Miguel Soto Karelovic
Before coming to the Royal College of Art, I did a Fine Art BA in Chile, where I’m from, and graduated in 2012. After graduation, I rented a studio and did as much work as I could, taking part in a lot of shows. I also worked as a teaching assistant at the art school I’d attended. In some ways it was an ideal situation, but my research wasn’t developed enough. I knew what my work was about and what I wanted to do, and I felt the need to take that further. I also knew that I wanted to teach, so doing an MA seemed like the right option.
I looked for a Sculpture programme specifically. I’m not just concerned with sculpture, in a traditional sense, or just with space, but rather in the specific considerations and conversations that happen around sculpture. I wanted to be with people who were also approaching their work from a similar place. My work is concerned with immigration, colonisation and identity, so I saw moving away from home as a kind of research process, rather than just dealing with all these topics from books or from other people’s experiences.
I applied for a scholarship from the Chilean government to cover my fees and living costs. I wouldn’t have been able to come without it – I have friends who were offered places here but didn’t get the scholarship and couldn’t pay, so I’m really grateful.
I think the Sculpture building is one of the best places to produce work in any university – high ceilings, moveable walls, huge open spaces, amazing technical support, conversations with other artists. When you arrive, you have time to settle in: some people like to have a desk, others build walls, others keep an open space shared with other students. Slowly, the building transforms.
It’s been fascinating to see how different art education is here compared to the schools I know in South America. The art school is a kind of free space here, with space to work and tutorials and technicians, and far less structured than in Chile, and I think that’s great. There are lectures here, but you can pick and choose. For me, sculpture can relate to narrative, politics, space, poetics – so many approaches. Sculpture is the nucleus, but there's the opportunity to build relationships with, say, the Moving Image and Performance pathways, with Design programmes, or Ceramics & Glass, and Sculpture is the foundation. I’ve worked with digitally aided making, with Glass technicians, and in the wood, casting and metal workshops within Sculpture. Now I have plans to get advice from the Design technicians as well.
Working on the dissertation in parallel to my practice has been such an interesting and helpful process, and working with different tutors has given me insights into very different approaches. I'm writing a series of texts on the idea of ‘south’ – some are narrative, some more academic. After the MA, as well as teaching, I hope to do a PhD so I can continue to develop my research and writing.
When I started at the RCA, I was pretty sure about what I wanted my work to be, and the problems I was concerned with, but I didn’t know how to produce it, and whether to work with text or performance or objects. My practice has changed a lot since I’ve been here. I used to have a really structured way of working: have an idea, develop the project, project finished. I’ve realised that the ideas you have at the start probably aren’t what the work will be about at the end. My personal tutor helped me move away from that structured approach, to find a way of working that focussed on what I’m doing and what I’m thinking rather than worrying about the final outcome. I’ve learned how to not finish things; they might be things that I’ll return to later on, and in terms of an art practice, that’s a really valuable thing.
The amazing technical support here has also enabled me to test and develop ideas further, and that’s so important. You go to a technician with an idea of something you want to make and they say, ‘ok, it’s possible, we can do it’. You realise that the technical possibilities are almost infinite! There are specific, defined programmes, with distinct areas of technical expertise, but there’s an openness between programmes, and that’s the perfect combination.
"I think the Sculpture building is one of the best places to produce work in any university – high ceilings, moveable walls, huge open spaces, amazing technical support, conversations with other artists. When you arrive, you have time to settle in: some people like to have a desk, others build walls, others keep an open space shared with other students. Slowly, the building transforms."