Work in Progress 2021: Art & Design in a post-covid world
Across the Work in Progress 2021 virtual platform, our student artists and designers are grappling with the global changes brought by the pandemic. As Dean of the School of Design, Paul Anderson notes in his WiP2021 introduction ‘RCA students are forming the next generation of coherent planet thinkers.’
From programmes as diverse as painting and service design, WiP2021 exemplifies RCA students’ capacity for thinking critically about the world around them as it changes.
Re-imagining domestic spaces
In 'Family Home' Caroline Bang (MA Interior Design) is concerned with the ‘thresholds between public and private’ which have undergone dramatic changes since the start of the pandemic with domestic settings now doubling as work spaces.
From field-work undertaken using the ghost façade of a Victorian terraced house in London's Leinster Gardens, Caroline has been looking at reconfigurations of domestic spaces used painted collages that envision ‘different ways of living responding to a future in which the nuclear family is no longer considered the norm.’
The project stems from the MA Interior Design Interior Re-use Platform and seeks to address the housing crisis in London which has been exacerbated by Covid over the last year. As Caroline explains ’there is a need to reuse and update existing buildings in order to make more useful domestic spaces for the 21st century.’
Humanising the low-touch future
With touch based technologies and interfaces becoming sites of potential infection, businesses are looking at how to humanise the consumer experience and provide a stand in for conversation with customers. Shopal from MA Service Design students Lu Chen, Yahe Yang, Yizhou Yang and Ziqing Zhao is a humane digital shop assistant designed to bring social interaction back into the post-covid shopping experience for seniors.
Taking the form of an app and an earpiece, Shopal assists users with queries and records preferences. Users can also connect the app with Google Home to enhance their experience.
The groups’ research found that seniors prefer social interaction to build trust in a business. As they explained Shopal aims to show ‘how Conversational User Interface can make up for lack of social contact.’
Being together through the screen
Our post pandemic world is dominated by the mediation of the screen. From self-portraits to depictions of her family and friends, Emily Gillbanks (MA Painting) has been exploring how we find and define human presence through technology via a more traditional medium.
Her oil paintings use what she characterises as ‘frustrated angles, misaligned gazes, obstructed vantage points, sharp edges, and saturated colours’ to reference the distortions and constructed realities we are now accustomed to seeing through screen technologies. As Emily explains 'I am concerned with what it means to be a human underpinned by technology and how we are negotiating relationships without actually being-with-the-other in virtual spaces.'
That absence has become the most common mode of presence is emblematised by her diptych Being-Together and Being Apart, showing two people communicating through FaceTime. The painting she told us 'translates the fortuitous nature of two subjects on FaceTime into the permanence of oil paint.'
Emily is pessimistic about the absence of the other and the excess of information brought about by screen technologies – 'I sometimes feel I would be required to operate on a macroevolutionary level to keep up with the world around me.' Despite this her paintings have allowed her to bring back the life and presence of others observed through the flatness of the screen.
Web-surfing as an art practice
Straddling both conceptual art and graphic design, ‘Net Excavation / My Model 2021’ from Dougal Verinder Gedge (MA Visual Communication) explores what it means to live online – a proposition which is now more relevant than ever.
‘Some treat the web not as a shopping mall, but as a spiritual realm’ writes Kevin Bewersdorf in his essay ‘Spirit Surfing’ as read by Dougal in the video above. Dougal’s project excavates what inhabiting such a spiritual realm would require and how the cultural sludge produced by the internet has affected our perception of the world and ourselves.