MELISSA Tutin has blisters all over her hands. They are, she says, proof she has been suffering for her art.
More specifically, perhaps, they are proof she has spent the last week filling more than 300 black balloons with helium before floating them in the narrow fire exit of a gallery.
“Each one represents the soul of a deceased person,” says the 21-year-old. “I’m exploring the separation of the physical and spiritual, and the grief which results from that.”
She thinks for a second.
“But, yeah, my hands are half ruined. Balloons are a bugger to tie up when there’s that many.”
Ah, welcome to Sheffield’s annual Creative Spark exhibition – the summer showcase of installations produced by more than 70 final year fine art and creative art students from Hallam University.
Although, a word of warning, if you come expecting paintings and pastel pieces, you’re probably in the wrong place.
For here, across two venues – S1 Artspace in Trafalgar Street and Arundel Gate Court – you will find everything from a mini gay club to meat models made from sweets and paths made of coal, from a book shelf that’s upside down to a greenhouse which has no plants, and the film King Kong playing on loop day after day after day. But there’s not many oil paintings.
“Hang on, there are some,” says Penny McCarthy, fine arts course leader. “There’s self portraits, pictures of Lady Gaga and some landscapes but the thing about artists at this age is they are still developing and experimenting so you also get a real mix of disciplines and end results.
“This exhibition has a real sense of fun about it – the work is lively and creative and unique – and I think we’ve been extremely lucky because this year group is one of the best we’ve ever had come through at the university. I feel certain there is work on show here by people who will go on to be real high flyers in the art world.”
Certainly, it seems Melissa, from Calow near Chesterfield, might just be one of those.
Despite blistered hands and the fact the odd balloon or two has made a break for freedom by floating off into another part of the Arundel Gate Court gallery, the piece has won the prestigious Sarah Beck Memorial Prize for innovative sculpture work.
Moreover, it was so popular with one visitor she walked away with a balloon.
“That was quite funny,” says Melissa. “I don’t know if they knew it was an art piece but I like the idea of people interacting with the work so it was quite nice to see. I didn’t stop her taking it anyway.”
One thing viewers won’t be walking away with, however, is Michael Mitchell’s installation.
He’s built a mini gay club within the gallery complete with red lights, empty glasses and surreal photos – although not a note of music.
“It’s about addressing gay sexuality in humanity,” says the 21-year-old, of Broad Street, Sheffield. “It is attempting to reflect the contagious lifestyle in gay culture and the repercussions of that.”
How does he think it will get marked?
“I’m not sure,” he says. “Well, I hope.”
There’s more than 70 other students hoping the same thing – and it’s all well worth a look.
Creative Spark runs until June 25. Students in other subjects – including engineering, fashion and journalism – are displaying work in other venues across the city. Details at www.shu.ac.uk/creativespark