Celebrating Young Artists in Derry~Londonderry

Anne McGinn of the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment discusses its latest exhibition at Void

The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment's Celebrating Young Artists exhibition at the Void Gallery in Derry~Londonderry aims to profile student work with a contemporary response to artists, concepts and media. Why should contemporary art be considered important?

Approaches to art and design are always changing and reflect the technology and society of the time in which art is produced. Artists like Banksy produce work that is a commentary on the social and global issues of today and it is this, coupled with the accessibility of his work, that has made him a household name.

In order for students to prepare for art and design-related careers they need to be able to engage with what is of their time and what reflects the issues and culture of contemporary society. If young people don’t get the chance to see contemporary art, to reflect on it and develop confidence in talking about it, it will be more difficult for them to compete on a global stage.

What do you think is the best way to go about instilling an appreciation and interest in art and design in young people?

Take them out to exhibitions if you can. Give them opportunities to meet artists and designers. Engage with them, get them talking, discussing and arguing about art. It is a language, and they can only learn that language if they get a chance to use it. Design for living is all around them every day, and the creative industries infiltrate every aspect of our lives, but young people may not always be aware of the extent to which the study of art and design contributes to these industries. It is fundamental to their learning, to challenge them and to have high expectations of their capabilities and intellect.

What first ignited your interest in the arts?

I was always drawing and making things from a young age, and I knew that it was what I wanted to do. However, I had very limited exposure to the arts as a child and really didn’t understand what artists did until I went to art college. I taught art for several years in London and was lucky enough to be able to regularly bring my students to different London galleries. This allowed us to keep refreshing their influences and our own approaches and practice as teachers. Creativity has always been a fundamental buzz for me. This is why I am passionate about nurturing it in education, whatever the young person’s future pathway turns out to be.

Who is your favourite artist living or dead?  

I couldn’t pick a favourite, but one of my favourite former Turner Prize winners – given that the 2013 Turner is currently showing in Derry~Londonderry – is Keith Tyson. I like to think that if I had the chance to be doing my own work, it would be something like that – lots of connections and a range of media following trains of thought that look almost like scientific diagrams. My work was always a bit like this, as I studied biology at A level alongside art and design. Humour is also an important part of his work.

What is your favourite artistic medium?

I love painting because it is so therapeutic to do and to engage with, but I think sculpture and 3D work engages me more as a viewer because it occupies space and you can get very involved in the experience of being in a space. The making can be really challenging too. I think this is why installations work so well.

What was the most memorable art exhibition you have ever been to?

When I was 19, the art college in York Street, Belfast organised a trip to London. I remember visiting the Saatchi Gallery, which was then at St John’s Wood and being bowled over by Richard Serra’s steel structures. It may not be the best exhibition I have ever seen, but I had never experienced art in that way before and it was a formative experience for me.

The Turner Prize 2013 coincides with the CCEA Celebrating Young Artists. In what way do you hope this event will inspire young artists?

Celebrating Young Artists profiles some of CCEA’s GCE students who took a more innovative approach in their work. I think that the pressure on young people to get certain grades in their exams can sometimes mean students feel inclined to take a safe and formulaic approach to their work. Unfortunately, this does not marry well with creativity.

The Turner prize 2013 gives our teachers and students, and our public, the chance to see a selection of work by four artists who have pushed the boundaries. It is a unique opportunity to get people in Northern Ireland talking and thinking about art. Hopefully young people and their teachers may be inspired to try new approaches, a broad range of media and to engage with contemporary art more fluently.

Tell us about some of the work showcasing in the Celebrating Young Artists exhibition.

In this exhibition we wanted to find students who had used media in an unusual way or had been inspired by artists who were contemporary. We are showcasing the work of 25 GCE AS and A Level students in the Void Gallery. I am very impressed by all the work, and there is a good variety of approaches in both 2D and 3D media.

From Sam McCready’s (Banbridge Academy) accomplished photography piece 'Hands' to Engela Swiegers' (Foyle College) urban sculpture, which addresses issues like mental suffering and desolation, I hope the work will inspire younger visitors and get them thinking. There is also a clever animation by Adam Treharne (Sullivan Upper School, Belfast), which conveys powerful ideas about vulnerability and disability.

Celebrating Young Artists runs in the Void Gallery, Derry~Londonderry until November 29. For more information on the CCEA art and design qualification visit the CCEA website.