After the uber-impressive opening of the Royal College of Art’s Kensington graduate show, attention turned to the school’s Battersea campus. While the exhibition set-up at the former site compartmentalised schools fairly rigidly, there was more intermingling of disciplines down over the river where the Fine Art and Materials students are showing off their skills.
Our visit began in the Hester Road gallery where there is much to admire in the Ceramics and Glass, Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery exhibition. Stand-outs include Jacob Erixson, whose masculine-yet-delicate silver jewellery inspired by wanderings (both mental and physical) is displayed in a rustic railroad shack, and the wonderfully-named Max Danger’s bee-inspired pieces.
The ceramics on show are of particularly high quality; Alicja Patanowska deserves special mention for her Plantation series which “recognises the potential of abandoned drinking glasses” by placing porcelain plant pots into pint glasses, wine glasses and the like.
Textiles too is stuffed with highlights; we were particularly drawn to Nicola Jones’ pieces which explore “the transformation of knitting on and off the body” – flexible pieces in interesting combinations of materials which pose more questions than they answer.
Perhaps more than anyone the Fine Art students carry the weight of expectation that comes with the alumni the RCA boasts, but this year’s crop should hold their heads high. In Sculpture Gabriel Birch’s tremendous (and suddenly very timely) piece inspired by anti-homeless street furniture is an enigmatic work that riffs off the sensuous aesthetic versus the nasty and divisive purpose of the originals. Elsewhere Amelia Newton Whitelaw’s huge grey-green chunk of slate suspended over visitors’ heads by what looks like human hair packs a powerful punch.
Photographer Geoff Bartholomew’s huge skewed street scene is a disorienting piece of visual trickery, the sheer scale of which magnifies its impact, while in Printmaking, James Seow’s copper plate etchings of various famous squares is an interesting and engaging comment on our public spaces.
The Painting course’s work pushes the medium’s boundaries almost to breaking point in places, and the work requires quite careful study to fully appreciate it. That said, Russell Hill’s huge piece created using toothpaste has the perfect combination of wit and technical skill, while photographer Petra Kubisova’s challenging interactive installation, where the mere whisper of an image flashes at us in a pitch black space, is an effective use of sensory deprivation for artistic effect.
All in all the Battersea campus offers an inspiring and thought-provoking immersion in the artier side of this year’s RCA cohort and, like its Kensington counterpart, it’s well worth a visit. Just make sure you leave yourself enough time!