Show 2017 School of Fine Art: Encounter, Entanglement, Place and Hybridity

195 students graduate from the RCA’s School of Fine Art in Battersea this year, across Contemporary Art Practice, Painting, Photography, Print and Sculpture, presenting commentary, challenge and celebration of our nomadic, dissolute, hybrid times.

In Contemporary Art Practice Oliver Dook’s tightly synchronised split screen looks at identity and place, using a virtual, mirrored zoo as a platform for exploring the increasingly less diametric relationship between performance and audience. Contemplation of a melancholy rendering of human activity leads gradually to the realisation that you, the viewer, are the enclosed. 

Clare Baybutt’s verbatim accounts of trauma experienced by soldiers are mediated through actors into a painfully present tableau.  Benji Jeffrey uses deconstructed screens to examine authenticity and emotions. Playing across three screens, he enacts characters that inhabit the space between actor and acted. The effect is playful, fun, seductive with a strong critical undercurrent that warns against being sucked in to belief. 

Rhea Storr’s Junkanoo Talk examines race and storytelling through the language of a carnival in the Bahamas. Paradoxical and quietly political, the visual narrative engages with immigration, carnival exoticism and transformation, while the repeating soundtrack drills, telescoping into relentless urgency our tense existence between movement and stasis in cultural interchange.

Throughout the show, students’ work is informed and affected by proximities, but particularly in performance. Interrogating what and who is being performed, the shared environment of the gallery allows performance and engage wiarchive documentation. Whiskey Chow’s Blue is the Biggest Lie is an attack on the way in which the Modernist canon has taken over the colour blue. The attempt at apolitical art historicism is undermined by the context of Jade Blackstock’s bleeding figure Black River and Isobel Smith’s self-portrait Becoming, reminding us that encounter is a two-way street.

In Painting Leila Hesabi makes paintings extrapolated from the poet Forough Farrokhzad’s Iranian feminist texts. Through a gradual removal of meaning, she remakes Farsi texts into images, returning the conversation about cultural relativity to the picture plane. Neena Percy explores feminism, femininity and self-hood, using oil paint to construct artefacts from the beauty industry and make-up to skin sculptural forms – a bronze claw protrudes high up a wall, coated in iridescent nail varnish.

Bob Eikelboom’s Liberal Picture Service is described as ‘an immersive sound object where you, the spectator, play the role of picture maker’. Repositing the colour field in disorienting brilliant white, it offers an immersive space in which to establish what really visually matters.

In Photography Lisa Carletta has created an idealised avatar in Paradise Found with technical proficiency. Narrated by this mismatched trope of perfection and beauty in an alien landscape, the soundtrack presents the emotional evaporation of a relationship as a montage of the impermanence of memories against a constant self: ‘I am still me. I am what I know.’

Ruth Bridget Brennan’s Trashy Photographs are a knowing, artful commentary on twentieth-century still life painting. Using found rubbish, she elevates detail to significance, or not, with a single horizon line and changing light. The series make use of what analogue photography can do, generating an image with very little means. Simultaneously serious and ironic, there is a sense that the artist wants to put photography back in the frame.

Melissa Magnuson’s technically accomplished black-and-white photos revisit the Mississippi area that is her home and document the underlying racism in confident images: the ubiquity of the confederate flag, painted on a roadside container or flying over homesteads.

In Print, Victoria Sin unpicks the construction of gender identity and the gaze through a staggered series of voluptuously filmed tableaus in which she both subject and narrator of an aggressive, imagined desire. The relationship of narrative to the construction of image is challenged by a nuanced soundtrack that treads the boundaries of pleasure and humiliation. Myka Baum makes prints and sculptures assisted by earthworms, giving form to a preoccupation with the overlooked and everyday found space. Worm-assisted performances materialise as urban landscapes, casts from cracks in paving stones.

Ahaad Alamoudi and James Jessiman comment on how images and information travel through media in culturally specific installations that inform each other. Alamoudi’s video work highlights the inauthenticity images that portray her Saudi culture in the media, as a man in a traditional 'thobe' attempts to sing a popular love song to Saudi women. Jessiman’s environment is an amalgamation of objects of design; haptic versus production, digital versus analogue,  beginning with club fliers and found material to examine how incidental print gets circulated.

In Sculpture, Milo Creese’s Mindy charts the story of a woman born into the end of the world and her journey to another planet to repopulate, using appropriated imagery with overlaid, creative interventions to create a skilled, seductive post-apocalyptic vision.  

Marco Miehling’s Untitled #12 comments on the unnaturalness of the gallery space, presenting a six-metre long section of a tree that was blown down in Green Park during storm Doris on 23 February 2017. Precipitously balanced on concrete ramps, it is both static and dynamic, with tensions and forces dispelling complacency. Borbala Szanto plays with our acceptance of verisimilitude in the digital environment, translating the layering of digital image production into the physical world, with an intention to bring the digital and physical closer together.

Lindsey Mendick’s installation is a joyous expression of creativity, unapologetically embracing and celebrating the female in a voluptuous installation of video, ceramic, found objects and painted environment that mingles beauty, gluttony and desire.

There is a notable hybridity of work in this Show, crossing and reinventing disciplinary boundaries, and deeply anthropogenic, moving from the profoundly personal through encounters and entanglements that bring us face to face with our place in the world.