Creative Defiance: Communication Work-in-progress 2018

Introducing the School of Communication Work-in-progress show, Dean Professor Neville Brody poses several questions, setting the tone for the probing and propositional nature of the work on display. As increasingly monumental changes impact on our world he asks: ‘How should our practises be remodelled and re-invented to lead thought and change in this new terrain? How should our graduates be prepared for a society and industry which are increasingly defined by a lack of definition? How can we maintain vigilance and purpose, recognising both opportunities and challenges?’ The students offer myriad answers through their work in progress.

The Visual Communication work this year is defiant in a creative and constructive way. The students’ projects challenge, confront and break down power systems, from branding to banks, governments, communication channels and social media platforms. ‘It is very much a power of the people show,’ explained Head of Programme Dr Rathna Ramanathan. ‘The students’ voices are very strong; their priorities and values shape the work. At a time of hopelessness, students are considering how to make an impact. “The kind of world we wish to live in,” is perhaps how I would best describe the Visual Communication work.’

Much of the work challenges how judgemental we are as a society, questioning systems of value and mixing high and low culture. The show also reflects the vastness of what is defined as Visual Communication at the RCA, with work that is not always predominantly visual. David McAllister has created a sound piece using a recurrent neural network (RNN) programme – a system that learns through iterations. Fed with creation myths, it has created its own creation myth, in the form of a text that can be listened to in the installation.

Jack Wild has worked with web animation to create a short film based on supermarket self-checkouts, exploring our changing relationship with money, which is becoming increasingly non-material. More broadly he is interested in exploiting the potential for virtual reality to offer new ways for art to be exhibited that are more widely accessible and open new possibilities for the format of artworks.

Other experimental approaches come from Tae Ho Kim, who has created an abstract interactive installation with projected images, which explores inner personal experience. The work of Emma Harry expands illustration from the page into a projected video installation, exploring how erosion and time are manifest in the landscape.

As well as finished pieces and experimental iterations, the WIP show offers the chance to see the process behind students' work. Rachel Sale is exhibiting a set based on various cafés where she has experienced significant moments or influential discussions. This will be used to make a film exploring ideas of global citizenship.

Throughout the exhibition there is interplay between the internal and the external, acknowledging the wider community that the RCA finds itself in at White City. Part of Laura Copsey’s research project – a moveable planter growing wheat – is installed in the garden outside but can only be viewed from the window of the stairway. Her research has been exploring ways to reconnect with nature and histories embedded in landscapes through collaboration, to counteract the alienation of our digital lives.

The Information Experience Design (IED) programme focuses on turning information into experiences. Head of Programme Kevin Walker explained: ‘It’s about systems and stories, questioning and creating. We also focus on Investigative Design – taking the research methods of design, science and journalism to carry out investigations that really go in depth, engaging with topics spanning the personal, political and phenomenological.’

Students take information, which is often abstract and exists outside of time, and turn it into experiences that engage the body and are necessarily located within lived experienced and time.

Derck Littel has created a device that amplifies electromagnetic fields, which normally cannot be felt, heard or seen, into sound and vibrations. The wearer of the device can experience the electromagnetic fields from electronic devices in the room, raising awareness of the potential harm caused by these vibrations.

Many of the students tackle difficult, uncomfortable or controversial issues head on. Silke Steidinger has been researching the treatment of gender dysphoria in young children – considering the policies behind treatments, how decisions are made and the difficulty of discussing such an emotive topic. She has created silicone genitalia for children and babies, taking the most extreme and sensitive angle and acknowledging the difficulty and complexity of the issues surrounding the topic.

The starting point for Emily Cole’s installation was her own personal experience of online sexual harassment. The violent and shocking things that were directed towards her online have been channelled into an installation that uses the idea of stereoscopic vision to visualise both sides of the story. A VR headset and audio creates a claustrophobic environment that reflects her experience and creates a space for the issue of how women are treated online to be addressed from both objective and subjective positions.

Madelaine Dowd carried out first hand research in Italy after the earthquake in 2016. She was struck with the difference of her experience and the sensationalised portrayal of the disaster in the media. She is developing ways to go beyond traditional forms of representation that do not victimise people but elicit empathy in more nuanced ways.

Other students use established forms of narrative in unexpected and intriguing ways. Robert Marshall’s playful film trailer challenges the possibility that artificial intelligence can have no sense of humour. He features in the film wearing an exoskeleton, mechanical suit – posing the question: 'What if you woke up one morning living within a machine?' and using the language of the film trailer to explore issues of technology and creativity.

Comic book artist and illustrator Olivia Sullivan has been exploring ways to expand graphic novels into immersive storytelling environments. She focuses on telling multiple narratives about Cumbria, exploring the idea of multiple realities and histories through diverse materials including sculptures carved from Kendal Mint Cake, manipulated 16mm film, the scent of peppermint and damp bark, and archival sounds.

Animation students use traditional and experimental approaches to storytelling to tackle pressing issues. The research and experiments behind the students’ work is showcased in the WIP Show. A huge range of techniques and methods are used on the Animation programme and the exhibition offers the chance to see models for stop-frame animation, drawings and sketches behind work as well as short clips.

Chiara Sgatti addresses current challenges through a fictional future scenario. Her film is set in the near future, where over-population and the problem of healthcare provision have been addressed through smart homes and robot carers. In the show she is exhibiting development of the central character Paulie, a former baseball player who has had to quit her career because of developing multiple sclerosis. 

Social issues are addressed by many of the students. Daniel Castro has chosen to take a lighter and more relatable approach to the issue of mental health and stress.  The film accurately, positively and charmingly deals with mental health, exploring how smaller day-to-day stresses and mishaps can build up to a breakdown. The drawing style reflects the mood of the central character and deteriorates as his mood does. In the WIP show there is a short sequence that that demonstrates this through the use of colour.

Drawing on personal, biographical experience, Alex Widdowson is working on a film about his brother who has Down’s syndrome. Told from the perspective of different family members, the film will explore what it is like caring for and living with someone with the condition. Different sides of his brother's personality are represented through a variety of animation techniques and styles. The sequence shown here explores his playful and mischievous side.

Other students take more experimental approaches to animation, working with different processes to create aesthetic experiences exploring topics in more abstract ways, such as Caibei Cai who explores the experience of struggle through a beautifully textural film.

The internal identity for the WIP show has been designed by Dominik Langloh and Angelo Stitz. They subvert the idea of signage, with signs that are not immediately helpful. Instead they pose a series of questions. 'WHY exit' rests above a series of arrows that loop downwards forming a question mark and pointing down the stairs to the exit you are already walking towards.


School of Communication Work-in-progress Show
RCA White City, Garden House, Dorando Close, London, W12 7TU
Open to the public: 9–11 February, 12pm–6pmMaps & Visiting
See Maps & Visiting for directions