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Show 2017 School of Communication: Bold, Professional and Urgent

The School of Communication graduate show is markedly political this year, responding to a constantly changing and challenging world with urgent, intelligent and innovative work that reveals authenticity and subjectivity as radical tools for communication.

External events – from the UK’s decision to leave the EU to the election of Donald Trump – have had a profound impact on this year’s Visual Communication students, prompting them to consider what Visual Communication can offer in troubled times and in the face of unknown futures. The response is a critical and engaged practice that finds a way to have difficult but necessary conversations.

‘The scale and ambition of this year’s show is audacious. It is bold and confident without being showy,’ explained Dr Rathna Ramanathan, Head of Programme. ‘One of the great strengths is that their work is pertinent to their own culture and backgrounds, resulting in a meaningful practice, that balances the human with the professional.’ This balance can be seen in Chourouk Zarkaoui’s eye-catching installation, which explores female sexuality and attitudes towards women in Morocco. The personal also blends with the professional in Arjun Harrison Mann’s interactive sound piece, that reveals the impact of cuts to disability benefits, sharing the voices of those who are housebound through disability.

This year’s show takes drawing off the page and on to objects and the fabric of the building, demonstrating its power as a tool of connection and protest. Latifah Al-Said has created a charcoal drawing depicting the history of slavery on one of the stairways. Throughout the show this image will be gradually smudged and erased by passing feet – reflecting the way we remember the past and choose to ignore current issues. Samuel Wingate has applied his drawings to various objects, creating an installation exploring gay culture in 2017. This includes a doubled-sided quilt that replicates the black-and-white tiled floor of the Stevens Building, with drawings of men found on Grindr within the Kensington area on the reverse.

Exploring the history of the Visual Communication programme, Tom Finn has taken on the role of archivist, making a website for the Royal College of Art poster archive. The website challenges the perceptions of how an archive can exist, with users invited to add comments and current students able to contribute posters to the collection. Looking to the future, Hanna Schrage’s swing and virtual reality headset plunges the viewer into an alternate reality, creating a space to find calm, tranquility and personal reflection.

Animation can be understood as indiscipline, synthesising other art forms, from painting and drawing to sound design and sculpture. At the RCA animation is also very much for adults, tackling personal and political issues through storytelling and the development of vibrant characters. Working with both fictional and documentary narratives, this year’s graduate films are united by the urgency of the messages communicated. 

JJ (Je Eun) Shim’s short animation uses a mole character to raise awareness of child miners in Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who mine the minerals used to make batteries for mobile phone and laptops. In Hakim Ismail’s film, told from the perspective of a fetus, the sounds of shelling and ambulances heard within the womb create a moving and poignant meditation on the costs of warfare.

Other students have used animation to explore the surreal and psychological. Kitty Feingold has created a dream world, exploring states between consciousness and unconsciousness whereas Jenny Jokela’s film Barbeque is a hand painted animation that aesthetically borrows from Hieronimus Bosch to describe the journey of dealing with sexual assault, the impacts of PTSD and feelings of shame and guilt.

For a generation that could be described as digital natives, there is also a propensity for the analogue, with some students embracing a more experimental approach. Starting with hand-drawn stream of conscious images, Samuel Bell has created an installation using analogue technologies that disrupt the images in response to interactive triggers.

Graduating Information Experience Design (IED) students take a critical perspective on issues ranging from climate change and sustainability to migration and our relationship with technology. As Head of Programme Dr Kevin Walker points out, ‘this year the students have moved away from speculation and criticality, towards constructive criticism. They are suggesting solutions, which they then communicate through often poetic and positive means.’ 

One such work is Sylvana Lautier’s Their Voices, which addresses the impacts of climate change in Northern Greenland. Lautier’s emotive film features interviews with children about their concerns and hopes for the future. The film is projected inside a structure, based on houses in Greenland, and is reflected in a pool of water formed from a  melting block of ice.

Also considering the human impact on the environment, Amanda Baum and Rose Leahy have created an installation that is tactile and immersive, involving sound, smell and performance. This investigation into ecological and cultural restoration weaves the old European tradition of telling the bees of a death together with the practice of mycoremediation and new research into the immunological benefits of specific mushroom species to support honeybees. Another project suggesting a positive measure to curb our impact on the environment is Francisco Norris’s wearable device for cows that reduces the amount of methane released through cattle farming, turning the methane they exhale into carbon dioxide and water.

Considering how we currently interact with technology and what is missing from these exchanges, Lucy Hardcastle has developed a more tactile alternative to the flat screen. Qualia is a technically innovative curved, sensuous surface that changes in response to touch. 

Through costumes, set design and dance Emily Briselden-Waters’ Circus of Anxiety makes the invisible thought process behind feelings of panic and anxiety more tangible. Based on first hand research with medical professionals, mental health activists and women who suffer from anxiety, Briselden-Waters’ piece widens understanding of women's mental health. 

Like many of the graduating students from the School of Communication, Briselden-Waters’ work is proposing a way to have better, more effective conversations. Visually, antagonistically, through sound, experiences and moving image, this year’s School of Communication Show demonstrates the innovative future of communication.