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Johanna Flato

MA Contemporary Art Practice, Critical Practice, 2016–2018

What were you doing before you came to the RCA?

After graduating from my undergraduate degree in Studio Art and Humanities at Yale University, I spent two years mostly working at art and technology related start-ups between Cincinnati and New York City. At the same time I was working on my own practice and trying to find ways to direct everything I’d learned with the start-ups towards my own projects. That work laid the foundation for the work I’m now doing here at the RCA.

What particularly drew you to studying in the UK?

My approach is often to take on a balance of experiences; I felt that I had really enjoyed and appreciated the education I’d had in the US but was looking for something different. I’d been working with artists in New York who came from European educational systems and held distinct perspectives on the New York art scene and I was intrigued by this. 

I had also developed an interest in British art while working at the Yale Center for British Art as a student and had previously conducted research comparing British and American land art. As I started thinking about doing a Master’s, I felt it was a great opportunity to learn from different cultures and be part of another vibrant city with a whole other ‘artscape’ happening. I love how international London and the RCA are. That’s definitely invaluable.

Tell me about the decision to be part of the new Critical Practice Pathway.

When I was looking into studying at the RCA I looked back over my past work. At that point, I could either have followed on the path that most obviously fit, which would have been Sculpture, or I could pursue these much messier combinations of things I’d been doing and things I wanted to do in the future. 

Although the meaning of Critical Practice was a bit mysterious, I was very excited that it seemed to be an opportunity to synthesise what I’d been doing and build it into something new and dynamic and more interdisciplinary. It’s been great to begin with a small group of peers who all want to figure out what it means together and Jeremy Millar, our Senior Tutor, is right there with us and very open to figuring out where this might go.

There’s a whole mix of people, which is wonderful. We’ve also been able to work with Writing students a bit, and hope to more in the future. We met through an afternoon-long workshop with editors from Frieze who were organising a panel discussion on ‘class,’ and after that we’ve initiated some crits and meetings on a more informal basis, helping each other out and sharing feedback.

Have you had the chance to collaborate with students from other programmes as well?

That’s actually been a really unexpected and wonderful aspect of studying at the RCA which I don’t think I fully understood before I got here. It’s a shame that I didn’t get to do the AcrossRCA scheme, because that’s a great way to interact with design students, but I do love the School groups system in Fine Arts and the chance to work with painters, printmakers, sculptors – artists who I don’t encounter so often in my own studio. It might be a field trip or coming together to discuss a common theme, for example I’m in a group that’s really interested in mapping and understanding place, and by bringing together people for a single topic you get all sorts of practices; we’ll go see sites or museums together around that topic and that’s been great.

Do you have a sense of how your work has changed over the time you’ve been at the RCA?

It’s a whirlwind. I came here with a combination of certain projects already underway that I wanted to work on, and gaps that I felt I had that I wanted to fill. Then there’s been a kind of mirror, reflecting back to me aspects I hadn’t thought about and other gaps I didn’t even know I had, new ways to think about things. 

Conversation and feedback is constant and comes from all directions. In some ways, I started with fixed ideas about these long and ambitious projects I wanted to work on and I boxed myself into a corner a little bit and didn’t allow for chance and spontaneous creation and other forms of projects that, lately, have felt incredibly necessary and vital to my process in general. That development is really important and has been encouraged and supported by various tutors here.

I think one thing that’s been particularly dynamic for me is pushing forward the dissertation at the same time as working on my practice; having those two things happen simultaneously demands a balance of trying to take in a lot of information but then at the same time to act and create. It’s a constant back-and-forth and I’m still enjoying figuring it out.

"I love how international London and the RCA are. That’s definitely invaluable."
Johanna Flato
Johanna Flato