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RCA Arts & Humanities Talk: Introducing What's Next? Series with Brian Dillon, Johnny Golding, Peter Oakley, Victoria Walsh

3 October 2018

Battersea, Gorvy Lecture Theatre

The School of Arts & Humanities School-wide Unit introduces students to a diverse range of perspectives, approaches and practices relevant to contemporary practice and thought. The delivery is devised to help students identify and query their own practices and disciplinary assumptions through encounters with others and within the various practices undertaken by students in School, and to raise awareness around such contemporary concerns as gender, identity, ethnicity, access, appropriation and post-colonial discourses.

Talks Programme & What’s Next?

The talks programme will combine ‘What’s Next?’, a series of six panel discussions developed with the Design and Artist Copyright Society (DACS) and touching on areas relevant to professional development and the operations of the broader cultural economy, with talks delivered by relevant practitioners who will broaden the debate and discussion by articulating specific positions and approaches. 

Professor Victoria Walsh on the Role of the Institution in Culture: Touching on Regeneration

17 October, 4–5.30pm 

Although the 19th-century idea of the ‘cultural institution’ is near exhaustion in the west, the idea of ‘institution’ is flourishing in the form of monumental new museums and galleries being built in the emerging art markets of China and the Middle East. What new role and thinking are these 21st institutions generating today and can they support creative thinking and practice? Should museums aim to be agents of social, cultural and economic change (nationally and internationally) or cherished repositories of cultural histories and artefacts? Are bricks and mortar key to the idea and function of the ‘institution', or is the internet redefining and fostering more dynamic, creative and powerful new forms of cultural organisation and production? Whose interests does the ‘cultural institution’ serve?

Victoria Walsh is Professor of Art History and Curating at the Royal College of Art. She is a curator and active researcher whose projects span from the post-war period to the contemporary with a particular focus on interdisciplinary collaborations between artists, architects and designers; performance art and its documentation; the reconstruction of exhibitions; practices and histories of gallery education and audiences; issues of curating in relation to the digital, hypermodernity and globalisation. 

Professor Walsh led on the reconstruction of Richard Hamilton’s 1951 exhibition Growth and Form for the Tate Modern/Museo Reina Sofia major retrospective of the artist’s work in 2014. She also co-curated with Claire Zimmerman the research display Brutalist Image 1949–1955,  at Tate Britain in October 2014. In addition, she is Co-investigator of the major Tate research project Art School Educated: Institutional Change and Curriculum Development in the UK since 1960 (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) and a member of Tate’s Research Centre The Art Museum and Its Future. 

ProfessorJohnny Golding on Distributed Intelligences & the Technosphere

14 November, 4–5.30pm

At a time when ecologies of the everyday shape-shift into distributed intelligences (artificial or otherwise), where derivative futures enable mass dystopic hells whilst simultaneously promising smooth passage for those ‘in the know’, this panel reassesses one of the most troubling folds in contemporary art, technology, and the wild sciences today: namely, the troubling fold called ‘post-truth’. Taking its cues from recent debates around dimensional plurality, non-locality and other spacetime blackhole ghosts – not to mention the rise of the global technospherics, drone consciousness, strategic populisms – we will play with (and against) the technologies of flesh, consciousness, atmosphere, dataloam and dirt. In so doing, the age-old question of ‘what does it mean to be human, and what can this humanity become’ raises its manifold mouth to speak.

Professor Johnny Golding is a philosopher and poet. Her research covers the entangled dimensions of Radical Matter, an intra-disciplinary arena of contemporary art, philosophy and the wild sciences – installed on the playing fields of electronic/digital poetics, logics of sense, and contemporary physics. Internationally renowned for her philosophy-poetics books, enactments, installations and sound-scape exhibitions, her current research encompasses distributed intelligence, drone consciousness, and the cunning of debt. She is Senior Tutor in Research in the RCA's School of Arts & Humanities. 

Dr Brian Dillon on Criticism & Approaches to the Understanding of Culture(s)

28 November, 4–5.30pm

This panel will examine the role of criticism as an act (among other things) of translation between cultures, and discuss the political, intellectual, personal and formal responsibilities that entails. Art criticism was once assumed to be written or spoken on behalf of a relatively stable public; the critic’s role was to overcome the distance between the work of art and that public. No such unified public exists today, and likely never existed. What are the factors currently in play when as critics, publishers, translators and teachers we attempt to write and speak across cultures?

Dr Brian Dillon is a writer and critic, and UK editor of Cabinet magazine. He is the author of several books of criticism, fiction, memoir and creative nonfiction. He contributes regularly to art magazines, newspapers and journals in the UK, USA and Ireland.

Dillon studied English and Philosophy at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, before completing a PhD in English at the University of Kent in 1999. His thesis was on conceptions of time in twentieth-century literary criticism and theory, and dealt primarily with the work of Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Paul de Man, Jean-François Lyotard and Giorgio Agamben. He taught in the School of English at Kent until 2004, when he became a full-time freelance writer.

Mark Waugh from Design and Artist Copyright Society: Where Does Money Come From & Where Does It Go?

Issues of Public Funding and Other Sources of Funding

30 January, 4–5.30pm 

Dr Peter Oakley on How to Deal with Material: Around Ethical Sources & Materials

27 February, 4–5.30pm

For the vast majority of creative practitioners, working with physical materials in some form remains a fundamental part of their practice. Many specialist disciplines, such as ceramics, glass, and goldsmithing, are actually defined by their respective materials. Others, including jewellery, operate around a hierarchy of established materials that practitioners have to consciously choose to adopt or reject. Whilst sculptural practice has long moved beyond the dominance of marble and bronze, sculptors still have to engage with embodiment in some form or process. The lack of any stable material cannon in contemporary sculpture actually means that the selection of a material (or adoption of immateriality as a feature of the work) has now assumed far more direct importance in its own right.  

In addition, in today’s world, the sources of many once apparently abundant materials are either reaching a state of exhaustion, or their exploitation is now known to be having unforeseen and dramatic consequences. The need to restrict, or even completely prohibit, the use of once valued or commonplace materials, from coral and ivory to asbestos and plastics, and demands to switch to more sustainable or supposedly safer alternatives, have, in numerous cases, become the subject of fierce debate. The rise of ethical certification programmes, claiming secure and justifiable provenance for materials as varied as diamonds, leather and tropical hardwoods, bears witness to these relatively new but pressing concerns.

This panel will discuss what practitioners making work in the 21st century can, and should, be aware of and how this knowledge might inform their practice. Reflecting on the symbolic power of art as a cultural medium, and its indirect influence on general behaviour, what freedoms and responsibilities do high-profile artists and the wider creative industries have towards their and other societies and the local and global environment? 

Dr Peter Oakley leads, contributes to, or oversees externally funded research projects in the School of Arts & Humanities, as well as supervising PhD students and supporting the development and review of staff grant applications. Dr Oakley is a specialist in material culture, with a specific interest in making and manufacturing. His current research interests include the social identities of prestige materials and luxury goods, the development and impact of ethical and sustainable material sourcing programmes, contemporary uses of traditional craft techniques, the introduction and exploitation of innovative manufacturing processes and the management and presentation of industrial heritage sites.