I have seen a lot of amazing A Level artwork over the years (in my role as a teacher, curriculum co-ordinator and, now, writer for the Student Art Guide), but it has been a long time since I have encountered a project as inspirational as this.
Completed by Luca L, as part of the Singapore-Cambridge GCE Higher-2 Level (the equivalent of A2 Art & Design) at Nanyang Junior College in 2009, this Coursework project has none of the formulaic development, superficial themes or awkward realism that is prevalent in so many A Level Art submissions. With beautiful integration of media: exploration that morphs seamlessly from painting to photography to sculpture and back again (while still allowing the development of expertise in a chosen field of study), Dark Matter reminds us how an A Level Art project should be.
Luca’s project began with an investigation into several interconnected themes: birth-death-rebirth; the illusory nature of sense perception and the material world (explored through different mediums: acrylic, water-colours, water-coloured pencils, pastels, charcoal, ink, collage), before finally culminating in a mixed-media installation that explores the ‘inevitable distances between people‘. William Blake’s illustrations and the expressive, melodramatic, romantic paintings of the French Revolution by Eugene Delacroix were referenced.
Luca describes her Coursework project below:
I began my exploration based on the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. At the very beginning my exploration involved Op-Art (Optical Illusion art). The simultaneity of these images felt like a fitting vehicle to address the simultaneity of (re)birth within death. Influenced by Shakespeare’s King Lear, I briefly pursued the notion of material life as fleeting and illusory, rendered through symbolic drawings of carnival figures – clowns and horses. The end of this illusion would give birth to the True nature of things. To reiterate the frailty of the human body, I experimented with paper clay to create contorted, broken figures resembling those of Pompeii.
Although I eventually abandoned this concept (too didactic and religious), through-lines from my exploration emerged in my final concept. These elements were the notion of representational illusiveness and well as motifs of creation and destruction. The attenuated aesthetic of the clay figure also emerged in the truncated and distorted figures in the final drawing. My working style was chaotic, unplanned, but intense. There was a very strong, intuitive undercurrent that guided me.
I wanted my work to be a gesture towards the delusion of certainty we have towards our most intimate relations while tackling notions of representation, realism and portraiture in art – ideologies geared towards representing some stable ‘Truth’. What I wanted to emphasise is the indeterminacy in interpersonal relations. There is the sense that trying to know someone is like chasing after a ghost, and all I can be acquainted with is their after-image, their shadow, which is in itself amorphous, elusive. Figures merge with others and are at points blown-up, distorted, or thinly decipherable.
I often find myself thinking of people through pre-acquainted others as reference points. Hence, people are echoes of other people, echoes of my self (what I witness and encounter, never the full being in the space and time), and what I narrate after the event.
My work isn’t wholly solipsistic however – there are moments of illumination. The visual dichotomy of darkness and light are aligned with the dialectic between unknowability and momentary insight. Pictorially, these are configured within the faces frozen in spotlight. They emerge from an indecipherable tumble of bodies. The moments are what we hold on to, and I wanted that to be felt by the audience looking at the work. Their eyes would shift to ‘make out things’, hold fast to certainties, and in many parts be engulfed and confronted by sheer blackness, unknowingness (in part due to the ‘v’ configuration of the walls the artwork was installed upon). I wanted the audience’s visual interaction or hermeneutic reading of the work to embody that shifting uncertainty, and articulate the moments of security.
I worked with a mix of reference to photographs and planned layouts, while sometimes rendering as I pleased, with my mind and whims towards a particular figure as the only reference point (a gesture towards surreal automatism). The process of creation was akin to chasing an after-image, the pinning down of images after the thing itself has ‘happened’. In that sense the work encapsulates the struggle of representing others in relation with the self.
I named the work ‘Dark Matter’ because of the symbolic currency the term has in encapsulating the unknown that comprises most of the universe. This estrangement of the familiar is exactly what my work is about. Like the dense unknowable substance of dark matter, people are elusive ideas that are constantly evolving and evade concrete definition, rendering full intimacy with another human being virtually impossible. These are the inevitable distances between us.
– Luca L
An intelligent and articulate young woman (with a vocabulary that will leave most students reeling in awe) Luca was a recipient of the Singapore Ministry of Education Art Elective Scholarship for 2008 and 2009. Dark Matter was awarded an ‘A’ grade (the highest result available in Singapore, where percentage marks are not revealed) and went on to place Gold in the 2010 Singapore Youth Festival Arts and Crafts Exhibition at Singapore Art Museum. Her work provides inspiration for teachers and students alike.
The following video showcases Luca’s Coursework project:
If you wish to see more examples of outstanding student artwork, please view our Featured Art Projects.
Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.