For any art student, preparing for the degree show is a defining moment that could make the difference between lasting fame and a slow slide into obscurity.
But for one particular student, their lovingly created artwork will be one they must surely be trying to forget.
For, according to a fire service report, it was the cause of the devastating fire that ripped through Glasgow School of Art – designed by renowned artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh more than a century ago – and made headlines across the world.
The undergraduate’s installation involved fastening foam panels on to three walls of a basement studio with another wall left blank to show images from a projector.
On the day of the fire in May, expanding foam from a can was being used to fill in gaps between the panels for “artistic effect”, according to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).
Glasgow School of Art
Glasgow School of Art
1/7 Glasgow School of Art
Fire crews tackle the blaze at the Glasgow School of Art's Charles Rennie Mackintosh Building in May
2/7 Glasgow School of Art
Workers are pictured retrieving student art work from the building after the fire. Firefighters managed to save much of the building's contents, including archives and collections that needed immediate conservation
3/7 Glasgow School of Art
The Charles Rennie Mackintosh building after the fire
4/7 Melissa Maloco, 22, Photography, Studio 32
"This is a reprint of an image that was lost in the fire. There were two works, a pair of images, printed from pieces of film exposed in a couple's mouth as they kissed. The process of kissing, of letting light in, gives quite an abstract image. The negatives were lost in the fire but the printers still had a copy. I felt a real sense of displacement in the days and weeks after. It was so hard to process what had happened. It took me about a month to get back to my work."
5/7 Freya Stockford, 22, Painting and Printmaking, Studio 58
"This is the first piece I made after the fire. I painted it three weeks after. It took a long time to come into fruition because of the mental state I was in at the time. I guess it was to do with moving on. I wanted the work to be fresh and unrelated to the work that had burned. I wanted it to be something new and exciting; it's a new chapter."
6/7 Rob Hodge, 22, Painting and Printmaking, Studio 28
"My work was in the east wing so I lost nothing from there. I had a few pieces in the basement which were badly water-damaged. It feels like, for three or four years, you're building work for this exhibition. It was almost finally resolved and now – even though it survived – it doesn't have a purpose anymore. It's just taking up space. My flat feels like a graveyard for paintings."
7/7 Adam Quinn, 22, Painting and Printmaking, Studio 43
"My final piece consisted of painted deckchairs, a large wall relief, a vacuum-formed lightbox and a large painting. I haven't made any work since. There definitely has been a knock to my confidence. We all lost that platform of the degree show. I've had shows before but never anything with anywhere near the attention the GSA degree show brings."
The blaze started when gases used as a propellant in the can were drawn into the projector by its fan and caught fire, according to a summary of the SFRS report released by the art school. It was likely that the gas ignited “as it passed in and around energised electrical components of the projector”. The foam itself was also “extremely flammable”, the report noted.
The identity of the student has not been revealed, a small mercy for the individual involved. The art school’s director, Professor Tom Inns, was forgiving.
“The fire was an accident and, like any accident, it’s caused by many different factors coming together and conspiring against us on the day,” he said. “There are a huge number of lessons that can be learned and we’ve been working very hard over the last six months on our health and safety procedures, training and so on. We’ve been doing many different things over the summer to learn from the experience.”
The fire spread rapidly from a student exhibition space in studio 19, partly through the original ventilation ducts and because of a large number of timber-lined walls. About a 10th of the world-renowned Grade A-listed building was lost.Reuse content