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Imagination and Brave Acts: Arts & Humanities Work-in-progress 2018

The newly formed School of Arts & Humanities opens its doors in Battersea to a first examination of the proximities and interrelations between its varied material and theoretical practices, across Contemporary Art Practice, Photography, Print, Sculpture, Jewellery & Metal and Ceramics & Glass. Transforming its studios into spaces for exhibition offers the opportunity to bring the workshop into the gallery and explore the practices of making in emergent stages across multiple media. For students, it’s often the first foray into presenting their work for display, and allows a moment of reflexive practice that will inform their future directions. 

In Contemporary Art Practice, Moving Image students work with post-internet aesthetics, deconstructing the moving image, presenting elements towards films that haven’t been made yet, costumes and props, or slapstick puppetry. Alexandre Khondji offers a fragmented filmic experience, capturing film on a hard drive, so it is playing but not visible, and dispensing random frames generatively through a printer. Eda Sarman explores the mechanics of display with screens that adjust to preserve a horizon across a diptych of Turkish coastlines.

Corie Denby McGowan’s invokes spine-tingling ASMR technology with a soothing, healing, whispering soundtrack that explores the phenomenon of new age healing through a post-internet aesthetic, gender bias lens. Testing what constitutes moving image and how you might articulate it, Kyung (Jenette) Ah Lee’s pixellated screen breaks down the digital image to its bare essentials. In Performance, Demelza Woodbridge builds narrative tension from silence to a humming, strumming crescendo achieved through a disassociative mechanic of potplants on turntables strumming guitars against a subliminal vocal.

Critical Practice and Public Sphere students exhibit together in a collaboratively-curated space that challenges them to combine the best of both practices — an attentiveness not only to their own works but also the context in which they are made  – and to identify the differences between them. Margaret Lisiecka’s gender role-bound figures articulate dumbly the impossibility of communication when ensnared in the trappings of gender. Julia Wolf’s performance, situated next to the kitchen, suggests that women are continually made – still – to take on secretarial role regardless of skills or place. 

Farvash Razavi’s information-age machine laboriously sorts shredded paper waste in a cultural commentary on what becomes real and fake news. The mechanistic purpose appears productive, but is a pretence with no meaningful outcomes. Nicolaas van de Lande presents a provocation on how the poetics of architecture mesh with environmental issues with no solution. Luca George’s deliberately ramshackle cardboard bus comments on the failing integrity of infrastructure, including public transport, awaiting only the next rainstorm to fall victim to the elements. Viviana Troya’s sound intervention permeates the Battersea restrooms, invoking the unsettling experience of social dislocation, of a party going on around you when you are alone in a cubicle. 

In Painting first-year students from both campuses are united in a single show that encompasses the aesthetic of the open studio and the gallery. The variety of techniques is remarkable, exhibiting preoccupations with appropriated material, tactile experience, drawing, painting, sculptural forms – all mediated around the surface.

Yulia Iosilzon’s spray painted silk surfaces present a narrative storyboard rather than individual works, that deliver a narrative about her own life, hopes and aspirations expressed through materials ranging from silk, acrylic, glitter to latex and fur, with a preoccupation with repetition and what that might do to meaning. Sara Sigurdardottir’s intricate works appropriate a collage aesthetic to a painterly tradition, bringing images from hundreds of years of cultural history together to form a fragmented self portrait that weighs feminism against religion, presenting the temptress, the dangerous sexuality of women, and how that’s upheld in Christian traditions.

Abraaj scholar Jhonatan Pulido’s practice is all about the surface, inventing a fiction of colour and pictorial depth that references the colourways of found object natural stone, and finding a correspondence between rock as a geological archive and painted surface as a material referent of creative history. Elise Broadway refigures religious iconography in an attempt to make sense of contemporary cultural references, and what is real and false. She overlays appropriated invented imagery on authoritative but translated substrates —teatowels, conveying an overriding sense that everything is in flux and our relationship with the world is disrupted. Sanne Maloe Slecht combines an academic preoccupation with the Kantian idea of multiple universes, that everything you think can exist comes out of what you already know with a theatrical representation that stages printed, edited painterly materials in a sculptural relationship balancing artefacts that feel materially crude, sophisticated and knowing.

In Photography the variety of subject preoccupations range from bucolic landscapes to accidental, incidental urban image-making. Ignacio Barrios brings into focus accidental sculptural forms created by parked vehicles, with a wry, art historical, contemporary humour. Eva Munday’s self portrait composed of many hands allies personal, gestural, expression with dissociation.

Laura Besancon’s digital prints appear documentary but hold an implied narrative just out of reach, and Ieva Austinkaite presents everyday urban scenes punctuated by moments of accidental drama.  Loreal Prystaj’s composite, layered faces morph the familiar into new beings that she describes as ‘fabricated family’.

Print is notable for the variety of media students employ and the range of concerns from personal to political (Black Lives Matter), individual to global. Relationships to media, representation, gender (#metoo) the real, the image and the copy are re-examined and represented.

Ilkwoon Yoon explores memory and forgetting, with childhood classmates printed in states of incompleteness on ubiquitous paper napkins, and the implication that you as audience could remove and reappropriate. Lucy Hutchinson explores bioprinting, building living tissue with a 3D printer, looking at body morphology through the ages from witchcraft to supernatural to future beings.

Hemanth Rao explores transgender identity in Aztec Juchitan culture, while Marissa Malik’s works on paper and textile create a system of personalised semiotics, as she combines images and symbols from her mixed Pakistani and Mexican heritage to invent a didactic language about being a woman living in diaspora. Process is central, and all students have taken the opportunity to build a collaborative project that shares the ways progress is sometimes made through workshop, through thinking through making worked collectively. Tree Chu’s print sandwich shop is a perfect demonstration of the liminal space between fabricated and real.

Sculpture students present for the last time in the Sculpture Building, in celebratory mood, revelling in the freedom that the Work-in-progress Show provides to test and experiment, free from the pressure of resolving work. Students are encouraged to be experimental and for those working at large scale, it’s the first opportunity to see works created in studios as complete. There is a notable preoccupation with presence and absence, and rehearsal of uncertainty and instability, as students wrestle with materiality and real time, perhaps in reaction to the untrustworthy ephemerality of digital media.

Katarina Sylvan’s The Serpent King plays with notions of performance and ruin, fabricating a scenographic Arcadian landscape as a setting for a fictional play. The text is located in the space but the players are absent, leaving the viewer unclear whether they are actor, audience or have stumbled on an accidental remnant of a past performance. Elissavet Sfyri imbues form with function in handmade musical instruments activated by a performance with students from Royal College of Music. Lil Cahill’s working practice is based on childlike play, and experimentation with materials and textures. Composed of islands with a narrative thread, her work speaks to decay and dislocation which she describes as, ‘Trying to be humorous when things aren’t that funny.’

Robin-Dimitrije Gosselin-Monasevic performs as his alter ego Little Jimmy overseen by the bleakly radiant Mr Sun. With a literary undertone, the genre of children’s ficton is darkly twisted by political anger. Hugo Lami creates a world within a world, inhabiting a post-apocalyptic encampment defined by the dysfunction of being trapped by redundant technology. There’s an obsessive collection of lost culture and a bathos to the imagination of what might survive us. Catriona Robertson distorts object and form, recasting columns into twisted, weathered shapes that loom precariously as if relics of a natural disaster.

In Ceramics & Glass, themes include the evocation of emotion through use of materials, storytelling, an affinity with landscape, creating worlds within worlds, and utilising inherent qualities – the optical nature of glass, the tactile, visually rich surface qualities of glaze – to create different atmospheres and communicate emotional response. Colour is very much in evidence, alongside a sensual enjoyment of the tactile, grounding qualities of materiality and an engagement with process, which brings a certainty of material purpose that means these works could not be realised in other media. Emily Stapleton Jeffries’ colourful, organic, sculptural forms reference landscape through the manipulation of glaze, integrating colour with form. Celia Dowson’s unglazed, bowls made with coloured clay also relate to landscape using coloured clay to suggest abstract landscape silhouettes. 

Lola Lazaro Hinks’s monumental glass globe invokes a deterministic view od human perception, playing on the inherent optical nature of glass to capture and draw light. Pam Su has developed an innovative, idiosyncratic process, working with layered glaze as a material to create abstract, urban landscapes that inhabit the surfaces and machinery of the studio. First-year projects are also on display, giving a unique insight into the development of making processes, and curatorial decisions about presentation and display

Jewellery & Metal evidences sensuality, scale, material from precious to ubiquitous, and from finished display pieces to objects of enquiry, through a strong human reference as both presence and absence. Students question what a material object consists of in the world, flattening dimensions, exploring space, playing games and interacting in a cabinet of curiosities smells, tactile experiences, visual treats, tools and materiality.

Shiqi Li’s Touch Lab invites tactile interaction and participation with range of materials and surfaces from the found to the made. Ashley Khiren Wahba lays out reference, process and material experimentation in an examination of the dynamics of thinking through making. Leah (Yilin) Gao explores the aesthetics of transaction, inviting the viewer to play a game: tossing a coin into a bowl, making a wish and taking a gift.

Dean of Humanities Juan Cruz explains: ‘Many of the things that we do in the School of Arts & Humanities are geared precisely to developing students’ imagination. We ask students not so much carefully to reinterpret and build upon existing knowledge, but to try to find within themselves, within their neural networks and their experiences, ways of addressing the world and representing it in new and unexpected ways and, importantly I think and perhaps rather counter intuitively, to feel confident about self-authorising their activity.’


The Royal College of Art School of Arts & Humanities Work-in-progress Show 
RCA Battersea Campus
Open to the public Friday 19, Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 January, 12 midday to 6pm 
@RCA #RCAWIP