We asked two graduates to give us an insight into their experience of preparing for and (thankfully!) presenting Subject To Change, Crawford College of Art & Design Degree Show 2021.
Maitiú Mac Cárthaigh is an artist who recently finished the Ba Fine Art in Crawford College of Art and Design MTU. Their work focuses on current agricultural practices and how the Queer identity and body are uneasy and misplaced within these traditions. Maitiú will be continuing their studies in The Hague, The Netherlands at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) next year.
Peggoty Ransley lives in Ring and is originally from Cornwall. Recently her practice has been driven by her need to show the exploitation of animals, horses in particular. Peggoty received the sculpture residency in CCAD for this coming year. She will continue to explore and expand her practice, with a plan to incorporate more casting into her work in the future.
The final semester for me began in the same room I had spent nine days in the dreaded “Disease Jail”. It was a Zoom tutorial with a tutor, discussing marks, plans to move forward and how to work from home. I was glad it was a positive experience as at the time the house I was staying in was just emerging from a month of Covid. It would have been easier if we had had a slew of people over for a party, but it came home from work one day with a Nurse. Thankfully we all emerged relatively okay, but I began my final semester with an increase in my heart rate whenever someone outside my bubble got too close.
I couldn’t go back to my college house. There were many people. But I couldn’t make work from home. I would commute. But not every day? Just to get the work done. So, five days a week.
It was easier not to think about the college closing for the semester. Even when the email came that it would close, I felt a bit blind reading the realities of the situation. It was like I had been catapulted at speed towards final assessments but with so much going on you had no time to deal with it. So, I decided to apply for a masters and teach myself SketchUp. Naturally.
It was so pleasing to open PowerPoint every morning, to prepare my portfolio. Move the images of my work from one side of the slide to the other and back again. I thought myself lucky with the ability to control something completely. Those images would do summersaults around the screen. And I would happily spend the day making them do so.
As the semester moved on, a state of delirium took over my Art Brain. I wasn’t making work. Only the small digital sketches I was convinced couldn’t be that large in real life. So as most people expected, I gave myself a huge task to make the scale of work I did. But my small man complex must exert itself somehow. I set my sights on scaling up by meters and focusing on the handmade object. My first realisation of the workload was when the tarpaulin I printed on could only be bought in Tallaght.
Could I drive to Tallaght?
Is buying a certain kind of plastic wrap for your final degree assessments considered essential?
Probably not, and I had to go through two Garda checkpoints to even make it from West Cork to college. In the end, I didn’t. I asked my boyfriend’s sister to drive there from her flat in Dublin. A much more sensible idea.
In-between working from home and the return to college, I realised that I had never felt more in the know about the seasons. A relatively dry Spring allowed me wander fields, derelict out houses and neighbours’ farms in hunt of photographs. In my bag I would have three cameras, my notebook, a light meter, and a tripod which I should have just carried in my hand. It was easy to spend hours alone and outside. It was warm and everyone accepted that “that was our summer now”. And what of it? We all spend half the good days inside anyway, me included. The briars and gorse took no notice of the daily cases, 14-day incident rate, the latest variant, or vaccines.
The full-time commuting began around Easter. I began scrying the density of the dual carriage way for what kind of day I might have. While blasting the Corrs on recently bought CDs in my AUX cordless car.
With an unknowable amount of help and millions of “yeah we can do that”s from staff and friends, work slowing began appearing. Meters of canvas and tarpaulin, coupled with rivers of white ink and cyanotype solution were gobbled up. The anxiety of the situation never ceased but somehow bled into positivity.
A part of my brain wonders what the degree show may have looked like without the cyclical chaos of a pandemic going on around me, but maybe this is a pointless exercise. Lockdown and commuting to college, afforded me time outside and a greater connection to the content of my work. At the time there were many hours of sleep lost and pinch points I thought I would never get out of, but in hindsight it seems everything worked out for the best. I’d like to think so anyway.
Maitìu Mac Cárthaigh
This last year, for me and I think most people, has been an odd one and not like any we had experienced before. We have experienced things I don’t think we ever thought we would, lockdowns, restrictions, and everything else COVID has brought with it.
Throughout all of this I think being in art college has in a way helped me remain sane, giving me something to work towards and keep me occupied.
At the beginning of the first lockdown I very naively left all my work, art supplies and everything else I could possibly need in the college, believing it would just be two weeks and we would be back in making work. So I, like a lot of other people, had to adapt and overcome. At this point I was in my second semester of third year, a year I was really enjoying and felt like I was making work that for one of the first times in art college I was really excited about. The lockdown began with me just enjoying being able to be at home more, I spent a lot of time doing gardening and with my animals (if it isn’t obvious from my work I am slightly obsessed with them, I have a collection of rescued horses, dogs and cats). My work had just started at the beginning of this semester to really be about animals, I was looking at using animals as a metaphor for human behaviours. Being online for the end of third year was in a lot of ways a massive disadvantage I believe, we missed out on many experiences that would have prepared us for our fourth and final year. However in some ways maybe this was an experience that prepared us for it equally well, just in very different ways. It taught us to improvise and try out new techniques and mediums. As someone who works mainly in large scale sculpture I ended up making video work, which was something I had never used before.
When it came to coming back into physical college for fourth year (something I wasn’t really expecting to happen), I found it hard for the first few weeks to get back into it, I was trying to be cautious and not bringing all my equipment and materials into college and leaving them there like I normally do, I was nervous that another lockdown would happen and everything would be stuck there again! Luckily for us, we made it till the winter holiday without a lockdown that stopped us from being in college, and it didn’t feel too far from what we had known college to be. The COVID restrictions obviously made it slightly different, a one way system was put in place throughout the college but we had the best COVID officers making sure these changes were put in place. We also had to book workshops and less people were allowed in the canteen as well as the open access room. We were all given MTU masks, which were actually the most comfortable masks around in my opinion. Welding and angle grinding with a mask on however was tough!
Of course we couldn’t manage to make it the whole college year without another level 5 lockdown that made the likelihood of us going back to college seem very unrealistic. Looking back I was very lucky, being able to collect materials from the college such as rubber, aljasafe, plaster and metal and I had space to work from home.
Having almost given up hope that we would be returning to college, I was delighted when we got the news that we would be back in to be able to use workshops. Our tutors worked so hard to get us back into the college, jumping through every hoop they had to and I couldn’t be more grateful. A timetable was made up for the people desperate to get back in to use workshops, mainly sculpture and print people. For the short time before Easter the college felt like a very strange place, gone was any social element, although maybe this was a good thing as it meant all my time was spent making work! We had to fill out an online form every day before we were allowed on campus to make sure we were safe to be there.
The first week back was probably the most productive I have ever been, I fully committed all my time in college to being in the metalwork room. I think I surprised myself as well as my tutor with how much I managed to get done. Initially I had fairly a modest plan of what to make, being unsure of how much I could achieve in such a short time. Which ended up being completely disregarded as soon as I started building. I was intending on just spending the first week back in practicing my welding and making small bits. However, as I should have known, I tend to get carried away – especially when I have a pretty much unlimited supply of 6mm steel bars at my disposal. I think it took me four solid days of working to complete my first sculpture, this being the biggest horse I made. As often happens with me I hadn’t fully thought it through and hadn’t thought to measure to check that it would actually fit into my studio! Luckily with a bit of squeezing we managed to get her through the metalwork door into the room. Having learnt from this I remembered to make the other ones narrower.
I spent the next few weeks working really hard on making the rest of the horses, and then I moved on to how to add to them. I knew I wanted to incorporate materials such as feed bags, horse hair, mud, hay, baler twine, and various plants into my final set up for the degree show. This took me a while to fully figure out and along the way I tried different ideas and methods of attaching and using these materials. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to have plants like sycamore, which interestingly is toxic to horses, growing from the belly of the pregnant mare. I just didn’t know how it was going to be achieved. In the end, my final installation showed an unsuitable environment, one which echoes the sad reality of the equestrian world.
Throughout this entire time we were unsure if our degree show would be fully online or open to the public. After putting in so much work it was so good to be able to finish our four years on a high with a degree show open to the public.
In conclusion, the pandemic has been challenging to all of us in every area of our lives and it has challenged and changed the way I and my classmates made art, as well as how we were taught. I think it’s been a really nice example of how resilient we are and how change is not always a bad thing.