It is the end of 2nd week and by now all Oxford students are in their full swing, and the Fine Artists are no exception. With finals just around the corner and pre-lims even closer, the art school was busier than I have ever seen it at the start of this week, with everyone desperately trying to fit in that extra bit of studio work around the artist talks, tutorials and classes.
One of the highlights of Trinity term is the exhibition of the first year anatomy projects, a walk around group crit letting us all peer at, ask questions and talk about our own individual interpretations of the brief. Firstly we all had to make a drawing larger than ourselves of an invented animal skeleton, and hang them inventively on the staircases and in the foyer; embroidered bones, sketched muscles and painted limbs jutted out from every white surface, hanging from the ceiling and clinging to the walls. Amongst many others, Brian the useless one-eye, one-winged monster swooped down from the foyer, an Aztec pencil drawing danced around the corner like an Egyptian, and a micro organism made out of thread was illuminated by a window frame. A white robot fish, to be injected into someone with Alzheimer’s and act as a memory drive, swam the stretch of the wall, and a ghostly but dynamic sketch of a man on a rearing horse awaited us in the drawing studio.
Secondly we had to make a model commenting on or explaining a human system, limb or organ, allowing for even more play, experimentation, and let’s face it, ridiculousness on the students’ part. A testicle filled with food products was opened out in front of us, a latex body inflated with life before shuddering back to emptiness, and a delicate tree branch twirled on its string. A carbon footprint was built out of litter, a satirical skeleton’s foot was sprayed gold, and forty litres of water rippled within a variety of glass containers. People made spines out of a selection of objects, made films of pumping organs and moving hands, or moulded simple yet beautiful objects out of air-drying clay. We are rarely given specific briefs at the Ruskin, but it was one of the most interesting things to see what we all did when we were given loose instructions; to observe who experimented, who played it safe, and who made things they never would have dreamt of during term time, making something completely new and refreshing.
After all this anatomical excitement, it was the trip to Waddesdon Manor, a beautiful stately home now owned by the National Trust that Ruskin students are asked to annually design postcards for. The Slingsby Prize entries were also taken in; a money prize is awarded for an original work submitted to the panel. A shortlist was announced, and the judge John Walter gave a talk about his own eccentric and – there’s no other word for it – zany artwork up in the Old Master’s Studio. Second years are busy preparing for the Pirye Prize, designing a work for the space in the OUP bookshop on the Oxford high street. If it wins, students are awarded the exhibition space, their work remaining there for the entire year, and alongside a lovely lump sum they of course become acquainted with those old friends, fame and glory. Prizes galore in Trinity term, it seems.
Even writing this evokes the rushed and fast-moving pace of the Ruskin, crazily increased now we have hit exam term. With just under a month until pre-lims and everyone frantically working towards their final shows, it’s tough trying to carry on with the rest of the activities in the school – but what can you do? Nobody wants an early morning call from the school secretary asking you to attend a talk that you were blissfully sleeping through. (Believe me, it happens.) So instead, just like all you fellow Oxford students, we work hard, play hard, forget the odd thing, work harder to make up for what we forgot, throw in some organisation, revision and panic, and hope that it’s all worth it when the summer draws in.