Royal College Of Art Degree Show 2012 Photography Review

RCA Degree Show Photography

Although it may not be as glamorous a location for its students, the expansion of the RCA to the environs of its old Sculpture building has worked wonders for the experience of visiting one of its shows. The exhibition is now spread across 3  buildings as well as the neighbouring space Testbed, allowing for a far more spacious and proportioned hang than when all departments were crammed into its Kensington campus. To make matters more interesting, the separate practices have been jumbled together. Sculpture (always a tenuous term at the Royal College), Fine Art, Printmaking and Photography rub against one another, creating, in some cases a pleasing dialogue. The overlap between Printmaking and Photography is particularly interesting.

From an overall perspective, there was a pleasing freshness to the photography on display. Highly polished and high production value are the markers of RCA graduates always, but the work itself can often be forcibly generic, as if the students are discouraged from exploring avenues that might impact upon its clear positioning within a professional art practice discourse. This seems to be less so this year. Another general observation would be the welcome return of monochrome in some students’ work as well prints sized relative to their intention as opposed to just huge, huge, huge.

First to impress was the taut, crisp work of David Edwards whose ambiguous imagery invites the viewer to approach and decode images seemingly obvious at first glance. These are sophisticated in their play, challenging rather than confrontational and ultimately rewarding with their secrets. The stand-out image is the low-angle, tightly composed shot of two horses and their manes, all muscle and grace, force and beauty- the tensions inherent in nature’s wildness made explicit. Combined with a photographic mode of address that refers to both propaganda and fashion, these animals, faces obscured, take on the figurative power of sculpture, whilst retaining the ephemeral quality of the frozen photographic moment.

The outstanding installation of Tereza Zelenkova work offers no real clues to its meaning or intent, if any exists, and without any accompanying text one is left to contemplate a remarkably consistent aesthetic display. Black and White images of dogs, inordinately long hair and vegetation (mostly flashed at night) are juxtaposed with star charts and a strange oversized, prism like object installed in the center of the space. This is young, ‘stream-of-consciousness’ type work within which obscured meaning is the point, contradictions integral to its overall purpose, but this is a cut above in the inescapable suspicion one can’t help but have that this photographer knows something we don’t.

Although technically a part of Printmaking, Jessica Rayner’s landscapes seem to refer explicitly to photographic practice.  Seascapes and mountain ranges are gently layered onto one another, both confounding and questioning the notion of the horizon line on a formal level, whilst connoting the essence of the adventurous landscape, the desire to explore and the need to overcome. There’s a melancholy quality here, as if the need to see, to encapsulate is somehow muted, moot, of no great significance in the way it might once have been.

James Smith’s ‘Temporal Dislocation’ is perhaps best described as a series of portraits of Brutalist architectures.  According to the artist, the work seeks to engage with the essence of Brutalist philosophy, in that what is depicted is ‘machine-made at the peak of industrial efficiency’ (or something to that effect) and this is an interesting concept, but what struck me most about the work was the seeming fragility of these concrete structures, isolated, towering but somehow precarious,  about to topple over at any point. There is also a timelessness to their nature, as if time stopped at this ‘peak’, and that these are monuments to when history did in fact end. Straggling the line between topography and pictorialism, this is powerful work.

It’s again hard to know what Michael Hammond is documenting with his project ‘A Hole in the Light’, but the sparse domestic details that constitute this project could be a part of any narrative, reinforce any concept. They are the new universal in a way, suburban and banal, yet containing the vestiges of the fight to make one’s presence felt, make a mark of some kind in so uncaring an environment. Hammond celebrates these small battles.

Jinkyun Ahn also produced some interesting work, including a photographic sculpture which had a portrait mounted on the inside of two steel plates. This challenges the viewer to look down a dark corridor to reveal the hidden subject. (see top photo)

The worthy winner of the Photographer’s Gallery prize is Jolanta Dolewska’s ‘Court’ Series. Another set of interior details, this time from courthouses, one presumes, these are outstanding in their poetic power. Printed in the darkroom, the images have an amazing granular, textural quality that refers to the modernist practices of the immediate post-war period. These details are pregnant, laced with potential and almost etched onto the paper on which they are displayed. These courts could be meting out justice of the worse kind, or the best, but their necessity and their quality, as captured by the artist, is of pure, unflinching, indifference.

Watch out for these young artists, in the future.

Words/ Photos: Kerim Aytac © ArtLyst 2012

Top Photo: Jinkyun Ahn ‘where is Dad © 2012 The Artist



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