Year Zero

University of Ulster undergraduates exhibit glimpses of their artistic vision at SpaceCraft

Tucked into a large unit upstairs in Belfast's Fountain Centre, the Craft and Design Collective's SpaceCraft gallery annually plays host to the University of Ulster's Art Foundation course graduates. This year's exhibition, Year Zero, offers the chance to view the fine art artists of tomorrow, today.

Year Zero is a window into these artists' development one year into a four-year undergraduate programme at one of the British Isles' top art schools. The curators of the show promise that 'the Year Zero exhibition is the place to discover what the future of Craft, Applied Art and Design in Northern Ireland might look like and who our future makers might be'. Painting, sculpture, photography and ceramics are all on offer.

One of the great things about being able to glimpse into an artists' work so early in their instruction is the unbridled range of topics, genres and methods they utilise. Often, after four years of tuition at a large institution, artists can appear tweaked or tamed into generic forms, either reflective of their tutors' vision or similar to their fellow students.

However, Year Zero shows a range of work from artists keen to impress before any originality or individuality is smoothed out of their practice. The result is a show of rich and raw talent. Whilst technique can be seen in some pieces to still require development, the imagination on display does not disappoint.

One of the highlights is 'Ethereal Rings and Landscape Pins', a collection of fine jewellery by Kirsty Rebecca Reilly. Reilly carves the bodies of her rings from wood and seals each one with beeswax paste. On top of each are rocks in a range of pastel colours complete with white flecks and bubbles, which give the appearance of the froth of sea waves. Every rock is hand made by mixing a paste of PVA and sand, cast in silicone moulds, and each ring pays tribute to the beauty of the coast and sea waves.

Another artist who shows tremendous talent at this stage is Cailín Ní Chaireallain, who crafts derelict architectural structures out of ceramics. She explains that her work explores the process of decay as buildings that were once loved and lived in come to be abandoned. The ceramic structures have each been distressed to give the illusion of damage and disrepair.

However, it is not only traditional art works that shine through in the exhibition. One eye-catching piece draws on optical illusions and graffiti art work traditions to create a modern trompe d'oreil.

In his artist's statement, Kevin Stewart explains that his trio of graphic design pieces, entitled 'Layers', 'consists of the use and the outcome from working with layers. I work from collage pieces from local magazines, newspapers and anything else I find interesting.' Visitors to the gallery can see the different layers flicker and merge before their eyes as the form of one 3D image.

Young artist Aaron McCauley chooses the theme 'Incognito' for his concertina of photographs exploring the idea of confused identity. The topic is perhaps a fitting one for the exhibition in its entirety, as the students explore their own identities and visions.

Year Zero offers an exciting glimpse into the artists who will be shaping the art scene in Northern Ireland in years to come, most of whom will complete a further three years study at the University of Ulster's Belfast School of Art. Whether or not their final year exhibitions are as exciting, only time will tell.

'Year Zero' is on display at the Space Craft, Belfast until August 2. August Craft Month continues in venues across the country until August 31.