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The White Pube

My degree show was cancelled – what can I do instead? The White Pube advise

In their latest Dazed column, art agony aunts Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad propose a series of alternative models to the graduate show

Everything’s shutting down, with public gatherings on lockdown and with art events cancelled across the board, what can art students do about the prospect of their degree shows being cancelled/postponed? Are there any alternatives to a physical degree show, and how do you negotiate those alternatives with the university?

The White Pube: So, this is a fucking sticky one isn’t it. With The Rona on the loose, it doesn’t look like the art world will be ~back to normal~ in a month or so, everything’s just on pause. And I’m not even that mad about it; there’s a lot going on, and even normally the world is a shit-show, so I think we should all just mutually shelve Art™️for a minute because I for one don’t even have the mental capacity to THINK about it atm. Degree shows being cancelled might be personally devastating but I can promise you; your art career will not be made or broken off the back of it, regardless of its cancellation. Many art schools are taking the decision to postpone degree shows until september, however, there are still ~issues~ around this all that do need to be negotiated, SO bear w me here.

Firstly, it’s fine if your degree show is cancelled and the studios and workshops are closed. This is a mad virus, we need to take care of each other, and we ~need~ to all go home, social distance, be careful. We all have a social responsibility now, when the government has taken this long to announce vague shutdowns, stumbling around prioritising corporations rather than providing compassionate or decisive action that would prioritise human life – we need to be proactive about the safety of our communities. Art is, in my humble opinion, the last thing we all should be worrying about. Check in on your neighbours; join a mutual aid group for your area, if there isn’t one already then organise one, we have to make sure the most vulnerable people in society aren’t left to suffer at the hands of a government made up of psychopaths. If you’ve got the time, energy, good health and/or money; donate to a food bank, email/ring up your local food bank asking what they need and find out what they need most, offer your services as a volunteer if it’s going spare. More informally, there are definitely people around you that are elderly, in high-risk categories, with underlying health conditions; they should be avoiding going outside and exposing themselves to this thing, so you can help them by doing a shop, walking their dogs, asking them if they fucking love casserole or curry n making em something (providing that they promise to return your precious tupperware and that you understand hand-washing and basic sanitary food-prep procedure). If you live somewhere where there are loads of young families, offer your artistic advice on craft projects – kids are going to be home for long-stretches of time and potentially bored shitless.

“Art is, in my humble opinion, the last thing we all should be worrying about” – The White Pube 

Degree shows, as enormous public IRL events shouldn’t be carrying on as we know them or as scheduled, for public safety alone. But, I mean, now like think about it right. Are we sure they’re even a good format? Aren’t degree shows super outdated, clunky, stress-inducing, badly-organised, expensive things? I know we’ve had our fair share of backlash from criticising them in the past, but honestly pals, I think now is the time for us to think ~beyond~ the degree show as an inevitability. Degree shows, as we know and love (in our case, tolerate) them, and your ‘successful’ accomplishment of them are dependent on so many things that you don’t just necessarily have at your disposal: time, money, energy and sociability in a rigid ableist sense, space to make and think and fabricate, MORE MONEY. They prioritise the conditions required to exhibit either wall-mounted works (maybe sometimes installations), and overwhelmingly favour the products of individual practice. Because of that there’s often this frantic energy of students wanting to go bigger and better than they’ve ever gone in the past 3-4 years minimum of studio-practice, implicitly encouraging this mad arms race of ‘~who can make the most spectacular, attention-grabbing work, that’ll do the rounds on instagram, burn a hole though ur wallet, require you to nearly break your body and mind to make it~ – and at the end of the day, after all of that, <it might not actually be good art>. This is a chance (a forced chance) to take a long hard look at what a degree show is, what it actually functionally does, and think about how it could do that job better. Even if your degree show is postponed until september, term will still be finished in the summer, and it could be worth thinking through what else is possible as alternative or addition.

Your university could potentially (probably) still be shitty with this; it’s entirely likely that it’s run by awful people that do not give a flying fuck about you, your education, your work, or your best interests – only ur tuition cheques. Your university should be giving youse all a degree show fund to some extent; whether that’s a promise to match your fundraising efforts, a cash incentive for filling in the NSS, or just a box of money they’ve saved for u like a trust fund. Your degree show might be cancelled, but that money, however much it is, should still be yours; make sure they don’t divert it elsewhere, fight for it and make it clear that it will still be put to good use. They also might be in the habit of making dramatic decisions without consulting you. The RCA have taken the decision to move plans entirely online, to a virtual degree show; which is absolutely not what I mean by ‘rethink the degree show format’ lmao. Not only should universities be consulting their students when planning for something that so directly and intimately affects them, they’re also expecting their students to still make work on a degree show scale during a literal pandemic and shutdown. There’s literally no need to make big sweeping decisions without taking the time to ask people what they think is best for them – this is a situation that’s basically unprecedented on this scale, it’s not a matter of following procedure here. An approach like this feels endemic of an academic system that’s inherently ableist; in the same way that adjustments are rarely made for disabled students, the student body as a whole not being consulted or accommodated is a run-on affect of that same ableist operational mode. If your university is making big decisions without your say so, tell them where to fucking go, because you should have a hand in shaping what your degree show alternative looks like

“Your degree show might be cancelled, but that money, however much it is, should still be yours; make sure they don’t divert it elsewhere, fight for it and make it clear that it will still be put to good use” – The White Pube 

In terms of alternatives, there are a few things popping up already that are indicative of action. On instagram there’s @sadgrads2020, a community page to support the uk-wide art skl class of 2020 who’ve had degree show cancellations, as well as the specific course/school specific pages like @sladepainting @csm_bafa @rca_painting @rcasculpture @rcaprint@pee.and.peemaking (painting & printmaking @ gsa lmao). To be clear: I think looking to instagram to act as a substitute or direct replacement will only end up replicating most of the same old degree show issues, but alongside new issues specific to the algorithm. However, these accounts aren’t necessarily doing that, they existed before this pandemic and now students are using them to organise response and action regarding all the potential and real issues I’ve mentioned above.

It could be that this is the year 2020 grads have a community networked entirely online, that transcends the institutions they study in, interconnecting them into a communal conversation despite physical distance in a way that we’ve never really seen before. Maybe all the postponed degree shows in september will be mindfully curated group shows, maybe that could conflate and we could see swaps and collaborations between art students in different art schools. Maybe we could spend this extra time considering what conditions best suit ALL practices; thinking about degree showS, plural. Maybe it’s the addition of a live program to accompany exhibition with events, performances, discussions, screenings etc. Last year we went to the University of Bergen’s MA degree show and they’d hired a LITERAL curator to come curate their work in a LITERAL gallery with a LITERAL events program alongside it, that they PAID GAB to REVIEW – so it’s doable if institutions believe investing those kinda resources in their students is worthwhile. Or maybe in this time of Corona, look to what the rest of the sector is doing to adapt to current conditions with their events and exhibitions, and use them as a model to follow and improve on; Bookworks have started a twitter thread of online/remote art events and projects happening during lockdown that could be worth scraping through for ideas. Think about what’s possible offline too – just because it can’t be a big social IRL moment now, doesn’t mean IRL isn’t an option. If you’ve got the resources, you can put together a literal mailing list of (admittedly a select few) people you want to send literal mail art to, tapping back into a movement that died a bit when the internet took over.

Tbh there are a whole host of ways to work through this, and we should be looking to be led by crip theory and disabled artists, who’ve been dealing with negotiating the limitations of ~traditional exhibition formats~ (shoutout to the social model of disability) for a long time before this crappy virus, and who will continue doing so when we all ~go back to normal~. Maybe we should use this as a time to readjust what normality made us think was ok, and maybe this is not a bad thing for degree shows, or indeed the wider sector; it’s worth thinking about what is possible outside of that normalcy, our expectations of it, and who it excluded. Even if your degree show is postponed, there’s no guarantee everything will be fine by september. If things are going to be shaken up, let’s make sure things fall back in to a more equitable shape.