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Becoming: RCA Artists Explore How to Exist in the Digital Age

An exhibition of new photographic and digital artworks by 17 international RCA students opens today in the RCA's Dyson Gallery in Battersea, with artworks addressing the theme of becoming, both in terms of ‘becoming a sustainable artist’ and ‘becoming a collector’. Emerging from the students’ exploratory and research-led practices, many of the works also explore ideas of identity, whether that be expressed through performance, looking at the impact of political regimes, examining how we interact with our environment or what it means to be an artist.

This is the second year that the RCA has partnered with contemporary photographic art gallery Subject Matter and digital art platform Sedition to present an exhibition of students’ work. The artists have been selected from the College’s Schools of Fine Art and Communication, and the works are available to purchase in limited editions. The proceeds will be donated to the RCA’s Fine Art Bursary Fund, to support current and future students.

Highlights from the exhibition include photographs taken from one of Isobel Smith’s performances, which showcase the artist’s research into the process of capturing the essence of a performance. ‘This photographic image is a still taken from a live performance using my body, a blanket, camera, projector and computer,’ Smith explained. ‘Movements and actions were made in response to the image projected live, with the aim of exploring and blurring the boundaries of what is familiar and what is “other”. It personifies the act of becoming: becoming familiar and becoming “other”, and everything in-between.’

My Imaginary Friend by Siliang Ma also explores portraiture and self-expression as performance. ‘My Imaginary Friend is a re-examination of my former portraiture practice, in which a personal identity is performed or idealised in front of the lens’ Ma explained. ‘In this work I instead constructed a purely fictional figure who reflected my political concerns with the role of the individual and his condition under China’s authoritarian rule. To me, the process of visualising a subject is also a process to re-examine reality.’

Louis Schreyer explores the links between political ideologies and their architectural manifestations in his photograph Sin Pena. ‘Sin Pena is an exploration of socialism, Cuban history and the current political and social situation,’ Schreyer explained. ‘It questions whether socialism or capitalism can be seen as a path to happiness; particularly the breed of socialism to which Fidel Castro’s ideals belonged, which is rapidly becoming extinct.’

Our complex and self-reflexive relationship with nature is addressed by several works such as Cheng-Hsu Chung’s playful Mountain Quintet No. 3 and Gabriel Kenny-Ryder’s Shinjuku, Tokyo. ‘My photographic series Human: Mountain Quintet shows how emotions from nature and the human merge and strike a sympathetic resonance to each other,’ Chung explained. Kenny-Ryder’s photographic series presents crowded compositions of natural forms that, ‘create a wildness that disturbs the balance of nature. These images are designed to provoke a feeling of immersion in the viewer, taking them away from the gallery space and into the apparent chaos of the scene.’

The equally effective, strange and tense Might Pop by Bee Chee Chang features a bulging balloon held above a sharp object. It is from a series which Chang explains is inspired by self-doubt and ‘conveys the anxiety that I have to confront whenever I imagine myself as an artist. Through this anxiety, I deliver a suggestion to myself and to other art students that one should be brave enough to stay vulnerable within the world in order to fully become an artist, because an artist is someone who reflects the world through his or her subjectivity and creativity.’

Subject Matter and Sedition act as alternatives to the traditional art market, with artists at their core. They take an open and inclusive approach, building long-term relationships with artists and offering collectors the chance to acquire contemporary art and design in an affordable and sustainable way. In taking part in the exhibition the students are offered insights into how they might continue to be as artists when leaving the RCA.

Alongside the opportunity to present their work, students will also take part in a series of workshops led by Subject Matter that explore the professional challenges facing the art world today – such as the growing online art industry, developing their own profile, managing exhibitions and pricing work.

Subject Matter have also organised a series of public talks in parallel to the exhibition that focus on the future of the art-market and aim to inspire the buyers and collectors of the future. The third in this series of talks takes place on 27 February at the RCA and will consider the future of art and collecting. Juan Cruz, Dean of the School of Fine Art will moderate a panel consisting of Rory Blain, Director of Sedition; artist David Blandy; Founder of Art Tactic Anders Petterson; and Mel Jordan, Head of Contemporary Art Practice. Further details can be found here.

At the opening of the exhibition on 21 February, RCA alumnus Idris Khan will be giving a talk about his work. Find out more here.

Becoming is open to the public 22 February – 3 March 2017, Monday to Friday, 2­­–7pm and Saturday and Sunday, 12–5pm. Full details can be found here.