School of Communication Work in Progress: Cross Disciplinary, Raw and Engaging
This year’s School of Communication Work-in-progress show begins in the Hockney Gallery with work from across the School’s three MA programmes: Animation, Information Experience Design and Visual Communication. From the glitter curtains of a subcultural gameshow to an interactive work that invites visitors to feel sound resonate through their body, disciplinary boundaries are blurred.
‘Multidisciplinarity is one of the key, core principles of the School of Communication, with teaching across mixed studios with subject-specific labs, cross-School electives, projects and talks,’ explained Neville Brody, Dean of the School of Communication.
'This year's Work-in-progress Show is raw, experimental, engaging and brilliantly cross-disciplinary,’ Brody continued. ‘It feels like a show with no history and baggage of limitation, grounded and unpretentious. It demonstrates exactly what a show should be; a living snapshot of an ongoing journey of discovery.'
Visual Communication students have used this year’s show to test out ways to present research and experimental investigations. Thomas Finn has created a speculative installation from his research into the British Foreign Commonwealth Archive, the contents of which has been kept from the public for over 300 years. Recently 3 million files, which had been withheld against public interest disclosure requests, were made publicly available, and Thomas has imagined the structures and mechanisms of storing, accessing and maintaining these documents.
Several students in this year’s show have made work in response to the UK's vote to leave the European Union. Elle French has created a Sci-Fi narrative in which all human interaction is controlled and people live in isolated tower blocks, meeting only in 'Interaction Houses'. The work is presented as a series of transparencies on an overhead projector, allowing visitors to read material they are most interested in. While speculative, she has based it on actual narratives emerging from the Brexit vote. Similarly, Paula Minelgaite, has investigated how the 2016 referendum was reported in the Sun newspaper in comparison to the 1975 referendum. Paula analysed aspects of the Sun’s reporting, which in 1975 supported remaining in the European Economic Community and in 2016 supported leaving, letting the viewer decide to what extent this bias may have affected the vote.
In the year that marks the 50th anniversary of homosexuality being decriminalised in the UK, Sam Wingate has made a series of drawings based on photographs posted on Grindr, exploring how gay men represent themselves. In contrast Sam has also produced a small book of drawings that portrays the life of a gay dandy in 1952, showing a life of secrecy and highlighting the not-too-distant struggles.
Other students are presenting research that has emerged through experimentation. Max Perkins' failed 16mm film has been presented as a meditative installation exploring his interests in Zen and quantum physics. Another experimental work by Simon Knight engages the multiple senses through records impregnated with scent that is released when they are played, exploring how the evocative power of smell can enhance communication through sound.
Across the two Animation pathways, Documentary and Experimental Animation, many political and socially engaged themes are addressed, demonstrating animation's power to communicate through narrative and more experimental approaches. The show provides an opportunity to see short clips of the students’ final films as well as their investigations into materials and textures, with many preparatory drawings and paintings on display. The diverse works show how animation is an ‘indiscipline’ that synthesises all other art forms, from puppetry and poetry to drama and sound art.
A sequence of vivid images inspired by the imagery of Hieronymus Bosch are on display, created by Jenny Jokela, who is working towards her final film based on her experiences volunteering for a rape crisis charity. Like several of this year’s students, her work addresses feminist themes, an interest that was supported last term with a Skype conference between the Animation programme and CalArts.
The international nature of the animation programme is reflected in the topics and narratives explored by some of the students. The Last Portrait by Hina Fujimoto portrays Japanese rituals surrounding death, and The Witch’s Mask by Laura Nasir-Tamara is a re-telling of a traditional Indonesian folk story.
Family dynamics are explored by several students. Amanda Eliasson is working towards a very personal and socially real animation about her sister's struggle with drug addiction. She describes her final animation as ‘a visual poem’, and a short clip of the film surrounded by her drawings shows how she is using vibrant colours and gestures to capture this challenging topic. Hakim Ismail has also taken an original approach to explore a harrowing narrative. His film explores the traumatic consequences of war through the highly emotive viewpoint of an unborn foetus.
This year, the Information Experience Design students have brought their lab tables to the Work-in-progress Show, demonstrating the experimental, questioning and transformative nature of the programme. Works on display from across the programme’s three platforms – Sound Design, Moving Image Design and Experimental Design – demonstrate the students’ high level of technical skill as well as the complexity of thinking, investigation and action that is at the heart of the programme.
The lab environment is best encapsulated in Maria Euler’s installation, which she described as a ‘3D sketchbook’. Over a set of shelves, she has created various interactive displays: a pendulum weighted with a potato swings, electro-magnets can be switched on and off to augment the movement of plumb lines, and a visualisation depicts Maria’s fascination in systems of measurements that sparked her experiments.
Various students have considered speculative futures of technology, such as Anna Ridler and Georgia Ward Dyer, who have collaborated on experiments with machine learning. Their works investigate how artificial intelligence ‘learns’ from inputs of canonical human knowledge, exploring existing systems such as image captioning, speech recognition and text prediction.
Finding solutions to environmental concerns is a dominant preoccupation for many of the students; from Zero Emissions Livestock Project by Francisco Norris, which proposes a way to reduce methane produced through intensive cattle farming, to an evocative visualisation of data relating to light pollution by Ava Watson. Sylvana Lautier has created a highly emotive film, which is projected onto a pool of water formed from the drips of a melting ice block. The video features interviews with young people expressing their fears for the future, from Donald Trump becoming president to the effects of leaving the EU. Through the installation, Sylvana investigates the lengths of emotional manipulation needed to make people care enough to take positive steps to halt climate change.
Stepping outside the boundaries of the RCA to explore the impact of sensory deprivation, Ana Dakin is staging a night walk along the South Downs Way. On the walk participants are encouraged to develop an autobiographical introspective relationship, as in the dark the boundaries between sounds generated by the self, environment and the mind are blurred.
These postgraduate students' journeys of discovery are already intriguing, inviting us to follow into uncharted territory, and to look forward to the next instalment of their bulletin from the leading edge of communication.
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The Work-in-progress Show is open Friday 20 January 12–7pm, and Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 January 12–5pm.