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RCA Communication Students Explore the Future of Illustration

iLL-informed, the student-led platform at the Royal College of Art that casts a fresh, critical eye on contemporary illustration, have produced their annual publication, collecting the exhibitions and experiences of 2014/15 into a thoughtful survey of illustrative practice and theory.

Started in 2012 by two RCA MA Visual Communication students, Serena Katt and Cynthia Merhej, iLL-informed has gone from strength to strength, using exhibitions, debates, talks, film screenings, workshops, cross-programme collaborations and even speed dating to explore the present state of illustration and speculate on where it might go next.

Current Visual Communication MA students Lisa Robertson and Mariana Sameiro, coordinators of iLL-informed’s 2014/15 edition, explain that each term’s eclectic, cross-disciplinary programme was carefully curated to speak to a different critical issue. 

Autumn saw students from across the School of Communication wrestle with the question, ‘What is arts education?’. Most notably, they produced a rich variety of responses that were displayed in a group show, A Pen Can Build Faster than a Hammer. These ranged from works on paper to three-dimensional conceptual installations, confidently exploding any preconceptions about what is thought of as illustration.

Forging new relationships was very much at the heart of the spring term, which interrogated collaboration and exchange. Workshops, including an event with composer and percussionist Simon Allen, pushed students on the platform well beyond their comfort zones to engage with different perspectives and methods.

In the spirit of cross-disciplinarity, four MA Visual Communication students took part in a joint crit. with five of their peers in Printmaking. Not only did this provide ‘a rare opportunity to share and compare notes’, the experience also highlighted suggestive differences, with Lisa and Mariana both struck by a digital/analogue bias, as ‘the Printmaking students bringing actual, physical works with them, while we showed our practice digitally’.

Another exhibition project, Isle of Lost and Found, paired iLL-informed students with technicians from across the RCA, including those at the Foundry in Battersea, and in Textiles and Jewellery & Metal. These encounters were ‘rare chances to engage with unfamiliar materials and processes, and to learn a new craft – something we don’t often get to do’. 

For Lisa and Marianna, the experience of both coordinating and participating in iLL-informed has been hugely valuable, providing an opportunity ‘to share ideas about illustration, and really challenge and expand its definition’.

Although this summer saw them hand over the platform to a team of first-year MA students – aptly enough to consider the future of illustration – Lisa and Mariana are adamant that the experiences afforded by the platform, especially the opportunity to collaborate with other programmes within the RCA, has hugely benefitted their practice.

Looking to the future, they plan to continue these conversations by ‘starting a multidisciplinary practice together that organises debates, talks and exhibitions… bringing iLL-informed out into the world!’ The programme will keep the energy going at the RCA by organising an event on the Mapping of the Future of Illustration.

More details of recent and forthcoming iLL-informed events can be found on the platform's website and Facebook page