In these trying times of deadlines with the threat of exam season looming on the desolate horizon, look to future summer days, where the earth breathes green and blue, and we are unshackled from the stresses of the Candlemas semester. Prepare for the end of the academic year with a curated art starter pack, themed on our forthcoming sense of sweet, perhaps even sultry, release. These recommendations will encourage us to reflect upon our past year at university and subsequently look to our resolutely uncertain futures.
To begin, I present you with Margaret Atwood’s highly erotic poem ‘Cicadas’ from her latest poetry collection, Dearly. Dedicated to her late partner, Graeme, Dearly is Atwood’s first poetry collection in 10 years, and, appropriately, looks to the past as well as ruminating on themes of mortality and the passage of time. Just as Mr Cicada ‘after nine years/ of snouting through darkness/ [...] inches up scarred bark’ to ‘cut loose the yammer of desire’, us students must yearn for our freedom from MMS loading screens and look forward to our own wild cries of relief as we submit our last pieces of work. Soon we will sunbathe in ‘the hot sun, searing, all day long,/ in a month that has no name’ and, ‘admit it’, there’s something deliciously sensual about having no academic commitments.
More on sensual release, take a look at France-Lise McGurn’s stirring artwork, Bachelorette. McGurn is a Glasgow-based artist whose atmospheric practice is key in transporting the viewer into intimate spaces such as her bedroom or even her mind. There is an immediacy in McGurn’s work, especially in her free- hand application of paint. Indeed, the artist often produces installations, utilising large spaces and moving outwith the literal and metaphorical picture frame. In Bachelorette there is no set story to be told but rather a dramatic and sensual mood is evoked. This urgent style reminds us of our own impatience for the end of the academic year and, equally, the fleeting nature of our time at university. McGurn’s Bachelorette is currently on display at the Scottish National Gallery (Modern One) in Edinburgh.
For a moment of self-reflection and a tender delve into the university experience, watch Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America. Starring Lola Kirke as Tracy, an innocent college freshman in New York, struggling to make friends and beginning to doubt her high expectations of university life; her character exemplifies the tenuous grasp young students can have on their sense of self. Equally, Greta Gerwig dazzles in her role as Brooke, a charismatic shirker of responsibility and Tracy’s soon-to-be step-sister. Mistress America follows Tracy and Brooke’s complicated relationship and witnesses the characters’ respective metamorphoses as they come to piece together their identities. The film may serve as a poetic parallel to some of our own experiences. Arriving at university for the first time can often cause us to question who we are, whilst through the rearview mirror, we watch our childhood selves shrink to specks on the horizon.
For the literary representative in our starter pack, I have chosen Jeffrey Eugenides’ seminal work, The Marriage Plot. Beginning at Brown University (a college which some claim to be the University of St Andrews’ American counterpart) in 1982, the novel follows Madeleine, a horribly romantic, final year English student, writing her thesis on the authors of the great marriage plots, Austen and Eliot. The text, both a love story and a bildungsroman, sees Madeleine’s life converge with that of Leonard, a bright scientist and magnetic loner, and Mitchell, a theology student and man searching for meaning. As all three characters depart from the safety of Brown’s stuffy lecture theatres and embark upon their adult lives, Eugenides explores what it means to be young and idealistic.
The anthem of our transition from university into the sunburnt unknown? ‘This Is the Day,’ a 1983 single written by Matt Johnson, lead singer of the English post-punk band The The. The song is the perfect soundtrack to our struggles during exam season with lyrics like “you didn’t wake up this morning ‘cause you didn’t go to bed/ You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red. Conversely, the song promises change and new beginnings after reflecting upon “those days;” an ambiguous past perhaps, but nonetheless fittingly relatable. So, I urge you, listen to ‘This Is the Day’, “smile and think how much you’ve changed.”