Each year the Ruskin Degree Show marks the dramatic finale of the art school year, and for the 20 or so students displaying work it is the end of a three-year quest to develop their own original style and present it to the art world.
Spurred on by the hope the private view will be graced with the presence of notable collectors or their cash-flashing representatives, I, like the rest of my year group, have seen this show looming on the horizon ever since I enrolled on the Bachelor of Fine Art course at the University of Oxford’s Ruskin School of Art.
And what a show it will be. In the closing weeks of each summer term all three year groups, our tutors and technicians eagerly don their overalls and join in the collective creative chaos that makes its way by the van-load from the studios to the exhibition site.
This year the Degree Show arrives in a thrilling new location in West Oxford.
Just south of the train station, a vast disused warehouse in Osney Mead Industrial Estate – now known simply as the Green Shed – provides the sort of stunning blank canvas that any aspiring artist would dream of.
Next year, when our much-loved yet utterly ramshackle sculpture department at Bullingdon Road is torn to the ground to make way for its shiny hi-tech replacement, this post-industrial palace, with its steel girders, concrete floor and virginal blankness, will become for the Ruskin School a temporary home; perhaps a brief beacon of experimentation among the inane infrastructure of capitalism that ticks over in the depots and outlets that surround it. The set-up of the Degree Show is simple enough.
Each of us fights for a space and then, defending it to the death, we painstakingly install our work.
For some of my friends this could be as straightforward as choosing the right height to hang the paintings that have been lovingly laboured over in the studios for months in advance, while for others working in sculpture, installation or film, the process is somewhat more complex.
For my own part, it’s at this point that my work seems to have got a bit out of control.
It began with a short film about a medieval tradition known as ‘beating the bounds’, but it has now expanded into this sort of mad, sprawling installation in which these large, white, root-like structures seem to be growing out of the floor, threatening to overwhelm the wooden cinema built for the film.
We only have a few days left until we hand our work over to the lofty judgment of the university examiners, and yet this piece still seems to be in an excitingly unresolved state.
Thankfully, as things reach fever pitch I’ll have on board my team of incredible helpers mucking in to help me tie it all together in time – and, after three years at this brilliant school, I think it’s this spirit of community and collaboration that best epitomizes both the Ruskin and this year’s ambitious Degree Show.
If this show can offer anything as it squats in the unknown territories of West Oxford, I hope it will be just that: a shared zone of uncontrollable creativity in the barren expanses of the ‘real world’.