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I spent a lot of the final year of my BA in my bedroom. I was pretty depressed, I was struggling with my health after a recent diagnosis of epilepsy and the new medications were fucking with me in a way I didn’t really notice until I thought about it a year or so later. I largely made work on my laptop, so it was fine. In my little London bedroom I avoided everyone else and sat and clicked away at Photoshop files then printed them out BIG cos I was a Final Year Fine Art Student and I was having my Degree Show so obviously everything had to be Bigger Than Before.
This year I’ve been thinking about the final year students in their damp houses in Withington or Deptford or wherever, the ones who are moving back to their parents and sitting in their childhood bedrooms. I know firsthand bedrooms are perfectly ~Valid places of creation and creativity when you’re sick and/or sad but they are not the places you want to be when you’re a debutante and you’ve paid £27,000 for your art world cotillion.
Artworks change with the places they are made in. Of course it goes without saying but I’m saying it -- you work in your bedroom and things become digital, on your laptop like the Sims, on a telly like your telly, little drawings like your diary or small sculptures like model airplanes. Creativity has changed in lockdown. My stepdad bought some kits to make kinetic sculptures from wood, these little ply shapes that he stains and glues together to make a pianist who’s feet and fingers move as you turn the handle.
I think of all these things as I scroll through In Progress, the online Manchester School of Art degree show. I think about the work Photoshopped into galleries (Stephanie Leighton Plom) and photographed stuck to a bedroom wall (Ivan Stone Roberts). I think about these Art Kids making in the bedroom the way we all did when we were fifteen and don’t open the door, mom, I’m working. What a time to be a graduate.
I don’t know how to phase seamlessly into this so I’ll be direct: today I’m writing about Jasper Howard’s work, about the little sculptures on his designated page, built out of wire and little wooden dowels. My sister lives with Jasper and when I saw his page I texted her:
Is your jasper jasper Howard?
I like this little things
In the show
i love his work
And then I told her that it reminded me of a bit in Never Let Me Go, which I watched when I was fourteen, and then read because I fancied Andrew Garfield and wanted to spend more time with him in my head. Andrew Garfield plays Tommy, a gawky nerdy guy who is the love interest for the main character and narrator, Cathy, or Kathy. It follows them through their lives from childhood, attending a boarding school, the book ends when C/Kathy is around twenty seven in my head. At school Tommy struggles in art class, which is A Big Deal to both staff and students, and is a shame he wrestles with. I was going to avoid spoilers but it came out fifteen years ago so — the reason it is a Big Deal is because it turns out the students are clones, born and raised to donate organs to the non-clone population until they die. We later find out that art class is used to study them, it was a failed attempt to prove the students have souls.
When he is older, Tommy secretly begins an art practice again, hiding in a barn and sketching tiny strange creatures in a notebook. He nervously shows C/Kathy these drawings after working on them for a while, which is our first peek into his work, ~his soul~. ‘I was becoming genuinely drawn to these fantastical creatures in front of me. For all their busy, metallic features, there was something sweet, even vulnerable about each of them. I remembered him telling me, in Norfolk, that he worried, even has he created them, how they’d protect themselves or be able to reach and fetch things, and looking at them now, I could feel the same sort of concerns’.
When I saw Jasper’s work, I thought of Tommy’s vulnerable little creatures. The thin metal wires, balancing carefully on a strip of white paper. I imagined Tommy in his barn and Jasper in his room, and my stepdad in my brother’s old room with his models. The sculptures looked like prototype robot bambis on little legs, or maybe that gameshow on CBBC where you built a computerised creature to take part in challenges. Maybe I’m projecting sentience onto these little sculptures because I miss my friends. They’re all spread over this roll of white paper, you can see then end of the white paper, which is probably creating all the bedroom images in my head. Trying to get professional shots for your degree show in your bedroom. They’re spread all over this roll of white paper, like a little herd, like animals at a watering hole in Lion King. God I love them.
I feel Tommy’s worry about how they’re going to do in the wild. A dowel on three legs is in the middle of the image, the soft focus of the camera blurs out most of his companions. Will he be ok out there? Maybe I’m feeling anxious anyway. Maybe I’m worried about our Sad Grads.
Other images show more colourful drawings and paintings which feel like drafts of the creatures or their landscapes — washes of colour and the same thin lines, thin limbs. I look at them a bit but inevitably scroll up again to look at my little gang. An individual shot of one of these sculptures shows the messy solder holding copper wire onto a silverish-probably-steel U shape. I think about my brother soldering wires together for his electronics class in school, I think about burning myself on his soldering iron.
This work has had me thinking a lot about male craft, naïvity, ego and exploration. It’s got me thinking about my grandpa in his attic making little card trains. To me, this work has an element of sweetness and vulnerability that I’m finidng it hard to put my finger on in ways other than relating it to similar iterations of this energy. There’s something about works in progress, something about learning processes. Something about masculinity and passion and perfection and worry.
I hope these little guys do ok out there.
Jasper Howard at In Progress, Manchester School of Art Degree Show