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Kelvin Chuah

MA Critical Writing in Art & Design, 2016–18

In what ways has your work developed while studying at the Royal College of Art and Design?

The Critical Writing Programme has opened up my work in ways that I could not have envisioned. I originally approached the course as a straightforward extension of my studies in Asian Art History at SOAS in which to develop my writing skills. I expected that we would only look at texts specific to art and design.

I have now been exposed to many different types of writing, including literature, and authors that I was not at all familiar with. I struggled to adapt at first, but now I can see that it has given me so many more options. I have a much richer context with which to approach my writing on art and design.

How does the structure of the course encourage that?

We are given project briefs in relation to a programme of writing workshops, which introduce us to different techniques and subject matter. Currently, I’m starting to explore sound as a medium of writing, or writing intended to be spoken as performance. I began experimenting with this mechanic after attending a sound recording class, but I hope to apply that to future projects.

We concentrate on critical reading as well as writing, or ‘reading critically’. Coming from Southeast Asia, I often find that I have a different approach to a text from the ‘national’ (home or other international) students. Personally, that makes the discourse very interesting. It has been an extremely enriching and positive learning curve.

Has there been a project that you have particularly enjoyed?

I am currently working on the major independent project we are given in the first-year, the Archaeologies brief. I am revisiting Picasso’s Guernica, considering the political and cultural afterlife of the work; how its interpretation has morphed and how it’s been used as representation against war. For this project, I am trying to set up an interview with Goshka Macuga, who reinterpreted Picasso’s work for an installation at the Whitechapel Gallery when it reopened in 2009, so I am very excited about that.

Overall, what have you found most rewarding?

I think the opportunity to learn from practicing writers and professional critics is incredibly valuable and a key part of the Programme's ambitions. Even within forms of writing that are more familiar, such as exhibition catalogue texts, the input from the tutors and the visiting critics is really transformative. I always look forward to those exchanges.

I have studied at various institutions in different countries and my perspective is that the RCA is really unique. There are so many different activities we can take part in that complement our main studies, such as the letterpress, sound and technology workshops. You don’t see that kind of freedom and development in other places. It’s really special.

"I have a much richer context with which to approach my writing on art and design"
Kelvin Chuah
Kelvin Chuah