Spirit of Adventure in the School of Communication Work-in-progress Show

The tone for this year’s School of Communication Work-in-progress Show is set even before entering the building. A modular typeface specially designed by Visual Communications students Minna Sakaria, Carolina Dahl and Maria Ines Gul features on the show’s microsite, as well as temporarily adorning the official banner outside the main entrance, and on each caption for individual students’ work. While playfully disrupting the official identity of the Royal College of Art, these interventions serve to challenge expectations and, according to Rathna Ramanathan, Head of Visual Communication, exemplify a spirit of ‘adventuring’ that pervades the School.

This idea of adventuring encompasses collaborations within the School, across the College and, crucially, into the wider world. The ambition for the School, according to Dean of School Professor Neville Brody, is for ‘the development of critical, capable minds to help deliver urgent and appropriate change… to form and inform possible cultures and alternate possibilities’. As such, students think critically about real-world contexts, and strands of concern start to emerge across all programmes, such as architecture, housing, urbanism, surveillance, austerity, identity politics, belief and ethics. One project explores the visual language of post-2008 austerity; another considers space and surveillance in the city; another asks if religious identity relates to physical appearance; the ethics of human meat are brought to the table; philosophical conversation is initiated at a tea party; and new ways of communicating climate change and sustainability are developed.

Head of Information Experience Design Kevin Walker and Senior Animation Tutor Tim Webb agree that this year the students have shaped the Work-in-progress Show themselves, resulting in enormous diversity and constant surprise. It is an approach that reflects the non-prescriptive teaching in the School, allowing students the freedom to experiment and innovate. ‘We don’t make work to fit industry, but rather to shape the future of the industry,’ said Webb.

At the core of this diversity and creativity is a remarkable emphasis on essential skills of drawing, making and editing. In Animation, many students have taken the opportunity to reveal their expertise and display some of the process that goes into their work, through sketches and storyboards. In turn, there is a clear concern for the material, the tactile and the physical in the School as a whole. As students consider the context of their work, a screen becomes a computer on a desk, a framed photographic image sits on a paint-spattered easel, and a modular typeface exists as building blocks on a table, waiting to be picked up and rearranged.

This invitation to interact is one of many in this show, which Brody introduces as being ‘in a permanent state of transition’, ‘alive and kicking’ and ‘a provocation’. Much work here is not complete without an audience and so relies on such strength of engagement – this includes the microsite, the modular typography and the programme of events. There are instructions to enter, look into, pick up, touch or take. There are questions posed and methods to record responses. These experiments can be challenging, uncomfortable and irreverent, and can take bold risks.

At the centre of the upper gallery, a large mossy rock invites the viewer to sit down upon it and contemplate the urge to mythologise. Expectations are confounded in this show that offers a moment to pause, to be physically present, and to experience the energy and criticality of a School engaging with transition.