Building up curiosity: the LJMU Fine Art MA

What do you look for in an MA? Conversation, critique, contact time and inspirational tutors, say artists studying and teaching Fine Art at LJMU … 

Wandering around the new labyrinthine project spaces at The Royal Standard last week, we were impressed by an ambitious group show. This was Tapped, an exhibition by seven fine art students, part way through their two-year part-time MA at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). The former BT call centre – magnolia chipped walls, grey carpets and spongy ceiling tiles all present and correct – were invaded by sculpture, video, painting and print; little interventions popping up in old offices, kitchens and toilets, enhancing the space’s quirks, and a refreshing change from the white walled spaces we’re more familiar with.

It was the perfect playground for these developing artists. The postgraduate course that they’re part of, recently launched following major re-structure at the university’s Liverpool School of Art and Design, has been formed in collaboration with Liverpool Biennial, FACT and Tate Liverpool. Utilising its place in a collaborative arts city, the university has fostered partners ranging from the small (The Royal Standard) to the large (Van Abbemuseum), and this is having a direct, welcome effect on the students.

“The Masters in Fine Art has undergone something of an overhaul over the last year,” reflects Programme Leader, and instigator, John Bryne. “As well as having new high profile research staff such as Imogen Stidworthy and Rosalind Nashashibi working on the Programme (and bringing in fresh ideas), the MA is more embedded within the world of current international contemporary art practice.”

A successful £5 million European bid means that LJMU, through the ‘Uses of Art’ research project, is currently planning a heap of student opportunities to work alongside major international institutions such as MACBA (Barcalona), Reina Sofia (Madrid) and Salt (Istanbul).

Talking with the students and staff during Tapped, however, it becomes very clear that the real appeal of a good masters degree is in the small touches.

Lucy Somers, an artist exploring painting and installation, was one of our ‘graduates to watch’ from last year’s degree show. “On the MA so far it’s been a really exciting sort of dream team… it’s a really tight-knit, small group, and we’ve been able to really investigate each other’s work … we’ve been able to delve into lots of pieces of writing and fragments of work that extend thoughts and discussion in deep detail.”

“It’s a really tight-knit, small group, and we’ve been able to really investigate each other’s work”

We wonder why she chose to continue straight from BA to MA, rather than take a year out, or go somewhere else?

“I think I made such a leap with my degree show piece, which I hadn’t really made in such a succinct way before in my work, feeling the buzz with that I wanted to keep running. Also the MA was just being formed and re-written … and that’s been a really defining feature of the course, restructured and designed to purpose, it’s been just amazing from a pedagogical aspect; just thinking about how you want to learn and how you want to discuss things.”

Practising artist and tutor Rosalind Nashashibi has recently taken students to see her shortlisted work within the Northern Art Prize (see our review here), and believes the key to an inspiring postgrad course lies within the size of the group, and leading by example.

“It’s about exposure, building up curiosity and building up a small group who are able to impact on each other’s work”

“We’re going to keep it to a small group of students who have built up a real strong bond between them … it’s a very discursive MA. It’s about exposure, building up curiosity and building up a small group who are able to impact on each other’s work. Imogen and I are both practicing artists, and we use our own research … We think the most valid way of teaching is through the example of artists practice.”

Sculptor and mixed media artist Tori Hannah Walker concurs. “Both Imogen and Rosalind are really good at what they do … all of the different pools of information that they bring us and all of the ways that they get us to either display or talk, it is very much a self-critical two years; it’s understanding how we are going to be in the future.”

A potentially detrimental part of the course is the fact that there is currently no studio space for the MA students, which is to be rectified come September. Tutor and multimedia artist Imogen Stidworthy, previousy of Jan van Eyck Academy and Academy for Applied Arts Vienna, has been able to turn the situation into a positive.

“It’s so important that it’s not just a theoretical experience”

“Because they haven’t got a studio, it’s so important to find ways of making work and [combined with] the physical relation of viewing your work … it’s too easy for the course to become purely discursive when there’s no studio space. To try to counter that potential problem, because it’s so important that it’s not just a theoretical experience, we’ve made these opportunities where they can show work together … intensively for three or four days, discuss, go and have studio visits to their own studios … to find ways to keep in touch with each others work.”

The addition of studio space for masters students at the Art and Design Academy, as well as access to all workshops, switched-on staff and discussion time, is just part of the nurturing atmosphere the Liverpool School of Art and Design is eager to foster.

“At the end of the day, we want to make the MA Fine Art a great experience for our students,” adds Byrne, “and also a hub of activity that will help the level of art practice in Liverpool to continue growing.” Amen to that.

More on LJMU Fine Art MA

See MA student Cahal Ague’s latest commissioned artwork at Sticks and Stones, Weds 29 May 2013, as part of Writing on the Wall festival

Tell us what do YOU look for in an MA – are you a current or potential postgrad student? Where are you studying or looking to study? Give us your comments below…

Posted on 13/05/2013 by thedoublenegative