School of Material Work in Progress: A Cabinet of Curiosities
This year all four of the Work-in-progress Shows for the programmes within the School of Material – Ceramics & Glass, Jewellery & Metal, Fashion and Textiles – are staged within the programmes' studios or workshops. As the Dean of the School of Materials Judith Mottram explains, this provides 'a fantastic opportunity to see the work in situ and to get a sense of the community, as well as what it is like to study at the RCA.'
The Textiles work in progress is situated in the studios on the seventh floor of the Darwin Building at RCA Kensington – a vantage point that offers spectacular views across the city. The show features work by both first years and second years, with research students occupying a separate dedicated space two floors below. In addition to this, a shared space on the seventh floor – which the students have named 'the cabinet of curiosities' – features further examples of work in progress, as well as found reference objects, processes in development, fabrication machinery and fragments that demonstrate thinking through making – by all 102 students in the Textiles programme.
'An enquiry into the fundamental nature of materials is at the heart of the Textiles programme at the RCA', explains Head of Programme Anne Toomey, 'as is developing a personal material language.' This sense of enquiry is evident in all of the work on display in these light-filled studios. Matthew Briggs is among those to have taken advantage of the programme's new Shima Seiki digital jacquard knitting machines, programming it to create a new and sophisticated range of effects. Nearby, Alice Sleight displays samples from her ambitious project involving hand-knitted architecture, while Anna Neklesa presents a series of hypothetical objects that are based on molecular structures. Downstairs, on the fifth floor, research student Ana Pineyro presents some of the results of her research into Nylon monofilament. As Anne Toomey explains, Ana's research is an example of the way in which it is possible to stretch the enquiry into the nature of materials to an intangible, submicron level.
For the second year running, the Ceramics & Glass work-in-progress exhibition takes place in the workshops on the ground floor of the Woo Building at RCA Battersea. Head of Programme Rod Bamford and programme tutor Felicity Aylieff have noticed that, this year, the students have embraced the fact that the WIP show is a chance for them to experiment, rather than to present finished pieces. 'We were interested in pushing the idea of the “work in progress” as far as it could go', explains Felicity. 'We wanted to encourage the students to see it as a chance to test things out, to take risks.'
Many of the students have chosen to enter into a dialogue with the more unusual aspects of the workshop space. As Rod points out, this has resulted in unexpected moments of visual poetry. Often, the shapes, colours or textures of the objects on display rhyme – intentionally or accidentally – with aspects of their environment. Eusebio Sanchez presents a number of works and experiments on and around a pair of extrusion machines. The shape and colour of his works chimes with the visual properties of the machines that were used to make them. On the other side of the workshop, Anna Chrysopoulo has used a drying cupboard as the dramatic setting for her delicate but robust work of glass and metal, while a tool cupboard with multiple drawers houses Jessica Steele's ceramic experiments and source drawings.
A number of students on the Ceramics & Glass programme have produced large-scale work that might function as part of our built environment – not least chairs, and worktops – while others are working at a much smaller scale. Christopher Riggio's tiny prismatic ceramic fragments are part of his attempt to fuse elements of sculpture and jewellery, while Ilona Broeseliske's delicate small-scale work was influenced by a recent exchange programme in Kyoto. To Judith Mottram, the Ceramics & Glass work-in-progress show, with its vast array of scales and approaches, represents 'thinking made solid.'
On the top floor of the Woo Building is the Jewellery & Metal work-in-progress show, where each student has participated in an 'exhibition within an exhibition' called Up in the Air. Head of Programme Hans Stofer explains that this project was 'a conscious decision to create a playful display'. Suspended above each student's desk is an object of their own making. The title is an acknowledgement of the fact that the students' work is still – at the moment – very much in flux. Judith Mottram comments that 'while some students on the Jewellery & Metal programme have used their desks as a space to create a mini exhibition, others have used it to offer a glimpse into what influences them – into what they're reading, listening to, or looking at.' Experimenting with ways of communicating, and different modes of display, is an important part of the process.
The materials on show – as varied as the modes of display – include acetate, talcum powder, wood and copper wire, as well as precious metals. First-year Jewellery & Metal student Miwa Kakuta has presented a display of unusual apparatus made from objects including cricket balls and curtain poles, which are the result of a project investigating the space around her body. Suspended above second-year student Isla Macer Law's desk is a white cotton tablecloth, while her desk holds a series of investigations into throw-away forks provided at fish and chip shops. As Judith Mottram comments, this show offers 'a thoughtful and provocative exploration of what constitutes jewels and jewellery'.
Rather than a conventional work-in-progress show, the first-year Fashion students have been taking part in a week of talks, events and workshops. During this week – called Talk, Debate, Draw – the students were visited by a wide range of catalyst individuals, including scientists, film directors, academics, researchers and a games designer, who were able to introduce the students new ways of thinking about their practice. The public-facing part of the week began on Thursday evening, when the students were asked to distill the contents of the week's talks for a live audience, and reflect on how they related to their practice. A further set of public talks led by the students takes place on Saturday, in the open studios. Making, materials, method and innovation around garment, line and form is in evidence on every desk, alongside fascinatingly eclectic reference objects – from a Star Wars calendar to natural forms – that have informed the development of ideas
Fashion tutor Susan Postlethwaite, one of those responsible for planning this diverse programme of events, explains that the novel approach to the work-in-progress show is informed by ' wanting students to be more articulate about their practice, and introduce them to new ways of thinking about their work and their relationship to the fashion industry.' As Susan explains, Talk, Debate, Draw builds on the approach of the whole of the first term on the Fashion programme at the RCA, which is about 'developing the students' thinking, as well as honing their making skills.' Judith Mottram comments that 'rather than presenting a static exhibition, the Fashion programme has found a way to continue the learning experience. There's a real sense of live enquiry. That's what distinguishes this programme at the moment – it is pushing at our understanding of what fashion can be.'
The Work-in-progress Show is open Friday 20 January 12–7pm, and Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 January 12–5pm. Fashion 2–3pm Saturday 21 January only.