MAstars 2012: Katherine Dolman, MA Fine Art and Education

MAstars 2012: Katherine Dolman, MA Fine Art and Education Katherine Dolman, Untitled, 2011. Installation. Various dimensions

Emily Marsden selects Katherine Dolman from the Northumbria University for MAstars

The MA Fine Art and Education is a new MA run in conjunction with NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design) and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, designed specifically for practising artist educators. In a strong show, in which Siobhan Vernall's endlessly creative reinterpretations of everyday objects also stood out, Katherine Dolman's complex video installations were particularly striking.

Dolman describes her work as using 'a visual vocabulary of emotions and childhood experiences' to explore ideas around 'the reverence of childhood, centred within the beliefs of society'. In one untitled installation, the room is dominated by library shelves of children's books for various ages: Treasuries of Verse, Mr Majieka, Roald Dahl novels, Roger Lancelyn Green’s Robin Hood, Ian Seraillier’s The Silver Sword (a book that haunted me as a child). The pleasurable familiarity – at least for anyone who loved books when they were young – is somewhat undercut, however, by teacher training college stickers on many of the books, marking them out as 'official', edifying, adult-approved culture.

This ambiguity is increased by four small video projections glimpsed through gaps in the shelves, in which various hands amend, add to, deface or ultimately obliterate pages from children's books. In one, a hand scrawls a very adolescent drawing of a phallus in black felt tip pen on the pages of a dictionary, together with the legend 'this is gay', raising uneasy questions about young people’s interpretation and use of supposedly 'adult' knowledge. In another, illustrated pages from a rather anodyne story are 'improved' with fantastical additions and the explanatory text 'THAT IS WHY NINJAS ARE PRO!', perhaps more reflective of the imaginary world of children now. In a third, an illustration is coloured in, obscured, then torn and reconfigured into a plausible approximation of a modernist collage, then destroyed again in turn, a childish drawing of a sun painted over it.

Dolman's immersive installations locate the viewer firmly in the world of childhood memory and imagination, of familiarity and disquiet. In a second piece, hands painting over a book illustration before laying a sheet of paper over the top to make a print are projected onto an old-fashioned desk top. Here, the physical relationship between the projection and the spectator firmly identifies the viewer him or herself with the creative/destructive presence evident in the work. At a time when the very idea of the book has been called into question by digital technology, the artist cleverly uses digital technology to focus on the book as a material object. As well as confronting old taboos surrounding the defacement of books, Dolman's work investigates this tension between creativity and destruction and the visual and the verbal; between passive reception and imaginative recreation, and culture as handed down by adults and interpreted by children.

Selected by Emily Marsden
Published January, 2012

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