Postgraduate Design Fair

University of Ulster postgraduates aspire to compete on a global stage

Our Ulsterbus transport network represented by a cosmic disco system; scientific theories filtered through fairytale; and some rather thought provoking symbols appearing across a mountain that lies west of Belfast - just a taste of the ideas and designs 17 University of Ulster art and design postgraduates present in the annual Ulster MA final show.

The two week exhibition is a culmination of work resulting from three courses the university deliver; MA art and public, MA multi disciplinary design, and MD textile material product.

Recognising the value of celebrating talent, it's refreshing to see the university filtering the collection out to four other art galleries across the city during the month of January.

Notes, a collection from Lyndsey McDougall, invites us to cherish continuous note scribbling and recognise it as a treasured art form. Although this particular collection is primarily exhibited in the Catalyst Arts Centre, McDougall emphasises the idea of note taking ‘on the go’ by leaving some friendly polaroid reminders of her work in the foyer of the university's art college. 

But it is her casual placement of three small and undistinguished yellow hardback notebooks on a plinth that transfixes my senses, the contents of which are charmingly entitled ‘the complete encyclopaedia of things’. Their simple accounts entreat us to recognise the importance of our daily meanderings through life.

Another artist of considerable note is Jenna Roddy, the only female interactive multi media graduate on the post grad course. When questioned about this, she remarks that the boys increased her desire to compete. Her work is entitled ‘Life of the City’. 

With 'Life of the City', projected onto the floor of the college, Roddy uses the Ulsterbus network routes that we endure in Belfast as her subject. Her conviction to show our out of sync timetable as a cosmopolitan pulse that you might otherwise associate with a world city network system such as London's is a symbol of hope to commuters and leaves me in awe.

Textile is also very much at the forefront of the fair. Jeannie Johnston’s scientific-looking coat hangers instantly demand your attention. There are further textile collections upstairs through the tunnel. Here the textile design collections have a much more industrial edge. 

Beth Milligan’s copper weaving visually transforms what we would normally term a harsh and rigid metal into a soft luxurious product. In turn I feel her work is greatly complemented by Jane Allen's adjacent collection, in which Allen transforms the look of a relatively soft cloth into rigid industrial cylinders.

The MA in art and public offers artists the chance to further delve into our ever-changing society and develop participatory art that inspires further creativity. 

Eleanor Phillips, in her work entitled Widows: Conversation Part III challenges the viewer to engage in the private yet public affair of funerals. To reflect this conflicting affair, she showed her installation in a private home earlier in January.

Speaking to some of the exhibitors I am surprised by the praise they have for their applied course. They believe that it has pushed them to the required level needed to compete on both a European and global platform. 

While the students network with the national business community, it is nevertheless unfortunately evident that they may have to look further afield to develop a sustainable career. 

The Katherine Penney collection Through a Glass Darkley is the only external collection still on view to the public and is located at the Mullan Gallery, 239 Lisburn Road, Belfast until January 31. 

Natalie Irvine