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An Awkward Limbo

Tues. 23rd March 2021

Photos: Shonagh Kelly

Words: Shonagh Kelly

I decided to return to Dundee in January due to having no creative scene at home, I’m  from a small countryside town and the only thing creative there is the arrangement of hay  bales in the fields nearby. Nonetheless, when I returned to Dundee I really wanted to practice  my portraiture skills and so I asked a few people via my Instagram if they were up for a socially  distanced portrait session. Through this I realised I really wanted to document my peers during this time where we are starting out as artists or in the midst of our art degrees – an awkward purgatory. I really want those who I shoot to look back at these portraits in the future as a way of seeing how they felt at such a challenging time. 

An Awkward Limbo

Shonagh Kelly shares a collection of portraits from her new series, capturing art school students, and recent graduates from such institutions, discussing how they are managing their circumstances, inspiration and thoughts for the future.​

The first of Shonagh's Front Left features highlights three Dundee based artists, pairing film portraits with reflections and track picks...

Pris Lemons

SK: What do you feel you have learned since leaving Art school?  

PL: It sounds corny but, the learning didn't stop. I moved countries and started studying art  because I felt something was missing in my practice and myself. Art school gave me briefs and  directions to explore but since leaving an environment that I had this rapid fire development  with others in, I realised it didn't stop - it slowed down. That's scary not seeing the same rate  of progress as I used to. Feeling thrown into the open with all these half touched interests and  skills was intimidating as well but I've learned to just keep going and create that beneficial environment within myself.

Kirsty Robertson


SK: What do you think your Art school could have done better to prepare you for leaving?

KR: A close friend said something to me that gave me a huge wakeup call - ‘You have to make  your own opportunities.’ I think when at art school, they discussed the benefits of having a  general online presence and a professional looking website etc. but I think what this pandemic  has shown is just how incredible a resource online platforms are not just to showcase your  work but to get yourself interacting with like-minded people and doing things such as starting  your own collective or magazine, curating your own online exhibition, or starting your own  talk series etc. I think people will always want to get involved with these and it’s great for  personal and professional networking. Of course, everyone works differently, and it might not  be everyone’s cup of tea to be on the organising end but even then you can then get involved  in other ways as well! I think it’s a great little mantra to get you motivated. 

SK: How has your practice changed in the past year?

M: In the last year I’ve definitely been more willing to pursue my own ideas rather than what I  think is right. I think I’ve just thrown caution to the wind at this point since just about  everything has gone tits up.

SK: How do you feel the university has performed in respect to delivering a positive learning  experience?

M: If I’m totally honest it’s been abysmal, I’ve felt pretty hung out to dry by the uni. That’s not necessarily the staffs fault, I don’t know how anyone could prepare for a situation like this but it really feels like we’ve been made to just suck it up and deal with it. I’m lucky I can continue my practice almost exclusively digitally but it’s brutal on a lot of folk who just can’t.

If there’s anything I want people to take away from this series is to see how varied people’s experiences have been with both the artworld and the universities that individuals have attended. It’s been a difficult time for us artists both financially and creatively – but despite this many inspiring things have been made. Check out the artist’s I’ve featured and support them in whatever way you can – as for me I’m just bobbling along trying to find money to buy film and eating as much broccoli as possible: Tenderstem, always.

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