No artistis an island

June 11, 1999

How can lecturers assess a degree show that is: a) collective and b) full of art by very famous artists? The Leeds 13 give their view.

At the time of writing, five of our tutors at the University of Leeds, accompanied by an external examiner, are assessing our collective piece of art, which we have called The Degree Show.

The Degree Show is the culmination of 14 students' studio practice over four years. This counts for 50 per cent of our degree mark. The remaining 50 per cent is allocated for the theory/art history work we have each done throughout the course. Because of this split of marks we will all end up with a different final total mark, even though we specifically devised our show as a collective enterprise.

Last year our project "Going Places" simulated a Spanish holiday. Visitors to our "exhibition" were driven by coach to Leeds airport, where we had apparently just stepped off a flight from the Costa del Sol. In fact we had stayed in Leeds and staged our holiday snaps in Scarborough. This began our history of working as a group and trying to counter the traditional notion of the artist as an individual creator of specific objects.

In this year's Degree Show we again play with perceived reality. Our work assumes the form of a "successful" art show; it includes labels, advertising, catalogue, hanging systems, lighting, wall colour, security devices, posters and handouts - although there is no exhibition "programme" to fall back on. (It also includes art works by well-known artists such as Rodin, Henry Moore and Damien Hirst). The corporate context serves to raise questions regarding the financial interests of the private sector, which has, since the 1970s, increasingly taken over the role of art patron.

We are a collaborative effort. But can differences and antagonisms be aligned under one group identity? We are in a state of continuous negotiation. What holds a group together cannot be apprehended in a single exhibition. We feel that a work of art is never self- contained; notions of aesthetic hierarchy, of masterpieces and the genius artist are historical constructions.

There are many precedents for collective work throughout the 20th century. The "Poly Snappers", which Jo Spence was involved with at the Polytechnic of Central London in the late 1970s, did their work jointly. They also, much to the horror of the powers that be, demanded to be jointly assessed. The polytechnic authorities, who had previously considered themselves very liberal, suddenly discovered that there was no mechanism in the system to facilitate this. Is there now such a mechanism in place?

The Degree Show aims to examine the exhibition phenomenon itself, to shift from objects and artists to the relationships in which art exists. We do not seek to transcend the institutional conditions of the degree, but to draw attention to them. Using existing work as conceptual props, the show parodies the relic notion of art as an allegory of human experience.

The Degree Show attempts to consider works as interrelated, not individual, revealing correspondences and conflicts across chronological boundaries and stylistic categories. If the significance of a piece of art is determined anywhere, it is by the place it is assigned among other works. Works exacerbate and anticipate each other's meanings, evoking passages, overlaps and slippages from one zone of meaning to another.

We have finished our degree work. Now it is up to our tutors. It will be their task to assimilate our aims as a collective with their institutional requirements as examiners under the academic auspices of the University of Leeds.

The Leeds 13 are 14 final-year students on the Leeds University BA in fine art.

The Degree Show runs from 8-18 June, 67 Albion Street, Leeds.

* Is this art? Email us on soapbox@thes.co.uk

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