Welcome to the third edition of AlumniRCA’s annual magazine. 4 – 19
AlumniRCA Member Interviews In this issue we’re focussing on graduates from each of the RCA’s different Schools who in some way have shifted from being a practitioner in the Arts, Design, or Humanities, to being a practitioner in another one of those fields (Or, indeed, ended up active in more than one). As you’ll see from their Member Interviews, for some this was a process that was occurring before they came to the RCA, others while they were here, and for some, after. Each of them however embodies the idea of interdisciplinarity that the College has always aimed to encourage and foster.
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Alumni on the Staff Our interview this time is with Professor David Rayson, Head of the RCA’s Painting Department, in which along with insights into his own career as an artist, he also outlines how the move to their new building on the Battersea site in the current academic year will affect his department and its staff and students. 28 – 34
Last Word: News from the Rector Finally, we have Professor Sir Christopher Frayling’s very last ‘Last Word’ as Rector, where while looking back over his long career at the RCA, he also looks to the future in terms of the development of the Battersea campus. I hope you enjoy ‘Generation 3’ and look forward to your feedback. Mark Parkin AlumniRCA Co-ordinator email@example.com
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Prior to coming to the RCA in 1987 I had just completed a degree in Multidisciplinary Design at Staffordshire University. This course was the only one of its kind at the time and covered a broad variety of design disciplines from graphics to product, even including hands-on activity in textiles, ceramics and glass. This cross-discipline approach appealed to me greatly, and still does as you will see by the way in which my company operates. In the last year at Staffs I had specialized in glass; falling in love with the industrial nature of furnaces and kilns and the interplay between design and the manufacturing process. At the RCA I got a place on the Ceramics and Glass course, and here, my embryonic ideas of cross-discipline creativity were brought into clear focus by one man: Eduardo Paolozzi. Through our mutual love of jazz, we became friends from the outset (the only questions he asked me at interview were about jazz). In fact it would be fair to say that Paolozzi took me under his wing – a privilege for which I am grateful to this day. My first tutorial involved him marching me to a shop on Kings Road and kitting me out with soldering iron, tin cutters, pliers and files (no glass cutter you’ll note). He then gave me some tin cans and told me to get busy. Paolozzi wasn’t particularly interested in the specifics of materials or the distinctions between disciplines - just in possibilities. At the shows I had large lamps, tables and re-worked electrical scrap that hovered somewhere between industrial design and sculpture. It was Paolozzi that advised me to produce a series of enamel badges to be sold in volume and help fund further large pieces. From the RCA I went directly to work for Norman Foster as a designer – and stayed there for eleven years. A strange transition? Not to Paolozzi (who referred to Foster as the “boy wonder”), not to the director that gave me the job (who said that he liked my work and asked whether or not I’d worked on architectural fit-out and detailing before), and certainly not to me; although there wasn’t a great deal of room for recycled electronic junk in Foster’s hitech approach to architecture.
AlumniRCA Member Interviews RCA working drawing for final year piece
After Fosters I moved to Japan, hired by Yamahaâ€™s product design team (music not bikes) at their design HQ in Hamamatsu as their first nonJapanese in-house creative. Another atypical transition? I believe it was precisely due my cross-discipline experiences that the relationship worked. Successful product design requires insight, diverse thinking and the ability to question the accepted norm. On my return to the UK I founded Keechdesign (www.keechdesign. co.uk), which to me is a logical and entirely natural sum of the previously mentioned parts. We design digital consumer goods and luxury interiors, high volume low-tech furniture and bespoke installations. Iâ€™m fond of quoting R. Buckminster Fuller, but it seems appropriate to give him the last word: A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.
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David Keech: Black Sax for Yamaha
AlumniRCA Member Interviews
Before the Royal College of Art I graduated from Goldsmith’s College with a BA in Embroidery and Textiles. This was not a ‘design’ course and students were encouraged to develop their own ideas and art practice rather like the fine art students we shared the building in Camberwell with. My graduation show consisted of multi-media installation pieces that involved some textiles, printing and embroidery, as well as wood, found objects, papier mache, slide projection and film, and dealt with ideas around women and society through their relationship with textiles. A fellow graduate and friend Chris Sims went on to the RCA to study Woven Textiles and I was inspired and encouraged by him. I had been designing and making myself intricate intarsia hand knits, and wearing them had led to a few commissions. In discussions with Chris ideas began to form about applying to the RCA (one of THE best post grad schools in the world!) to study Knitted Textiles with a view to starting my own business designing and selling knitwear. I worked hard for 6 months putting together a portfolio and was accepted onto the Knitted Textiles course in 1987. I loved my time at the RCA and really enjoyed the chance to mix with/ and do projects with students in other disciplines. In my first year I learnt to machine knit, and then collaborated with fashion student Jacky Marshall designing and producing machine and hand knitted garments as part of her graduation collection. The whole collection was subsequently bought by Whistles. I also collaborated with Industrial Design student Frazer McKim to create a stimulating/developmental toy for mentally and physically impaired kids. I found the cross-fertilization of ideas both at work and play (in the Art Bar) challenging and inspiring.
Ident for Powergen’s weather sponsorship on ITV
During my second year all my acquired knowledge and ideas came together in my final collection of garments. I used skills I had acquired at Goldsmiths as well as the RCA combining machine embroidery on machine knitted fabrics as well as hand knits to create my collection which also had a ‘conceptual’ element. I hadn’t previously thought of using these embroidery techniques in conjunction with the knitting and this combination gave my work a unique quality. The collection was admired by fashion student Harvey Bertram-Brown who asked me to collaborate on a number of pieces for his collection the following year. For this purpose we ended up as a gang of four along with fellow RCA graduates Sophie Harley (Jewellery) and Felicity Jury Cramp (Eyewear) and in 1991 formed a company called The New Renaissance. Together we created a unique collection of garments and accessories for Henri Bendel in New York and exhibited others at the Parco Gallery (Tokyo), the Southbank Centre and Fouts & Fowler gallery (London). At this latter exhibition fellow RCA alumni Peter Blake bought one of our pieces! Over time The New Renaissance evolved into a partnership between myself and Harvey and our work evolved too. We had a can-do attitude and rose to all the new challenges and opportunities that came our way. A diverse range of projects included creating window schemes for Harvey Nichols, Browns, and Liberty; creating one-off couture outfits for fashion stills, album covers, TV commercials, music videos and events; creating spectacular catwalk show pieces as well as shows; and invitations for a number of Moschino fashion shows and parties including their 20th Anniversary party in Milan and the opening of their flagship store in London. We also created and produced our own fashion collections sold through Liberty and Browns, and later a range of printed bed linen and home wear both under The New Renaissance label. The latter was launched at 100% Design in 2000 and sells worldwide through www.thenewrenaissance.co.uk. Subsequently this led to art directing as well as costume designing for commercials and music videos. One of our most widely seen series of works were the idents for Powergen’s weather sponsorship on ITV. These included a woman wearing a dress made from 100 umbrellas with water spouting from the top of her rubber-clad head! This amongst other projects got us talent-spotted by Paul Weiland, a film director and owner of his eponymous production company who invited us to start directing TV Commercials there. As usual we didn’t hesitate in saying ‘Yes!’ We had been on enough sets collaborating closely with other directors to have learned a lot and know what we were doing. Paul’s sage advice in that initial meeting has proved totally true: “There’s only one thing you need to know as director...What you want!” Creating work on film is the ultimate in multi-disciplinary collaboration with the director acting as the captain of a carefully selected crew, steering it all in the direction he/she wants, with everyone else’s help. In 1997 we started to concentrate almost solely on directing TV commercials and music videos, most of which involve our unique, strong, heavily art directed style. In 2007 we separated to concentrate on working independently.
AlumniRCA Member Interviews
In my career to date I have directed commercials for numerous UK and European clients including Gordon’s Gin, Diamond White Cider, Pataks, Renault, Honda, Quality Street, Gai Mattiolo, Moschino, Debenhams, Oriflame, Carlo Rossi, Golden Lady, Morellato, Dulux, Swatch, Head & Shoulders, Karl Lagerfeld, and videos for artists including George Michael, Girls Aloud, Emma Bunton, Rachel Stevens, Dannii Minogue, Elton John, Leann Rhimes, Siouxsie Sioux, and Shirley Bassey. Since the beginning of 2008 I have completed 12 projects which have taken me to exotic locations (and studios) in Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul, Warsaw, Lodz, Lisbon, Moscow and Kiev. My most recent project was filmed closer to home in Glasgow featuring Gary Numan and his hit single ‘Cars’ for a Scottish Government Green Transport Campaign. For my next project I am off to Dublin to direct a series of idents for Littlewoods Ireland. Even though I would say I am doing my dream job I have one so far unfulfilled ambition - to direct feature films. To this end I am trying to find time to develop some short and long form ideas with a view to making this dream come true! You can see examples of past and present work at www.carolyncorben.com
Stills from commercial for Gai Mattiolo
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Having turned to photography as a more viable career option than my initial choice of art and art history, I was studying professional photography at (what is now) Westminster University from 1978-81 when Professor Margaret Harker inspired me to begin researching the origins and development of advertising photography in Britain, and I enrolled to study for a MPhil/PhD as an external/correspondence student with the then Council for National Academic Awards (I gave up my MPhil/PhD with the CNAA when I came to the RCA in 1988). In the early-80s I worked freelance as a photographer, writing occasional articles for the British Journal of Photography, and became involved with teaching photography. In 1984 I accepted a full-time post teaching photographic history and studio photography to degree-level students in Swansea where, for two years, I was involved with developing new courses. This was challenging and enjoyable but it was impossible for me to maintain all my activities. I wanted to find some sort of framework within which to reconcile my practical photographic skills with my more academic research/ writing, and the (then) Cultural History course at the RCA seemed to offer the ideal solution as I felt the creative environment would be a stimulus to my studies, even though my proposal was for MA by thesis1. Earning a living from photography, I resumed my research, attending the RCA once a week for seminars. After two years MA study, I felt I had barely scratched the surface of my subject - nor brought my practise and theory sides any closer together. However, I felt compelled to continue the research in more depth and enrolled in the Humanities department to research for my PhD exploring the formative years of British advertising photography - the 1920â€™s and 1930â€™s 2 . Working and studying, this took me a painful six years to complete during which my study experience was very isolated.
Eggs and parsley seed stems
AlumniRCA Member Interviews
Colemans Bramley Apple Sauce
By the end of it I had uncovered an absolute wealth of fascinating original material. I gave two public lectures on my subject 3 , and have since extended my research into the influences of film imagery on photography of the 1920s and 1930’s. But I also discovered a number of things about myself. Primarily, while I love research and have an inherent ability to understand, appreciate and analyse photographic imagery and to contextualise it, I am not an academic per se. Essentially, the daily challenge of being a photographer suits me best. In 1993 I moved to my London studio in conjunction with fellow RCA PhD Mike Roles from where I have continued to build my skills as a specialist food photographer. We now run a small gallery, ArcArt, from the studio, which gives me an involvement outside the purely commercial. Occasionally my research and writing skills are called upon. In 2008 I produced the photography and text for a 40-page catalogue of an exhibition of Mike’s work at Broomhill Sculpture Park. In 2007, having run my own business for 26 years, I took on an agent for advertising work and have since enjoyed commissions for food photography from most of London’s leading advertising agencies. I still love my work and feel that - even if the RCA philosophy of challenging the boundaries between art, design and the humanities never actually worked for me - I can offer a much deeper understanding of what I am being called upon to do than if I had a less tested enquiring mind. I generally keep the PhD bit to myself! For more information and contacts see: www.sueatkinson.co.uk and www.arcart.org.uk From illustration to persuasion; the changing role of photography in British advertising, 1890-1980, 1988 1
The formative years; the evolution of photography’s role in British periodical advertising during the 1920’s and 1930’s, 1995 2
The Formative years: developments in advertising photography during the 1920’s and 1930’s, National Portrait Gallery, London, June 1992. Advertising Photography in the 1930’s: an alliance of art, technology and persuasion, Courtauld Institute, London, March 1999 3
I came to the RCA straight from my BA in Fine Art in Cardiff. From paintings about the transformation of Cardiff Bay, I started to make work about the corporate face of London, imagining secret boardroom interiors and dazzling facades of glass and granite - the architecture of power. My RCA written thesis was on the Barbican Centre which generated for me an ongoing fascination with European Modernism. After leaving the RCA I developed a cross-disciplinary approach, exploring architecture and the built environment. I have always seen making art as an investigation, an exploration of subject, so it seemed natural to expand into the architectural world. I started writing - first a piece on art in the public sphere, published in Blueprint, and then reviews of exhibitions, and pieces on regeneration and public space. I joined Architype, a great architectural practice who have a strong environmental social agenda running through their projects. I work part-time developing the business writing proposals. Through working in architecture I could work more directly with the production and consumption of architectural imagery, and representations of regenerated landscapes. I employed a mimesis of the visual language of promise that inhabits proposals for public space in the form of idealistic architectural and social representation. This took the form of painting â€˜backwardsâ€™ onto acetate and layering disparate pieces together creating collages of fantastical landscapes. In 2006 I decided to underpin my art practice with a stronger theoretical position, and so I applied to the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL to undertake research into the history of public and private space in cities. This work was situated in a space between art and architecture, and I investigated the interaction of contemporary urbanism and creative practice, and the dynamics of seeing and being seen. Dusky Tremelis
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AlumniRCA Member Interviews Cedar Avenue
In 2008 I received a Bartlett travel award to visit Estratos Contemporaneos, a programme of exhibitions across Murcia, Spain, which critiqued the spectacle model and created a discursive framework through which to consider the city. This fantastic experience took me again to observational, experiential research, being in a space, and seduction of place. I have always made work about the strange landscapes that regeneration throws up, and have developed a deep interest in the politics of regeneration. Last year I became a Director on the board of Art Gene - a terrific artistrun organisation based in Barrow-in-Furness. Last month I was embedded in Barrow, investigating the existing assets of the town and rallying against generic regeneration proposals through a five-day charrette of invited artists and architects. My painting practice is stronger through moving to and fro across disciplines. I have definitely found it is generative process that produces unexpected connections and ideas. I like working with architects and collaboration is something I can see developing further. Now I am working on a major new series of landscape paintings that look at the space in between the promise and the reality - the unbuilt, waste sites and public interchanges. I am thinking about the intangible that shapes the experience of place - safety; danger; risk; security; fear; familiarity; suspicion; and belonging.
James Carrigan: The very first iteration of Machine #1.4 produced while at the RCA (2001)
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AlumniRCA Member Interviews
I knew from the very first moment I saw RCA graduate work in magazines that I wanted to go there - the work had an energy that was not evident anywhere else. Instinctively I knew that I had to go - I was curious and hungry to study in this environment. Before I came to the RCA I completed my BA in Industrial Design at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, after which I worked for about two years as an in-house product designer for LG Electronics in their European Design Studio in Ireland designing electronic products like phones and CD players for them. Design formed the basis of my creative education - however, the RCA exploded and upset the traditional outlook I had, and allowed me to reimagine my future. The RCA changed everything for me. It’s interesting: before, I had a preconceived idea as to the type of work I would make - I really believed that I would become a furniture designer. However, when I arrived, there didn’t seem to be a formal structure or a specific school of thought - design no longer had boundaries. Art, architecture, design, film... everything was a source of inspiration. But more interestingly, there was no expected outcome for projects. It was totally open. All of a sudden I was working without rules. It was an incredibly liberating experience. In this environment I could do anything and everything I wanted, so I did. I played with tons of different methods of making work and experimented like crazy with little or no cohesion between projects - I was spiralling all over the place. This gave me the space to make mistakes and find nuggets of what truly interested me. Over the course of the two years I managed to stumble on some key areas of interest. However, I did not manage to forge a cohesive direction in my work by graduation. Nonetheless, the programme director of the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art (NGCA), Alistair Robinson, commissioned a work based on my final show - a project that became Machine #1.4. I developed, funded and built Machine #1.4 with Alistair Robinson’s support over two years after graduating from the RCA. The piece was exhibited in 2005 at the NGCA in the group show ‘When I lived in Modern Times’: Archive, Artefact, Album. It was through the development and realisation of the work that I truly began my career as an artist and focused my energies on this type of work. Machine #1.4 (2005) exhibition view at NGCA: ‘When I Lived in Modern Times.’: Archive, artefact, album. (2005) photo: Colin Davison
7.9 Cubic Metres (2008 - 2010) exhibition view at Stanley Picker Gallery, 2009 photo: Seamus Slattery
AlumniRCA Member Interviews
I donâ€™t see my shift as a simple or literal move from design to art, but more a subtle case of defining my subjects of interest and methods of working with them. I discovered that my interests belong in the environment of art, and art provided a rich history and context for the development of these interests. The RCA philosophy offered me space to play - I didnâ€™t need a fixed agenda, I could discover my own - this is what was key for me about the place. It allowed me to explore possibilities they were not preset or dictated they were discovered. Earlier this year, my most ambitious and complex work to date; 7.9 Cubic Metres, (www.7point9cubicmetres.com) was installed in the Stanley Picker Gallery on the Kingston University campus. The project operates as an open submission micro-gallery curated by Eliza Tan, hosting one show per month for 12 months. So far it has completed its first quarter with work from Adam Knight, Matthew MacKisack and Alexandra Hughes. At the end of the 12 month exhibition program, the object of the gallery, the curatorâ€™s office and the archive of its activities will become a completed artwork in its own right. This project brings together many of my subjects of interest and begins a series of projects exploring the operational and institutional aspects of art production - a process which began 6 years ago when I left the RCA and began working with the NGCA and the arts council to develop Machine #1.4 - but that has evolved and developed in ways that continue to surprise me. Initially when I left the RCA, I felt I needed to get a job and I worked for the architect David Adjaye (Architecture 1993) as his in-house product designer - which was an interesting time - but after 18 months or so I knew I needed to work for myself to give my own ideas the time they needed to develop. Since 2004, I have been teaching part-time at Kingston University - an exciting and challenging role that I see as an important aspect of my career. I thoroughly enjoy and relish the challenges involved and I find it compliments my own work - in fact it gives me energy rather than using it. I have stayed active in design - albeit in a limited sense - by designing some pieces of furniture for a Belgian label and also doing a small amount of design consultancy, but my focus now is on my artwork, which is a slow process involving a lot of research and negotiation - but I feel it is now at an exciting stage where opportunities are starting to open up for me. The next steps, which I am already working on, are to develop more projects that involve art institutions (both public and commercial), curators, historians and critics in their formation, production and dissemination, as complicit components of my work. I am also very interested in developing a stronger link between my practice and teaching - perhaps through a research position at a University or a PhD.
Vanessa Louzon: Interference Installation from 2004 RCA Degree Show
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AlumniRCA Member Interviews
Before coming to the RCA, I was studying Graphic and Media Design at the London College of Printing and I didn’t really know what to do afterwards. I wasn’t sure graphic design was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I wasn’t ready to go directly into the professional world. I had seen the Communication Art & Design degree show at the RCA and I got very inspired by the eclectic, eye-catching, experimental, playful and clever work. Apart from the prestige of studying at the RCA, I wanted the time and freedom to experiment with my ideas, and maybe discover what I wanted to do. Part of the course consisted in blurring the boundaries between art and design. I was taught to push my ideas further, to ask myself ‘Why?’ Most projects were self-initiated, and I got a taste for this creative freedom, but it made it hard for me to adapt to the rigid world of clients and briefs. I realized that I preferred the freedom of working on my own projects, doing what I thought was right, without having to please anyone, and without having to compromise on ideas. What I like doing most is telling stories and experimenting, and I had too many ideas that would never fit any brief, so I just started working mostly on my own projects, and realized that’s what I wanted to do. As an artist I live in my own world where I can do whatever I want, create stories, characters and situations. There are no limitations. I still work as a freelance graphic designer, and I enjoy it, but it’s not an activity that’s part of my long-term plans. I’d rather put all my energy into beautiful things I can create because I decided to and because I believe in those ideas. After leaving the RCA, I worked a bit in Paris and London, then I moved to Tel Aviv, Israel. The Mediterranean way of life nurtures me and my creativity, and Tel Aviv is a very open-minded, dynamic and inspiring city, and it gives me a great sense of freedom. At the moment I am working on a graphic novel, something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I recently finished a short experimental film made of found image, a series of painted found photographs, and I’ve also been working on an internet-art project called ‘Ordinary Show’, which was presented at the Electronic Language International Festival in Sao Paulo. www.vanessalouzon.com www.ordinaryshow.com Stills from short film French Lessons
Alumni on the Staff Professor David Rayson Head of Painting
Inside Outside Inside From David Raysonâ€™s 2009 exhibition The Everyday Fantastic at Marlborough Fine Art
Before you came to the RCA as a student in 1995, you’d studied at the Maidstone College of Art and Bristol University. How did the RCA compare as an experience? I came to the RCA as, I guess, a mature student, because I’d been to Maidstone for my undergrad and then to Bristol to do my teacher training, and I’d taken some time out to teach, working in schools and galleries such as the Arnolfini, and the Watershed in Bristol. My experience as a BA student in Maidstone was of a time when there were no fees, we all got a grant, we could sign on during the summer, received housing benefit - which meant a lot of us went on to Higher Education just to get away. This was so important, this getting away - having time and space to work out what we wanted to do later on. The big difference about coming to the Royal College – which was quite startling at the time – was that everyone came on this course because they were intent on being an artist. This was immediately evident: from day one we’d go straight from the tutorials to a pub or cafe, and conversations would continue around what it means to be an artist and make work – it was 24/7. It still is. It’s a pretty intense time: If you’re not making work, you’re going to exhibitions; you’re reading, you’re writing - you’re being speculative all the time, you’re an artist from day one here at the RCA. What did you do after graduating in 1997? When I graduated from the RCA, things for the first year were quite quiet. After the intensity and support of the RCA, the main objective was to keep the momentum of the work going. I did lots of supply teaching all over East London to pay off my student loans and pay the rent. Imagine working in some of the most challenging schools in London as a supply teacher – it’s enough to strike fear into the stoutest of hearts. At the same time as being parachuted in to many, many hostile territories I was painting in my flat, which was half studio, half bedsit. My work had been included in a show of paintings at City Racing, then my work was included in a show at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, and out of all this I was offered a solo show at Maureen Paley/Interim Art. And then suddenly I was very busy in the studio, and whether it was unfortunate, or whether it was luck, every group show I was invited to be in all demanded new work, and each one wanted five or six works. The nature of the work was quite complex at that point; I really had to burn the midnight oil in the studio. At one point I had eight group shows - which felt like eight solo shows - back-to-back over a period of two years. During that time I taught a day a week at Goldsmiths on the BA course, with the odd day on the MA, as well as continuing to teach in a school I’d become attached to on Brick Lane near my studio. I also began to visit lots of colleges up and down the country, and at that time did the odd day here at the RCA – but most of my time was taken up with the studio. Then as the demands on my studio practice abated a little, I went on to become more involved with the RCA. So I went from being an occasional visitor, to working here a day a week, then two, then three, as I took a more active role in planning, bringing people in, and the ideas around the course. So it has been a developing relationship over about ten years, and still continues to develop.
So how did it feel to be made Head of Painting at the RCA in 2006? It was a jolt to see my name on the door with the word ‘Professor’ in front of it. But then you quickly realise the main benefit of having a title like that is on the outside of the College: I can get things done, I get invited to give talks and presentations, and also I can use the title to help lever further support, make new connections and raise essential funds from various external agencies. Which is different to my work within the College - which is to encourage the students to make the most of being here, and have the best experience possible. This I do by supporting a fantastic and highly driven group of staff. As Head of Department I tend to ‘lead from the back’ to a certain extent, so we have these big staff meetings where everyone can be in disagreement or throw in different points of view – to get to what is the most exciting way forward, and then work out how to make everything work. So everyone in the team has an equal voice, and plays a vital role. That said, ultimately it is me that stands by all the team believe in when presenting to senior management, and to the outside world, which I feel truly honoured to do. How do you incorporate your own practice and theories into the course? I think it’s imperative as a tutor to be a practitioner - to have the experience of having a really bad day in the studio – when you think everything’s nonsense. Then coming into the College you have first-hand knowledge of how difficult it is to make art in the face of art history, contemporary visual culture and the public gaze. The door of the Painting Department almost has to operate as a threshold. Outside anxieties such as the rent, the bills, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, the cost of standing still, and the journey in, need to be left at the door. Inside the studio you can then work with a different set of rules and registers, and can play really seriously. Having a studio practice with ups and downs means I can talk with authority to students about what’s possible in the work, because I’m fully aware of what they have to negotiate. It would be easy to occupy a position as a tutor in a notional way and be totally academic - and in some ways it would be less painful and galling than having a studio practice. However like most artists that perpetually continue to make work, it is how I ultimately make sense of the world around me, by visualising it all on my terms. Because this relationship to making - and the endeavour of making sense of things - is always changing, and on the move, it means one then enters into a negotiation with students around the work they need to make, rather than talking from an assured terra firma.
Alumni on the Staff The Lamp 1997 (RCA student work)
And does being Head of Painting inform and influence your own work? Absolutely. It can come through one-to-one tutorials or group seminars, or just seeing how work develops in the studios here. Then going back to my own studio all those rigorous conversations and observations regarding student work come to the fore. Mostly the notion of ‘What if?’ - One of my favourite questions. ‘What if it was made of this?’ ‘What if it was this size?’ ‘What if you approached it from this angle?’ There’s something in me quite hungry to ask that question of the students, because there is a tendency amongst them to see themselves like shamans with the work just flowing from them – and the notion of ‘re-doing’ can seem a bit pedestrian, and a bit of an annoyance. I like to encourage re-visiting...re-reading...re-freshing. The ‘what if’ drives my own studio work, and then acts as a critical tool to suggest the next artwork, or how we might orchestrate a seminar back in college.
Is their outlook as students the same as when you were here, or is it different because of the growth in the art market? Oh, it’s changed radically. We’ve just been through ten years when pursuing art as a career was an option, more or less the ten years after I graduated. Prior to that, conversations had been along the lines of “How are we going to sustain ourselves?” Some students made the mistake after graduating of trying to emulate what they had here in terms of a community and joined some big studio block - then quickly realised it was empty because everyone was at work to pay for the studio! A lot of my year ended up working in garages, sheds or turned half their bedrooms into studios. But over the last ten years, with the advent of residencies, and more galleries picking up students, and a more buoyant climate of speculative money, it’s been a more fruitful time to graduate. So the students of the past ten years have had different conversations to my peer group - We spent the first year out playing catch-up! Now with the current climate the question “How are we going to sustain ourselves?” has returned, and the graduating students have already taken hold of that. This year you organised the post-graduation show ‘Through The Wall’ for second-year students in the East End of London. What was your thinking behind that? To be fair, it was the student group led by Robin Footitt and Samuel Fouracre that fronted all the negotiations and organisational work that needed to be done to make this exhibition happen. The whole show was born out of a project we did two years ago with the Bank of America, who generously gave some money directly to be used by students in a group endeavour. The previous graduates decided to use the money to publicize their work - this recent graduating group decided to do an external show. We as a Department supported them, in terms of underwriting them and helping with the logistics, but the students drove the project. In terms of the whole ethos of going out and ‘making a stand’ – the show was a fantastic success. When we graduated it was more a matter of getting by, then riding the wave of a buoyant art market – now students have to be more pro-active. The galleries in many ways are ‘on hold’ and are not taking many people on. They’re trying to look after the artists they already have, some galleries are actually going under, and altogether there’s less confidence around in supporting emerging artists. That said, artists can be very flexible and tenacious, so this year’s graduating students decided to take this on board and produce an amazing external show which was very well attended – and very well attended by galleries coming to see what could come from artists directly. It’s not a novel idea, but it just shows that if you orchestrate something well, and site it professionally, people will come and be genuinely entertained and interested.
Alumni on the Staff
The Painting Department will be moving to its new building on the Battersea site in the 2009 - 2010 academic year – How do you see the move yourself, and what are your hopes and plans for the course once you’re there? Since I became head of the course we’ve had three years to plan the building, so most of our discussions have been around what we want: light, space – and a dynamic environment to make, learn, and teach in. The Painting staff worked closely with the architects Haworth and Tompkins, who have designed a building from the inside-out, starting with our students’ needs. What’s starting to take place now is the consideration of the ‘extra’ things that are very important in terms of the dynamic of the space and the surrounding environment: Our relationship with the river, the big sky over the bridge, the light, the hustle and bustle of the King’s Road – all seen as film montage with a driving sound track… We’re starting to think in terms of the dynamic of what it means - the ‘mythology’ if you like - to be sited somewhere on the banks of the Thames: It is really exciting in terms of how we ‘frame’ ourselves. We can also build upon existing relationships with all the local agencies such as the Pump House Gallery, the Tate, the South London Gallery, and the Chelsea Arts Club. We’ll also have the Sculpture School with us from day one - and we’ve already started making more permanent links with them – and when Printmaking and Photography come down, we’re going to have a big student dynamic. I just feel that because here in Kensington we’re physically part of a much bigger institution, and we’re on three floors, it’s hard to get a sense of ourselves as a physical group sometimes, and of a body of work going through the department at any one time. While in the new building you’ll be able to traverse it and get a sense of the diversity, and a buzz of what’s in the air because it’s on one ground plan. So the whole building will have much more energy. That’ll make a big difference within each department and for Fine Art as a school. The students are looking forward to moving, and in a few years time when we’ve had exhibitions there, and hosted our open days, and energized the local area, it will become the place to be. This will be where everyone will want to go to do an MA in Painting, Sculpture, Photography and Printmaking.
New Painting building, Battersea (artistâ€™s impression)
Alumni on the Staff
Last Word: News from the Rector
This will be my final ‘Last Word’ as Rector of the RCA, so I’d like to share some important news and thoughts with you all. The Sculpture building in Battersea is now completely refurbished (at a cost of £4.4million); the Painting building will be complete by October 2009 (another £4.4million) and the money is in the bank for Phase 2 (a total of £21million). Phase 2 comprises a fantastic new lecture theatre, galleries, start-up units for graduate designers and crafts people, and the departments of Printmaking and Photography. It has been made possible by a very generous gift of £5million from James Dyson, who was a graduate in 1970, and in recognition of this, the main building will be called The Dyson Building. This Battersea development is – I like to think – one of my biggest legacies as Rector, solving the space problem for the foreseeable future and giving us all much-needed room to breathe. There’s still Phase 3 – the Applied Arts Building for Ceramics & Glass; Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery – and all contributions from alumni will be very gratefully received as well as acknowledged. So if you want to make a donation, however small, please go to http://www.rca.ac.uk/donationform.aspx. Phase 2 will be built between 2010 and 2012. Then Phase 3. So we have 2 ½ years to raise the money. By the time you read this I’ll have left the College – after thirteen years as Rector; thirty overlapping years as Professor of Cultural History and seven years in the 1970s as a part-time tutor. So this institution has been a large part of my professional life for some thirty-seven years, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the alumni, staff, and especially the students who have made my time so rewarding, so memorable and so absorbing. Of course, the College has changed a lot since October 1972 when I first arrived. In those days it was directly funded from the Department of Education & Science – no HEFCE in those days, just a single civil servant in Whitehall who looked after us – with a Visiting Committee appointed by the DES, which looked in every five years or so, and wrote an informal report. The College’s total annual income – largely from the Ministry – was £1.090 million. There were 567 students in 17 departments, 228 new entrants, distributed between the Darwin Building, the Victorian and Edwardian houses of Queensgate and Kensington Gore, the corrugated Sculpture huts next to the Science Museum and the Victorian studios beside the V&A off Exhibition Road. It was a time when 11% of the school-leaving population went on to university. In the 1971-72 Annual Report, two Departments – Textile Design and the Readability of Print Unit within Graphics – celebrated with great excitement the arrival of their very first computers; Fashion recorded its annual Dress Degree Show on videotape for the first time; Interior Design under Sir Hugh Casson changed its name to Environmental Design – to take account of an increasing interest in landscape and gardens: it would, said Sir Hugh, retain its focus on Interiors – and Stained Glass was restructured to become part of Ceramics & Glass on the one hand and of Light Transmission and Projection on the other. There was, said the Report, less and less demand for church commissions these days.
Photography, Printmaking and two research units – experimental cartography and the readability of print – were still in the School of Graphic Design, under Professor Dick Guyatt – as well as graphics, illustration and typography, and Ark Magazine celebrated the publication of its 50th issue. Carel Weight retired as Professor of Painting, Sir Duncan Oppenheim as Chairman of Council – he’d been Chairman since 1956 – Eduardo Paolozzi was congratulated on his retrospective exhibition at the Tate – the one which famously featured a skip full of discarded fragments of sculpture – Gerald Benney, who’d graduated from Silversmithing & Jewellery in 1954, had a major retrospective of his work and a young Mr Christopher Frayling was welcomed by Professor Christopher Cornford into the Department of General Studies as a visiting tutor. There were – perhaps surprisingly – four strong research centres in the College: Design Research - fresh from its NHS hospital bed project; Textile Research; and the two units in graphics, all with modest external funding. There was talk of an Environmental Research Unit – because of the rising tide of interest among staff and students about ecology and animal rights. Reading the various departmental reports, I think it fair to say that this was not what is known today as a managed teaching and learning environment. In fact, the fashionable management textbook of the 1960s and 70s – Peter Drucker’s The Practice of Management, which was being recommended in Misha Black’s Department of Industrial Design Engineering – stated categorically that unless profit or economic performance was the motive, the language of management was not an appropriate language to use. If misused, the language of management could become “a usurpation of authority”. It was around this time that Hugh Casson said he overheard two designers sitting in the park opposite, and one of them saying “let’s be philosophical about this, don’t give it a second thought”; and when Ruskin Spear – who taught in Painting – told me that after he’d had a couple of post-lunch brandies in the SCR, he ambled over to the Royal Academy’s Show on 19th Century Russian painting – all fir trees and moonlit landscapes and troikas – got confused, thought for a moment he was in the Painting student show, and said to a baffled passer-by “they’re a bloody gloomy lot this year”. As I say, not a managed learning environment. Christmas 1972 was the second Court meeting to be addressed by Lord Esher, successor to Robin Darwin as the College’s Rector, and the theme of his speech was “We mustn’t be complacent. The RCA is universally respected. So was Rolls Royce when it started on the RB 211 and look what happened to Rolls Royce. The greater the prestige, the more ignominious the possible tumble. Our context is changing and we must change with it.” Lord Esher recommended that the College concern itself more with design for need, ecology, larger departments, and above all that it should “have the guts not to run away from industry”. The year he left, 1971, Robin Darwin famously expelled a man who worked for the education ministry from the Common Room, just as he had earlier expelled a Professor from the SCR for not wearing a necktie.
Last Word: News from the Rector
The planned Fine and Applied Arts buildings, Battersea (artistâ€™s impression)
Dissolve, as they say, from the 6th meeting of the Court, to the 41st at Christmas 2008. The College is now funded through the Higher Education Funding Council for England, under the aegis of a government department which deals with business, innovation, skills and higher education, together with 129 other universities – many of them dating from post-1991. 43% of the School-leaving population, plus adult learners, now go on to university. In place of the informal Visiting Committee, there is the formal Quality Audit, the Research Assessment Exercise, annual reports to HEFCE, and regular enquiries into the funding of specialist institutions such as us and the Music Conservatoires, now the ‘Last of the Mohicans’. The College’s income has gone up from £1 million to £28.7 million, the number of students from 567 – with 228 new entrants – to 922, with 430 new entrants. They are distributed between the Darwin Building, the Stevens Building – which opened in 1992, on the 25th anniversary of the Royal Charter – the Sculpture Department in Howie Street – and, soon, the new campus opposite Sculpture in Battersea. Digital activity is now at the heart of the College’s work in art and design, Environmental Design has become Architecture, Photography and Printmaking have moved to the Fine Art School – oriented towards the galleries – and there are two – rather than four – strong research units in the College; not nearly enough. Meanwhile, the 21 departments of the College, in seven schools, have become much better-managed learning environments – we hope with a light touch – with regular course validations involving external people, annual reviews by staff and students, a strong academic standards committee, and a growing interest in cross-College educational issues such as our relationship with schools; our understanding of dyslexia; and our role as part of the knowledge economy rather than just the supply chain. You still get wonderful RCA moments, though. A cherished one was the PhD viva in one of the departments which I attended when the external examiner – from industry – said “aren’t we getting a bit intellectual about this?”. But there’s no doubt that the College has evolved useful and workable ways of managing its affairs, and being accountable for public money. That’s a word that was never used way back in 1972: Accountable. Well, what of the last thirteen years since I became Rector? Some of the things I’d count as the highlights – and which have been achieved in close partnership with my senior colleagues – and indeed with the whole College eventually behind them are: • The foundation and development of the Helen Hamlyn Centre – originally called DesignAge – of InnovationRCA and Design London, all of them key bridgeheads to the professional worlds of art and design, all of them world-leaders in their field. • The appointment of a real ‘A’ team of Professors, practitioner-teachers all, since 1996 – the first of whom was Ron Arad and the most recent Tord Boontje in Design Products. While others in the sector turn their teachers into career academics, I believe it is more important than ever for students to have Professors and tutors who have one foot in the professional world, one in the world of higher education. I’ve appointed
Last Word: News from the Rector
18 of the current Professors in all – all bar, Communications, Animation, and Ceramics. • The development of the Battersea campus, which I’ve mentioned. The one big disappointment of my Rectorship – apart from the fact that HEFCE still insists on seeing us as a problem rather than an achievement – is that we didn’t succeed in putting the ‘Ellipse’ extension on the front of the RCA building opposite the Albert Hall. But Battersea is actually a much better idea – and a much more workable pledge to the future. Space – and the quality of space – has come up time and time again in student contributions to annual reviews. So it should, with 922 students, in spaces built for 567. Then there’s research. People write about research in art and design as if it is a recent invention, following the introduction of the Research Assessment Exercise in the late 1980s. Actually, a lot of it was happening in the College in 1972 – as we’ve seen – and even more a hundred years earlier in Victorian times with Christopher Dresser on the principles of design; Owen Jones on the grammar of ornament; TH Huxley on art botany; and Richard Redgrave on the history of art. The RCA – or the Government School of Design, as it was then known – was in some ways the Vatican of art education, in theory and practice. As it was still, in specialist areas, in 1972. But the Research Assessment Exercise has certainly quickened the pace. We’re much better at supervising and teaching research students (there were none in 1972 – nearly 90 today), better at organising and valuing staff research, we have a much more sophisticated infrastructure, we’re better at attracting funds from the new Arts & Humanities Research Council, and the EPSRC, for individual projects – the lone scholar or artist or designer. But one of the lessons of 1972 – and I actually said this at my interview in 1996, as I’ve been saying it since – one of the lessons is that we need innovative research centres in each school of the College. Fully funded, involving team research and much generosity of spirit, on subjects that fit the culture of the College and that we’re uniquely good at. We’ve had some, and they’ve proved very important and influential: the Helen Hamlyn Centre is a shining example; the Centre for the Study of the Domestic Interior; the Centre for Jewellery Research under David Watkins which has just come to an end. But it’s not nearly enough for a postgraduate university. One thing we have improved, however, is our understanding of the sorts of research that suit the modern College – practice-based, and with its feet on the ground. And that’s a big start. Another aspect of the last thirteen years has been a much closer relationship with our immediate neighbours in SW7. When I was Professor of Cultural History in the 1980s, I helped to set up the joint RCA/V&A courses in the History of Design and Conservation – and I’ve always been a passionate believer in the vision of Albertopolis, the vision which goes right back to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Our joint IDE course with Imperial College is well-established – it started in the 1980s. But, in the wake of
various high-level reports on the need to bring together the triangle of design – engineering – and business, we have established Design London, with our close partners Imperial College, and we’ve also established ‘Curating Contemporary Art’, in partnership with Arts Council England. Partnership will I’m sure be a key feature of the future. Of course, I’d echo Lord Esher’s words in 1972. Now is certainly not the time for the College to become complacent. One of the features of the last 13 years has been constantly persuading the Higher Education Funding Council, the various education ministries – DES, DfES, DIUS etc – the Research authorities and lead industry bodies that we may be expensive per student but we are excellent value to the nation. The price of the College as an independent postgraduate university of art and design, has been eternal vigilance. And none of that is going to go away. More generally, there’s the credit crunch, the recession, the public expenditure rounds which will have to pay for the various bank bail-outs of the last year, the persuading of everyone who’ll listen that now is not, absolutely not, the time to downgrade the creative industries and design. I’ve been fortunate that my Rectorship has coincided with growing public and government awareness of the importance of the creative industries. It is critical – not just for us, but for the nation – that these gains are not seen as the ‘icing on the cake’. And the recession is precisely the time to invest in these areas – not to downgrade or jettison them. So the RCA is a very different sort of place to when some of you were here. And it is in my view well able to cope with the choppy waters that lie ahead. I’ll miss it a lot. And one consistent feature, through it all, has been encouraging students to find their own voices rather than using someone else’s, encouraging them to challenge and practise art in a design environment and design in an art environment. That is for me the heart of the matter. Goodbye and good luck. Oh, and do contribute towards Phase 3 of the Battersea campus if you can! With very best wishes from
Professor Sir Christopher Frayling Rector 1996-2009
Total Current Membership 4756 Membership numbers by decade 2000s 2823 1990s 1073 1980s 460 1970s 294 1960s 91 1950s 12 1940s 0 1930s 1 1920s 1
Life Support Artists Designers Makers Researchers Writers
Design: Paul Farrington www.studiotonne.com / MA RCA Design Communications 1998
www.rca.ac.uk/alumni http://alumnet.rca.ac.uk firstname.lastname@example.org