Nephertiti Schandorf

MA Curating Contemporary Art, 2013–16

I graduated from Manchester School of Art in Photography in 2013. Before that, I’d worked for a legal charity as a project co-ordinator, for about ten years. Studying art was always something I’d wanted to do, but I think I lacked the nerve to apply to art school until I was about 25 years old. After college, I started working and ended up there for much longer than I’d planned. I took a sabbatical and went to Byam Shaw School of Art, which was great, and a challenge – so different after working at a legal charity. After the year out, I returned to work, sat at my desk and thought, I can’t be here in a year’s time. I applied to Manchester, and that was that.

My work at the legal charity involved project co-ordination in a multi-venue environment with high-profile legal partners, so I think that overseeing those kinds of administrative functions, in a strange way, connects to a curatorial and organisational practice. Experimental curating is fun and really interesting, but you also have to be able to pull systems together and I think that was one of the reasons why curating seemed so interesting.

When I was studying at Manchester, I volunteered at the Whitworth Gallery with a curator called Bryony Bond. We worked on a Cultural Olympiad project called We Face Forward, a huge multi-venue exhibition of work by artists of West African descent. I also worked on the collections for the Musgrave Kinley donation of works by non-institutional artists, or what they call ‘outsider art’. Working with those pieces, I felt a desire to preserve them and care for them and make sure people could see them and understand them, and that they were sensitively presented. The experience at the Whitworth got me interested in educational and curatorial programming and working with artists. For the first time, my practice was oriented towards working with other artists’ work as opposed to the more inward-looking approach of a solo practitioner.

In my second year at Manchester, I was really homesick and thinking about quitting the degree. One of my tutors told me I had potential and that, if I wanted to, I could go to the Royal College of Art. I’d never considered that as an option, because of the reputation of the school, the alumni, the impact it has on arts and culture. I discovered the curatorial programme, and decided to apply.

Starting at the RCA, we programmed a four-week film series and associated talks, with the Hackney Picturehouse, BFI, LUX London and the RCA. It was a real experience in putting together a programme for a larger public, which was widely promoted and had some important partners. It was hard work, but making and sharing it was pleasurable and addictive.

In some ways, it was a challenge to move from photography, which is very hands-on, to a programme that is heavily theoretical, but I’m enjoying it. Group work was also a new challenge in that sense. It’s a lovely, tight-knit group with lots of different personalities. I feel like it has prepared me professionally, in a different way. I’m now working on a project with an artist called Briony Campbell, which is funded by the Arts Council and the British Council. At first, you don’t realise how much the CCA programme changes your way of thinking and your methodology, but it definitely has.

We have fantastic teaching staff here. Victoria Walsh, who is Head of Programme for CCA, is one of those people who makes you want to be your best. We also have great support staff across the RCA. The quality of lectures here is really high, and it’s exciting to know that you can speak to the people who have inspired you to do the thing that you’re doing with your life.

My father passed away in the summer of 2014, so I took a year out. I’m now starting my second year, and it feels good to have something to come back to. The year off has given me the chance to take a step back from practice and to develop ideas for second year. I’m keen to continue to move away from object-based artworks and into performance and ephemeral art, and to develop my interest in matters of representation. I’m also looking forward to working on projects outside of the RCA, but knowing that there’s a support network there if I need professional advice or discussions about ethics or practicalities. I’m hoping to have something to go to after graduation, in the shape of my own projects. Knowing that I can get start-up business advice from the RCA is a strong reassurance.

"The quality of lectures here is really high, and it’s exciting to know that you can speak to the people who have inspired you to do the thing that you’re doing with your life."
Nephertiti Schandorf at the Wellcome Collection 2015
Nephertiti Schandorf at the Wellcome Collection 2015
Photographer: Simon Gargette