Once a year, the Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury (UC) opens the doors of its studios, inviting the public to roam the buildings and spaces, enjoying a rich variety of artworks displayed tantalisingly for less than a week in November.
There are prizes, although no-one envies the judges the Herculean task of choosing just three winners from among a wide range of painting, sculpture, photography, graphic design, film and mixed media artworks. This year, Te Puna o Waiwhetū Christchurch Art Gallery’s newest curator, Melanie Oliver, met the judging challenge to select Madeleine Ashcroft, Issy Van Der Leden and Isabel ‘Izzy’ Wadeson-Lee as the winners.
Ashcroft won with Cross work, an acrylic on rewoven canvas; Van Der Leden with Cabin Fever, a video installation; and Wadeson-Lee with if by dull times, our english must be chained, a sculptural installation comprising forged steel chains, draped cloth and video projection.
The time spent at art school is formative, Oliver says: “The history of Ilam graduates is studded with stars, but often the most exciting times are those when there are a bunch of students on the same wavelength, who encouraged, critiqued and supported each other to make their best work.
“As the Director of the Physics Room Contemporary Art Space from 2012 to 2016, I engaged with many of the students around this time who were part of the gallery community as participants, volunteers and budding artists. Some of these artists now have burgeoning careers that draw on the politics, creativity and critical thinking that they gathered thought the unique teaching and culture at Ilam.”
The exhibition was a testament to the “fortitude and resilience” of the School of Fine Arts staff and students at the end of a challenging and remarkable year, UC Head of Fine Arts Associate Professor Aaron Kreisler says.
“What became clear to me over the course of this year, was the strength of our collective ability to respond to this challenge, to think and operate in ways that recognised the situation we all faced, while also showing great facility to continue to create engaging and challenging contemporary art and design practice.
“It is this willingness to keep going in spite of the tenuousness of our everyday reality, which has really made this a remarkable year.”
Select ’20 is the 12th such award and is open to final-year undergraduate or postgraduate students. Winners receive $2000 prize money and their artworks become part of the UC Art Collection.
UC holds one of the largest and most impressive tertiary collections of artworks in the country, with over 5000 pieces, including 32 works from previous Select winners. In this way, graduating students are included in the public collection, however, all students who exhibit contribute to the richness of art practice in Ōtautahi Christchurch.