Exhibition review Hatched: Healthway National Graduate Show 97 Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth WA

In its sixth year the National Graduate Exhibition at PICA fulfilled the expectancy of its title, Hatched by presenting a compelling array of work by emergent artists from across the nation. While the initiative to showcase graduate art is a worthy one, it can be a treacherous premise for an exhibition, given the potential for disparity of selections and inconceivable disjunctions of the work. Equally these characteristics can prove energising. The energy in Hatched, however, emanated from something less tangible; the harnessing of the tension and assertion in that transition zone between being a student and being an artist. Much of the work on show possessed the resolve and concomitant engagement which comes of committed studio practice.

A conservatism was apparent in an overall conformity to established means but the restraint and interpretative quality brought to their works by many of the graduates was refreshing. Thirteen institutions were represented by forty-three graduates. When considered as a cross-section of commonalities, the raising of consciousness dominated; other issues explored were surveillance, corporatism, intercultural transaction, consumerism and environmental fragility.

Cy O'Neill managed to tinge wryness with poignancy in an ensemble of gingham and emu feathers accompanied in the catalogue with a staged photograph and the question "Rushing furiously into the future.... where are we going and how expensive is the journey?" Minka Gillian raised not one but a multitude of questions with her parade of Effigies, their reference to Pacific Islander and African objects acknowledged. The figures, obsessively constructed from flax and hair, were paradoxical and perplexing in their atavism and their currency. Less burdened, although highly charged, were installations by Sam Collins, Philip Gamblen, Jade Ariel Oakley and Marcus Canning. These variously incorporated video, laser beams and wire, drawing, air, water, and sound. Jane Finlay found poetic perception in a mass of black plastic straws wedged into a doorway. Painting, photography, industrial design, printmaking, multi-media and ceramics were all exploited, confirming the breadth of materials and practices which contemporary students continue to embrace.

In an era of funding cuts and restructuring in the education sector it is reassuring that artists of distinction surface, although at what cost in personal and institutional terms we cannot know from the seamlessness of a graduate exhibition of select students. The gradual decline in the number of art schools participating in this annual exhibition has been attributed to the funding crisis. This is possible, if not through actual costs, through the comparative evaluation by management bodies of the means of best returns for outlay and the most relevant emphasis within overall operations. If this is the choice that is made then it is disappointing for aspiring artists and their schools not to have the opportunity for professional exposure in what has become a marker on the arts calendar.