Royal College of Art: Visual Communication degree show

In addressing some of last year’s concerns over the display space given to the RCA’s Visual Communication graduates, this year’s show makes great use of the college’s Stevens Building and presents some particularly strong work in the process

Pages from Giulia Garbin’s linocut work, The Street of Ink (see below)

In addressing some of last year’s concerns over the display space given to the RCA’s Visual Communication graduates, this year’s show makes great use of the college’s Stevens Building and presents some particularly strong work in the process…

To the left of the entrance to the first room, Minho Kwon‘s piece The Neo Arts and Crafts Movement, dominates the space.

The large central drawing, made in pencil and charcoal on tracing paper, is flanked by two smaller ones which also incorporate flickering digital projections.

It’s like a strange architectural palimpsest – with newer buildings constructed upon the lines of older forms.

Even corner spaces are played by some students to their advantage. Chris Nott‘s installation Multicultural London English, for example, used the full height of the walls to investigate the “inner city sound of London”, a modern vernacular that, Nott says, “cuts across ethnicity and race”.

In an interesting spin on the subject, Nott also looked at the way language can prohibit movement – trapping those who cannot navigate beyond a particular dialect.

And the stairwell is certainly the best place for Becky Allen‘s piece Penelope – all 14ft of it. Approaching it from below, it’s quite hard to focus on – created from thousands of miniscule lines on rice paper, collectively they produce a warping, three-dimensional effect.

Detail from Penelope

Equally, Yeni Kim brought her alcove to life with a display of elements from her three books, Animals, City Acrobat and Signs and Symbols.

There is some really impressive illustration on show this year. Miguel Angel Valdivia, for example, has adapted a screenplay – Boccaperta by Italian actor and director Carmelo Bene – which was never made into a film.

Given this starting point, Valdivia’s eventual narrative, though filmic, has no preceeding visual reference points. He claims he struggled with deciding on the media to tell Bene’s story, finally settling on a wordless narrative which best conveyed his own voice.

Similarly, the gestural detail in Joseph Rudi Pielichaty‘s series, A Young Man Getting Ready, showed a real skill at employing a simple line to convey the universal in a much-recognised morning ritual.

Salt Tse-Ying Chiang‘s block print series Pre-ego/Down State (again, black ink on paper) also offered a good counterpoint to her sculptural work where a circular train track runs through a small group of toy dolls, while an animated heart beats in the centre.

Printing onto wood, Seungyeon Choi‘s Cubes in Cubism letters posters were also really well-conceived.

And with something of the Eric Carle about his series of arcrylic, ink and cut-out paper scenes, Sam Ashton captured his love of the textural side of illustration to great effect.

The narrative behind Serena Katt‘s book Sunday’s Child, from which she displayed a series of prints, apparently came from her grandfather’s writings about his childhood in 1930s Germany. The images are also based on archive and family photographs.

And as if to bolster the strength of the work on paper exhibited at the show, Jessica Morgan‘s book, The Future of Print Magazines, provides a neat manifesto for how the medium lives in the digital world. Her poster for the RCA show itself certainly conveyed the potential within the printed form.

Jacob Robinson’s Ruin Value is an interesting approach to the discussion of how (and why) Germany’s Nazi-era history might be preserved, with particular focus on the impact of the Third Reich in Nuremberg.

It’s a very well-realised project, with the photo essay (in book form) displayed alongside some impressive large format prints. Robinson also paired up with Kelvin Brown to produced the short 16mm film, Dry Stone Waller.

Giulia Garbin‘s linocut work, The Street of Ink, is accompanied by an audio book which features recollections from some of the printing press workers of Fleet Street.

For Garbin, the location acts as “a symbol for the fall of a communication industry” and she illustrates four of the workers’ stories. (The image shown at the top of this post is from Garbin’s book project, and she also presented a series of linocut prints in red.)

I also enjoyed Tamsin Nagel‘s Enclave (ii), a two and a half metre wide pencil drawing depicting a brace of clapboard churches and which “explores the small-town notions of life, death, religion and the absurd”.

And Goya Choi‘s posters which accompanied a book and documentary were cleverly back-lit – though in a much subtler way than my camera suggests.

Choi’s focus is on the indefinite ‘leave to remain’ (LTR) rule which illegal immigrants to the UK can claim if they have ‘overstayed’ in the country for a period of 14 years, becoming legalised in the process.

In the same room, Jack Llewellyn‘s work on the book, typeface and posters for the college’s two year-old Eady Forum looked suitably rigorous for the programme’s aims.

The Forum is, writes RCA senior tutor Adrian Shaughnessy in the book’s foreword, “a platform for the analysis and interrogation of contemporary graphic design practice”, realised through lectures, seminars and discussions. Llewellyn worked with an editorial team including the aforementioned Jessica Morgan and Joseph Rudi Pielichaty.

It’s interesting to see the students engaging critically with their own practice – and showing the results within their degree show – particularly as the RCA has itself seen plenty of changes in the last few years. For one, under its new head of programme Neville Brody, Visual Communication Art & Design has become Visual Communication.

In the introductory text to the 2013 show, Professor Brody says the course will further the consideration of how new technology works with old while being increasingly aware of the changing relationship between design and the society it is created for.

The department is, he writes, “moving along a line between making things and making thought”. From the evidence of this year’s show, it looks to be getting that balance right.

The Royal College of Art’s degree shows run until June 30 at two main sites – RCA Kensington and RCA Battersea (both open 12-8pm daily, closed June 28). For the full list of exhibiting courses see

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