Show 2015: School of Humanities Enriches, Informs and Challenges

For some lucky visitors, the School of Humanities provides their introduction to Show 2015, enriching, challenging and informing their experience of the art and design that follows. Here, at the entrance to the Royal College of Art, is work by the College’s most dedicated thinkers, writers and curators from across Critical Writing in Art & Design (CWA&D), Curating Contemporary Art (CCA), Critical & Historical Studies (CHS) and V&A/RCA History of Design.

This year's Humanities students have engaged with two central issues in their exhibition-making.. First, how do you turn extended pieces of writing into a visually engaging, coherent exhibition? And second, what is the best way to negotiate the space between individual efforts and the collective enterprises that students across the programmes also participate in?

For V&A/RCA History of Design, the answer is an eye-catching three-dimensional diagram. This canny approach to ‘curating’ their subject gets visitors to cross-reference intriguing groups of objects – an archaeological assemblage, a collapsible top hat, chocolate – against a series of themes and a printed hand list, engaging in precisely the kind of artefactual research that is at the heart of the discipline.

Zara Arshad, graduating History of Design MA student, explains that the display was deliberately designed to ‘be interactive and emphasise the immaterial processes that drive academic research.’ These networks, articulated by bright pink yarn, make connections between individual projects and a series of keywords. The latter were carefully negotiated in the six months before the Show. As Arshad says, it was crucial that these ‘terms were flexible enough to best represent the breadth of graduating students’ projects as a whole.’

CWA&D’s take on the Show also demonstrates the programme’s commitment to projects that span the individual and collective. These strands, effectively communicated within the Show space, see students rise to a challenge identified by Professor David Crowley, Head of Programme, as ‘finding interesting ways to put words before the public.’

Wall-based interventions capture solo final projects, including Lia Forslund’s appraisal of quality control, four pen portraits of anonymous technocrats shown alongside illustrations by Anna Sorenson, and Benjamin Harvey’s bus stop theory, a model for conceptualising everyday life, signposted in the Show by a bus stop installation. The group publication, Albertopolis Companion, is present as a huge white banner, replicating in black and gold a smaller printed map, available to pick up and take away, which surveys the RCA’s own cultural topography in South Kensington. Visitors can further animate their experience of the project – micro and macro – with a series of podcasts, Albertopolis on Air.

Curating Contemporary Art negotiates a different challenge: to re-present its much more expansive curatorial projects within a constrained space. As Head of Programme Professor Victoria Walsh elaborates, ‘For the first time, CCA students decided to curate four individual projects, Echo Chamber, Whose Game Is It?, statement house (temporary title), and Black Box Formula, which were on display at RCA Kensington in March.’

For ShowRCA, ‘Students opted to represent the projects using page-spreads taken from the publication Notebook, which was designed by graduating Visual Communication MA student Jonas Berthod. Unlike previous years, this wasn’t a catalogue of works and essays on a single exhibition, but was produced after the projects, in order to be able to document the project installations and so students could reflect on them from their curatorial perspectives. Notebook takes its inspiration from Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook and, while bringing all the projects together, does not attempt to convert them into a coherent narrative of intent.’

A specially commissioned film sees four Humanities research students speak to camera about his or her long-format research project. Completing her PhD in CHS, Claire Jamieson’s doctoral dissertation deals with an aspect of the College’s own history, offering an in-depth study of NATØ (‘Narrative Architecture Today’), the group of young architects initiated in the early 1980s by Nigel Coates, Head of the RCA’s School of Architecture between 1995 and 2011.

Professor Jane Pavitt, Dean of Humanities, praised the spirit of collective activity felt throughout the Show. She says, ‘It’s really exciting to see the Humanities students exhibit together in one space this year, and see how they interpret their work through objects, images and graphical devices, as well as writings. This year's Show is a very powerful indication of the ways in which being in an art school challenges the humanities researcher to extend their thinking in imaginative ways. For the visitor, I think the Show is an enticement to look further into the historical, writerly and curatorial practices that we aim to foster.'


For more information about student work and opening times, see Show 2015