Creative Dundee

Blog: An Awkward Limbo

Our blog series regularly invites guests to share their thoughts on different aspects of life in Dundee, their own practice, and anything in between.

In this edition, we have DJCAD graduate and analogue photographer Shonagh Kelly. She reflects on a difficult final year at university and tells us about how she stayed connected to her practice and kept up with friends post art school.

After graduating from DJCAD last June, returning home to Northern Ireland due to COVID-19 and then returning to Dundee in January of 2021, I decided to start up a project that would allow me to see some of the people that I usually would’ve seen daily at art school.

Although an aim of the project was to socialise with old friends, my main aim was to give people a moment to reflect on their experience of leaving the comfort of university and giving future students some advice. As we were still in lockdown, I was still able to shoot outside and still socially distance myself so the project was very COVID-19 friendly.

After my own experience of the loss of a degree show and an abrupt end to my university years, I definitely felt like I had something to talk about and that I wouldn’t be the only one. When I started out I just wanted to create a simple project – a portrait and just a few questions.

As we were still in lockdown, I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone with a list of questions, I just wanted to give them the space to reflect on how they’ve been coping. Not only this, I felt that this gave people a reason to leave the house, it definitely made me go out and gave my day some kind of structure and at this point I knew that many people were struggling with going outdoors and socialising.

I definitely feel that having these photographs will give people something to look back on in the future. I look back now at how I went through the end of my time at art school and feel quite proud of my strength and I’m hoping these subjects can do the same when they look at those photographs of themselves.

There were many mixed feelings with how the university handled the pandemic and I understood every side of the argument. I myself spent hundreds on my degree show and all I could do for it was to scan a couple of negatives and forget about any form of physical show. The whole time was demoralising and since speaking with people recently the 2020 graduate year group have been referred to as the ones who ‘got it the worst.’ 

The title of the series, ‘An Awkward Limbo’ is something I settled on, it’s definitely not a title I’m happy with – I usually never am but I think it describes the transition of leaving art school and existing in a world absent of any tutors, deadlines or SAAS. 

As time went by I was taking portraits of current students as well as artists who had graduated 2+ years previous. I decided then that 2021 students could share their current experiences and those who had graduated years previous could give advice on what helped them when they left university. 

Although the project has been put on pause currently due to it being unfunded along with lockdown ending, I definitely hope that I helped some artists with what they were going through and hopefully in the future they can look back in hindsight and feel proud of how far they’ve come. 


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