“I am feeling strangely relaxed,” Katarina Hruskova says. “I am waiting for the panic to begin; I’m sure it’s going to happen at some point!” Her current placidity is impressive considering how much she currently has on her plate. As an about-to-graduate photography student at the Royal College of Art, Katarina is not only finishing off her final degree work; she has also helped work on the book which the final year students have published.
The first challenge of course was for the students to decide on an overarching theme for the publication which was somehow relevant to their eclectic artistic approaches. “We sit down with the whole group and have a conversation about what our work is about. Obviously there are many different practices but somehow we needed to find something in common.”
It’s a big decision too for Rut Blees Luxemburg, the group’s tutor and editor of the book. “The whole group is trying to articulate what is really at stake in contemporary photographic practice, what are the themes and urgencies that unite them in their artist enquiry. This year it turned out they were all very much concerned with science and fiction; science in terms of how technology and photography are developing, and fiction in terms of narrative, story and language.
“It’s quite open so everyone in the group could get traction on this notion but everyone has done it in their own way. You have vey different interpretations of this theme.”
Katarina took the idea in a particularly interesting direction. “In my work I approached the subject imagined myself at home DIY scientist who just uses anything he or she can find at home to conduct experiments., So I wore tin foil on my legs and pretended to be a lo-fi robot and made an arm out of a pancake which looks like a very sci-fi building material, like a different skin.”
From the outset the group wanted a lot of text in the book “to work in parallel with the images.” Writers like Alexander García Düttmann, Chloe Aridjis, Zinovy Zinik and Michael Salu were given access to the students’ DropBox filer while they worked on their images, so the process of inspiration became intertwined.
Rut gave an example of how this process played out. “One of the writers picked up on Katarina’s home DIY scientist and joined together how people make MDMA at home with how Henry Fox Talbot the inventor of photography worked in the dark room making the first chemical experiments. This is how the images and text interact with each other opening things up completely.”
Having seen some of the written contributions, it’s fair to say the book explores some very complex ideas. Katarina credits designer Xavier Fernández Fuente for producing a visual treatment that didn’t feel too overwhelming. “The design is very open and very generous with lots of full bleed spreads. Xavier did a very good job guiding a line through all the different practices because it was so fragmented. It’s a very strong design statement I would say. He’s very good and understands how an art book works.”
But with all the other pressures, why is it important for the course to produce a publication?
“I think it’s very important because photography in a book is something entirely different than a photograph on a wall,” Katarina says. “It’s important for an artist and especially a photographer to feel at home in this medium and consider their work in the context of a book.”
Rut agrees. “ It’s important for the students to develop relationships with writers and start to engage with people who think and write about photography and art, to participate in that discourse.
“It’s also important in terms of having the work visible outside the college,” she adds. “It’s available in book-shops all over the world and can reach another network of interested people. That’s a very important consideration.”
Science & Fiction is the fourth book the RCA photography students have produced and Rut believes they are building a great archive. “If we continue doing this and look back in ten years, we will see a history of how photography has changed over the years. It will be a very interesting resource for future scholars.”
And with that the pair go back to hanging the degree show.
Science & Fiction is published by Black Dog Publishing and is available via the website and at selected bookshops. The book will be launched with a one-night exhibition at WORK gallery, 10A Acton Street, London WC1X 9NG on Thursday 22 May from 6-8pm with guest speaker Tom McCarthy. To RSVP email firstname.lastname@example.org