ShowRCA 2016: School of Fine Art Addresses Contemporary Culture with Artistry

The School of Fine Art graduate show exhibits all the signs of an international community of artists engaging with what it means to be alive in the early twenty-first century, negotiating historical and contemporary truths. Integrating material and theoretical traditions from across the globe, the work creates new languages, new formal advances, new modes of expression that push towards the leading edge of contemporary culture and beyond. 

In Painting, tradition and contemporaneity are at play around the two-dimensional surface, exploding into installation and screen-based work. Yuehan Pan has created a sophisticated hybrid dialogue between orthodox Chinese painting and a figurative Western tradition, representing contemporary, transient photographic imagery on silk. The asymmetric layout mimics digital media, breaking formality with a casual, meditative quality, while the subject matter references Western painting from Masaccio to Richter. 

Olga Grotova looks at ways that people create fictions of history and use authenticity to collude or misinform, undermining authentic gestures and narrative structures with elements of untruth. Crossing media, her video flits from elegant theatre to breaking the suspension of disbelief and silkscreens represent a genuine abstract painting gesture as repeated fictions. Woody Mellor’s installation examines the fictions that construct a place in people’s minds, focusing on the Australian outback with a film buff’s passion for exposing theatrical props and referencing iconic movie moments.

There is more cultural construction in Lucy Mayes’ recreation of the Sport Café, inspired by a Stockwell eatery that reappropriates a high-street brand. Her fascination with an exclusive, male environment has evolved into a brand with its own philosophy, production, marketing and assets, using a handmade vernacular to develop a fugitive proliferation of suspect commodities. James Laycock’s commentary on class and taste in the theatre of the domestic upgrades cheap, quotidian furniture into objects of pathetic veneration, alongside a film of quintessentially British manners, recreated in a hotel room that is also on display. 

Alex Gibbs takes painting as the starting point in the materialisation of an image, on rough vernacular sackcloth and using weaving techniques. Margaux Valengin’s confident, painterly large-scale canvases are rooted in twentieth-century European tradition, exploring the physical gesture of wrist and arm, retaining line and drawing.

Adrien Vouillot’s work explores whether the Modernist project is still alive in the twenty-first century, and whether progress is possible through technology. Taking the irreducible colours of the Google logo, which was inspired by Bauhaus and created by designers studying how best to impact the human brain, he explores the relationships of organisations to social engineering on a global scale, representing a human resources system that turns people into data to promote efficiency through the politics of division – all in sinister primaries.

Liminality meets freedom of expression among the graduating Performance students, who have created an immersive space on a grand scale, showing nine works projected across three screens, located in the space in which they were created. In addition, three performance events during the Show allow solo and collective voices to speak through. Visceral inhabitations of body and flesh, exemplified by Sandra Stanionyte’s bleeding formal handshake or Yuki Kobayashi’s offering of his genitals on a ping pong bat, present alongside subtle environmental provocations – Hollie Miller squeezed into a crevasse or Saskia Vranken drowning in peaty earth – that question and inform our relationship to the land.

In Photography, preoccupations with the labour of making, the technical pursuit of photography and the layered conditions of representation are manifest in many different forms, alongside a questioning of twenty-first century existence. Tom Hatton worked in Calais for a year, documenting the conditions experienced by refugees in the camps with a large-format camera, in the tradition of Walker Evans and the Farm Security Administration’s documentation of the 1930s Depression. His images are notable for their redacted human presences, turning absence into meaning. Jo Phipps photographed Alevi communities in London, representing young people in evocative portraits whose abstracted gaze suggests an existence beyond the narrow experience of the gallery viewer.

Coco Capitan’s work directly challenges the gallery experience, presenting a pile of canvases stacked for removal. Her show takes place offsite at the Cafe Royale, reflecting an ambivalence towards the established art world model. Steff Jamieson’s three-dimensional installation pushes technical boundaries, exposing a length of photographic paper with an image based on a William Morris pattern, referencing her interest in historical craft and labour. The photographic process of printing with light is made evident in her folded geometric wall pieces, which differentiate tonal areas by lengths of exposure.

Karolina Lebek creates a visual experience that is somehow neither still nor moving image. Using found objects, which she invests with historic significance resonant of sixteenth-century painted still lives, she creates successive still images that move effortlessly into an unexplored space that could be animated photography. Jiji Kim subverts the experience of city voyeurism, staging still images behind miniature window frames, and rephotographing them as dramatically lit moving images. Broken windows are a prominent feature, evoking Duchamp’s Large Glass.

In Print, there’s an expansion of the conversation around digital and analogue, expressed in multimedia installations that cross spatial, environmental and technical boundaries. Intimacy vies with expansiveness in Mayra Ganzinotti’s installation, with an alchemical preoccupation with the micro-geological landscape transforming to digital media. Gianluca Craca’s large-scale, pattern-based prints appear at first sight to be organic representations, but the largest is a ‘rubbing’ of a street roundabout, calling into question what constitutes a natural form. Mollie Tearne references her Sri Lankan heritage, including family photos and political events, in an evocation of the ways in which we assume culture through physical commodities.

Gender and tradition are explored by Feifei Yu’s reproductions of male classical statuary, chosen specifically for their ungendered sensuality to deconstruct relationships of formal education and binary identifications. Nadia Francis’ mono prints on canvas and paper allow figurative and abstract representations within a single installation, with ideas of storytelling and truth inspired by her experiences working in mental health. Kristina Chan’s ambitious panelled lithograph pushes technique to new limits to reinform a sublime pictorial experience within the landscape tradition. 

Hans-Jorg Pochmann’s MPhil project explores the digital / analogue experience, with a semantic, semiotic preoccupation with how objects are identified represented through the destruction of a physical object and its associated systems of knowledge: the destruction of a book is documented in a video that is reminiscent of John Latham’s chewing over of Greenberg’s Art and Culture, and remade as a printed object, alongside a crushed-iPad-as-sausage pursues similar themes, in homage to Dieter Roth’s Literaturwurst.    

James Bullimore’s screenprints document a private performance of mortality in a ritualistic testing of the limits of the human body. Randy Bretzin’s large-scale prints explore the human form and horror, focusing on the unknowable essence of someone else’s bodily experience. Nils Alix-Tabeling’s fictional narrative mermaid fable conjures a parallel world to address issues of body transformation, using filming techniques including drones.

In Sculpture, making and meaning takes many forms, from mechanised, experiential interventions to sound, video and made objects, presented with directness, humour and subterfuge. Caroline Mackenzie’s monolithic tower conceals a delicate interior populated with precisely weighted balloons within a baldly functional exterior. Duncan Jeff’s purpose-interrogating machine – part fan, part carwash – surprises with sporadic emissions of perfume. 

Holly Hendry casts various viscous materials inside architectural structures, with found objects like bones and teeth inserted in a pseudo-archaeology, producing geological layerings whose final form become visible only when the cast casing is removed. Genie Scrase moves between digital and analogue, form and experience, in her tripartite work that represents a photograph of her own foot holding a strand of ivy alongside cast ‘worm welds’ that evoke the feeling of holding those strands in your own toes. More ephemerally, Hoyeon Kang’s technology-based recreation of a campfire, based on a real memory of a trip to Yosemite National Park, is accompanied by a delicate sound capture of a robin singing. 

Seth Pimlott’s video piece offers a magical-realist reimagining of death, while Paula Linke subverts the very essence of making with works that exist on the fringes of the constructed object. An iPod hangs from the ceiling. When pressed to your ear, it says, ‘...I want you to want me to be your USB stick.’ Nearby is a hand towel coloured pink, and a water cooler holding a rainbow liquid offering. Look closer, and there are other anonymous interventions: lined paper on a noticeboard, and childlike stickers in the lift. 

In Moving Image, body and landscape vies with personal narrative, presence and absence. Callum Hill takes a critical journey into the unknown, ruminating on gender, existence, rebirth and transcendence through the liminal spaces of Mexico’s ‘doll island’. The title, Solo Damas, refers to women-only trains in Mexico City. Film footage is spliced with scenes of ancient Aztec canal waterways, incorporating animation to the service of storytelling.

Sam Williams two-part installation looks at site becoming body, using a sea estuary to represent a threshold space of borders and membranes. Working with performers, he represents gestural interventions in the landscape: bodies in stasis, tumbling, falling. On the other side, he intimately merges body and landscape together in a visceral, hallucinatory evocation of what the body feels like, using abstraction, texture and extreme close up to engage and disconcert.

Lotte Nielsen’s representation of the Japanese expression for love between boys YAOI is located in an abandoned cinema amid a powerful soundscape, The presence and atmosphere of the site frames a sophisticated, personal narrative of teenagers interacting, expressing their sexuality through their occupation and building regendered physical spaces that hold global resonances.

Place, absence and exile are powerfully evoked in Gill Lavy’s contemporary pilgrimage. Subverting recognisable language, she evokes the belief systems of secular and religious historical pasts and draws the viewer into a contemporary post-apocalyptic rural anti-idyll.

James Ravinet’s densely researched practice references the real site of Bradwell nuclear power station. Working with Arts Catalyst, he addresses directly the question of what it is to be making art in a community, and whether it can be a tool for social change. Using source material, he lays bare the subterfuge of concealing with language and exposes what is hidden in plain sight, using the archive as a platform to reinterpret a historic imagined future and ask, ‘What are we left with?’ 


ShowRCA 2016 takes place in Battersea and Kensington 26 June to 3 July (closed 1 July), 12 midday – 8pm; see more Information about opening hours and events.

Find out more about the School of Fine Art and how to Apply.