Graduation Shows 2023: HKU BA Fine Arts
Gender, sexuality, softness and memory are at the centre of this year’s Fine Arts graduation show at HKU, Utrecht. Alyxandra Westwood selects six works that catch her interest.
Performativity and the body are central themes of this year’s BA graduation show Exposure in the Pastoefabriek building of the HKU. The show features a multiplicity of materials and methodologies, ranging from painting, sculpture, and immersive installation to even a feature length short film. Mapped out through a warren of galleries, installations more than once overlap with one another, bringing the space to life.
In the far back corner of the exhibition Tessa Kortmulder’s work Graduation Film stands out. The 25min feature length short film is shot entirely with a handheld camera and features only two actors. The beauty and strength of the film lie in its exploration and questioning of ‘genuine connection’. It employs elements of light and dark and switches between footage of everyday life and poetic moments. The characters undertake a journey together, which speaks about human growth and unexpected connections.
Continuing the thread on exploring connection, Hannah Konings’ installation De haan roept en ze besluiten dat het goed is (‘The rooster calls and they decide it’s all right’) occupies the space next to Kortmulder’s. Here, material takes centre stage as tool for exploring emotion and memory. The immersive installation fills the room and is made from everyday, monochromic and natural materials, such as wood, unfired clay, plaster and metal. Inspired by personal recollections of family and various archetypes, Konings reflects on the power which material has for conjuring emotion. Traces of the performative touch of the artist are present in the organic way in which the objects have been formed. The space also evokes a sense of nostalgia and ambiguity, as though the sculptures are either the performers themselves or are setting the stage, waiting to be interacted with.
The paintings by Lorian Gwynn reflect on youth, childhood and location through nostalgia and memory. Instead of spreading out into the room, her canvases act as portals that invite the viewer into her world. The paintings employ a rhythmic and gestural approach, with thin layers and hazy undertones. Lorian applies the paint rapidly, as if she is sketching. Layering one image over the other, she presents the viewer with an alternative, dreamlike world. Lorian’s painting Blue Patterns brings the important role of nature in her practice to the surface. For Lorian, ‘humans seem closer to their true feelings in nature’. She recently visited some family members in Indonesia for the first time. The Indonesian jungle has been a source of inspiration to this body of work. Through painting, Lorian brings the jungle into the Dutch context.
Linus van der Maas
Further along, Linus van der Maas’ work pushes back against heteronormative perspectives still prevalent in society today. Their digital renderings capture modes of communication within queer communities, whether that is in certain visible codes, or in a display of intimacy. The drawings celebrate queerness by positioning it in domestic and everyday settings, communicating a sense of intimacy and warmth.
Chelsea van der Bend
Similarly, Chelsea van der Bend pushes the boundaries of societally pre-conceived ideas of intimacy in her textile drawings but from another vantage. Through her work, Van der Bend subverts societally dominant idea of female and queer intimacy. Her soft drawings are made on warm yellow fabrics, depicting close intimate moments between lovers. It’s important to note the softness of the works, not only present in the chosen material but also in the lines of the drawings and in the way the artist depicts fingers intertwined. Here, sexuality and intimacy are soft and considerate, much like the materials that support them.
Baoyang Zhao’s large-scale sculptural installation exquisitely attempts to bring memory – something intangible – into the physical world. Their sculptures fill the room and are positioned in such a way that they seem to be in conversation with one another. As a viewer you’re invited to join their gathering. The sculptures are made up of many smaller parts that come together to form larger, soft, and almost malleable shapes. The porous cloth used in the works show how memories and past experiences bleed into our present. Morphing together with one another, the sculptures could be perceived as presenting the fluid nature of memory.
The other HKU students continue to prove the versatility of material in a courageous and daring display. Many works reflect on our current societal disconnection with one another, one that is perhaps characteristic for our post pandemic global state. They amplify the importance of ritual and narrative in creating an honest reflection on society’s need for openness, accommodation and softness.
The HKU Graduation Show took place from the 28th of June until the 2nd of July
is an artist, writer and curator and is based between Utrecht and Melbourne