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Anna Neklesa

MA Textiles (Print), 2015 –

What were you doing before you started studying at the RCA?

I studied at Novosibirsk Academy of Architecture and Art, Siberia, graduated in 2011 and for four years owned an interior design practice in St Petersburg. 

I assume my great interest in material culture and textiles has always been in my blood; I must have inherited it from my family. Before the revolution, my great-great-grandfather owned a tannery in Siberia, where I’m originally from. My great-grandmother was the only seamstress in her tiny town. Due to the upheaval of the revolution my family lost all the heritage and tradition of making things. Eventually my grandmother became a material science lecturer in the college, where I spent my childhood observing models and samples.

Why did you want to apply to the RCA?

I had an extreme, insatiable thirst for knowledge. I knew the Royal College of Art was famous for outstanding professors and alumni who designed the world we live in.  Subconsciously, I have always wanted to study here and be a part of the community, but I thought my ideas and my background were not good enough to be accepted. 

At the moment, Russia offers a very limited number of facilities to produce material culture; it’s not the best place to set up a making business. I think the cultural heritage of Britain, and its design history, make it the best place to find and develop a practice.

The first time I applied to the RCA was to the Product Design programme. I came to the open days and my mind was blown away by some of the projects. I didn’t get a place, however, and I was devastated. I went back to my business, but the desire to study here didn’t go away. My business brought me to London quite often. I had a membership at The Printall Studios, where I investigated screen-printing techniques. I happened to meet a graduate of RCA Textiles there. 

Very soon I realised it was a good thing that I hadn’t been accepted onto the Product Design programme, as it was textiles that was my true passion. Eventually I applied. Everyone was surprised by my decision to leave the prosperous business I had in favour of a Master’s degree.

What were the first few weeks like?

You feel totally lost, like an alien, rushing around everywhere, getting constant emails about inductions and meetings. You have to get to know all the amazing facilities and workshops the College offers, along with meeting your fellow students. It’s enjoyable but so intense, especially when English isn’t your first language. 

I attended a pre-sessional course before the start of term and it was helpful in so many ways: we got to know the College before all the other students arrived, so we felt more at home, and I made so many friends that I’m still in touch with, some of whom I’m now sharing a house with. The approach to developing your English language skills was done in a really creative way: watching films, reading books, all based on design subjects or perspectives. Tutors continue to give valuable advice, especially in the run-up to handing in the dissertation.

Were there any particular projects or briefs that have been particularly rewarding?

We did a project in first year for Mantero; it’s a famous company, a major Italian silk producer for all the big fashion houses. They invited us, very simply, to develop several designs based on animal, flower or lace patterns. I proposed to look deeper than an animal print and down to the level of bacteria and to develop a design through the micro-level. 

I didn’t know how to make lace, but I knew how to make devoré and embroidery so I combined the two. Francesca Tongiorgi, who is Research & Development Director at Mantero, said she’d never seen anything like it before, and it has great potential. As the project was a competition, I won the prize of a summer internship with them. 

It was such a great experience: not only a wonderful place to spend the summer but also an incredible experience of being a part of their design research team. I think these kinds of industry-related projects are one of the most important things the RCA offers to students. As well as contacts, they give you such massive understanding and insight into what industry wants.

What are you working on now?

I would like to think I am pushing the frontiers of the human–material relationship to a totally new level. My practice is based on examining and blurring the boundaries between the physical and the digital, by linking craftsmanship with technology. I am proposing the new methodology of designing a material with new unexpected and unexplored qualities and characteristics in order to create the material of the future. 

I would like to start an alternative textile industry built on craft, physical science and computational design by merging professionals from many disciplines in order to create the unseen. I am developing a new natural material that I hope to patent, and InnovationRCA offers free consultations with a lawyer regarding your business idea and help in patenting. It’s an outstanding opportunity. I believe developing liquid naturals that are able to keep their soft qualities after printing will challenge 3D-printing technology and will change the textile industry we know today.

Anna Neklesa
Anna Neklesa