chaos and a feeling of being all over the place. It started to frighten me so I walked away.
Alberto Torres Hernandez is a superb painter, and his fab pictures of naked men follow in the art historical tradition of fab pictures of naked men. But his men aren’t heroic or magnificent, they’re just blokes at home, sitting on a chair or coming down the stairs. They have beautiful bodies and seem to be quite at ease without their clothes, and that makes them very attractive.