When the RCA say that their 2012 graduation show is the biggest in their 175 year history, they’re not joking. Held simultaneously across their Kensington and Battersea campuses, this sprawling show brings together works from over 500 students across fine art and design disciplines including (but not limited to) painting, jewelry, photography, sculpture, visual communication and printmaking.
That’s a lot of ideas to negotiate in one show, and due to the nature of its layout (in fine art, mixed together and packed in), some pieces inevitably come off better than others. For visitors it’s a case of just getting in amongst it, then seeing what leaves a lasting impression following this brain-melting visual and conceptual onslaught. So to begin at the beginning with pieces that still resonate since:
Conceptual jeweler Hannah Louise Pittman took tiny casts of empty pill packet cavities for Prosperity Pills, her incarnation in sterling silver of the daily task of warding off the chronic pain disorder she contracted during her studies. Each tiny silver pill shape becomes part of a personal amulet; a positive outcome from an otherwise negative experience.
Maja Johansson, Various, Textiles; Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Laura Bushell.
Sculptor Samuel Zealey’s The Integrity of Fertility places an ostrich egg at the centre of a counterpoised mechanical framework, all of which would collapse should the egg be removed. Pulled towards the floor by a metal weight, this sculpture highlights the perfect natural design of the egg, the keystone within the structure, demonstrating how nature and years of evolution can persevere through the toughest of circumstances.
Zemer Peled’s pieces, I am walking in a Forest of Shards, are masses formed from shards of ceramics and occupy the space like black coral. The use of texture and fragments, to create forms that appear soft from far away but sharp close up, is highly effective.
Over in printmaking: Lily Cain’s photo lithographs of playing cards bedecked with retro female nudes conceal within them the real bodies of dead butterflies. A naturally magisterial and mysterious Purple Emperor Butterfly has had its colourful wings delicately painted over in oils so as to blend in with the surface of the card, to very creepy effect.
Tereza Zelenkova, Installation View; Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Laura Bushell
Photography is very strong within the show and features some of the most striking works. Tereza Zelenkova’s work references astronomy, mysticism and the occult in its striking monochrome imagery and is brought together in an intriguing and absorbing installation piece. Lizzie Vickery produces large glossy images of plastic looking food in bright colours against a black background. She allows us to see what our eyes wouldn’t naturally pick up, deliberately playing with this interaction between the fake and the real, between the image and the subject.
Painting, which has the longest history and the biggest identity crisis, is disappointing on the whole. There are just too many works whose conceptual and/or intellectual rigor doesn’t pay off in a blank gallery space. Plus so many of the painters choose to work in anything but paint. However, Steven Allan’s striking use of black and yellow and Frank Ammerlaan’s chemicals on canvas constitute two of the most memorable works.
Alesa Tinne, Atlas Voyage, Matchboxes; Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Laura Bushell
This is merely scratching the surface of a massive show, worth visiting and revisiting, just to be able to deal with its scale and sheer variety of content. Of the 500+ graduates, surely a few will go on to join the RCA’s glittering list of alumni, but only time will tell where this record graduating year will end up. For now, go and enjoy their hard work.
(Image on top right: Zemer Peled, I am walking in a forest of shards, Ceramics; Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Laura Bushell)