Inside

The Fine Art Open House 2016: A Multiplicity of Conversations

The Fine Art Open House takes place on 23 and 24 January 2016, with first-year RCA students showing their work over a weekend, within their studios, workshops and seminar rooms – the spaces in which their work has been made and debated. For many, it’s a crucial point of self-reflection that allows them to test the boundaries of their practice.

Using studios as a context for displayed work allows an intimacy and a direct connection to making, in which elements from studio practice bleed through. Visitors are given an opportunity to not only see the students’ working concerns but also to gain a better understanding of the processes students employ and the spaces in which they make.

In Photography, students are exploring beyond the two-dimensionality of captured images into space and material. Tim Standring’s installation uses the most minimal of materials to present a redacted urban landscape in the gallery space, framing it against a backdrop of riverside London.

There’s an interest in performative, spoken word and sound, and its relationship to the photographic image. Beatrice-Lily Lorigan and Dominic Till explore the status relationships between photographs and objects, in very different ways.

Real-world issues are expressed through an image-based framework: Tamara Kamatani uses data from the victim compensation fund report of 2001 to explore the monetisation of contemporary life, in how financial redress was assessed after the Twin Towers tragedy.

Pushing at the technical boundaries of photography, Emma Bachlund’s installation explores the physicality of print media in a digital/analogue display in which the texture of the concrete floor is absorbed into the finished work. Theo Ellison’s portrait of Roger Moore uses digital image manipulation to disorient a formal publicity shot, closing the subject’s eyes so the image becomes reflective, playing with classic representations of masculinity and adding a layer of irony to an image that's already subverted by the actor’s own approach. 

In Printmaking, Luke Wilmshurst takes the rituals of consumption and appropriation, and uses found imagery to layer memes around collective imagery. Ahaad Alamoudi utilises a consumerist visual language to interrogate the position of women in the Arab world, with an interest in how images are communicated – and not – through social media and WeChat. James Jessiman uses found object and flyers in a communication space that speaks of the powers of persuasion and questions of belief and faith in relation to image-making.

There’s a preoccupation with materialism, dematerialism and the physicality of print artefacts, expressed in multiple ways: Elizabeth Wildon gives computer-generated images a vaporous physicality, exploring aspects of the virtual in relation to the haptic and tactile. Myka Baum produces cyanotypes, using natural light to expose floral forms into indigo grounds. Victoria Zanconato’s floor installation uses the found colours of eye make-up to explore a subtle, introverted reticence towards image-making.

Moving Image and Performance students present both in primary teaching spaces and – more virally – in those in between. All 16 first-year Performance students gave performances during the private view, located or radiating from the Dyson Gallery Studio. A continual, looped video documentary of all these works will be played in the Dyson Gallery Studio on Saturday and Sunday. 

Jade Blackstock works with issues and questions of identity and cultural symbols of power. Fritz Faust walks blinded, measured by the vulnerability when sightless, exposed yet still, and haunted. Gerald Curtis uses the body and actions with materials to begin painting in social and architectural space. Rhine Bernardino questions identity, both female and geopolitical, in direct up-close bodily actions, repeatedly sewing toilet paper and fingers.

In Moving Image, Shashank Peshawaria is showing seductive, observational images of kite-filled Indian city skyscapes, filmed on an iPhone in his hometown Amritsar in northern India and displayed across four monitors. The title 'Sky Crowds' plays on an inversion of urban dwelling seen from a bird's eye view.

Mark Langston’s industrial landscapes draw on a different cultural history, using the discourse of northern English working-class realism to unpack ideas around gentrification. Within the same room, Cong Yao’s film explores gender politics through beauty, pleasure, disgust, danger, the erotic and the artificial, imparting an uneasy feeling of voyeuristic power to the viewer.

Benji Jeffrey’s work remaps the televised performance game show aesthetic, playing with ideas of looking at and being looked at through the technical advance of a hexagonal split screen. Upstairs in the Moving Image Studio, Jazbo Gross has reconfigured an office into a sculptural offering that undoes the materiality of film and production.

Sculpture is characterised by a semi-accidental, self-curated installation that locates students' displays within their own studio spaces, producing interesting combinations. Structural interventions in the physical spaces emerge through from the studio occupants, and there’s a playful enjoyment of the idea of the hybrid between workspace and display space. There’s a musical stave notation painted on a wall, and a life-size ostrich juxtaposed with a drawn hawk.

Within that is a seriousness that articulates itself through intense political narratives: Santiago Villaveces’ self-reflective, textual installation is both a structuralist’s interest in the individual’s position and a formal critique of the organisational structures that obstruct and facilitate his artistic existence, including an archive of overused terms.

The Sculpture programme celebrates a broad spectrum of activity, and actively recruits students who are likely to thrive in a communal environment. Students' responses include collaborative projects: Nora Silva’s working kitchen installation, which explores the social dynamics of exchange, community and communality, and the Ascend film project, conceived and created by Aaron Figgis, in which elevator doors open to reveal ‘moments of psychic activity embodied in the numinous’.

In Painting, visual languages combine and coalesce in a dialogue that embraces a breadth of activity, from an aesthetic language around two-dimensional materiality and composition that's rooted in the history of painting and modernism, to theatricality and the exploration of three-dimensional spaces in which things happen. There’s a strong sense of interrelationship and cross-fertilisation between different works, and reminders of the physical history of making, in the overspills of thick impasto paint.

Elizabeth Drury’s deconstruction of toys as cultural objects shows a journey from the chaos of dismembering to sculptural object to the labour of the hand-drawn. Egle Jauncems works with drawing to get to a crafty vernacular, with a provocative political narrative that’s rooted in representative imagery, building a language that is fiercely material but grounded in graphic simplicity.

Hun Kyu Kim works in the aesthetic tradition of Korean silk painting, but with a technical approach that exemplifies cultural interchange. A range of traditions from outsider to medievalist to pop to hyperrealist are held within the incredibly precise material craft of silk painting. Victor Payares, a Cuban exile working in the next studio, explores the materiality of collage in a deeply personal narrative around the painted surface.

Juan Cruz, Dean of Fine Art, observes: ‘Students develop their work in depth, alongside other artists with shared interests and vocabularies, so we see very particular medium- and practice-based approaches develop in the various programmes. It’s important to expose those practices and approaches to each other, so that our students learn both from those who are close to them and also from those who provide a more distant and critical perspective on the foundations of their work. This generates a particular kind of alertness in our students, which they learn from trying to understand positions that are unfamiliar to them, and which informs their sense of what it means to be an artist now.’

Leaving the show, the overriding impression is of a multiplicity of conversations expressing thinking from the personal to the cultural to the political, communicating and responding to each other in a way that feels generative and progressive. The discourse is challenging, almost like hearing new language for the first time – bringing a reminder that the RCA’s School of Fine Art is one of the largest concentrations of artists in the world, and an excitement about what that might come to mean.


The Fine Art Open House is open 23 & 24 January, 12 midday to 5pm. Click here to find out more about the show, maps and performances.

Find out more about Moving Image, Painting, Performance, Photography, Print, Sculpture and how to Apply.