In September 2017, the Royal College of Art (RCA) opened its new campus in London’s White City and with it, a host of new students experienced a shift in their education. Seeking ways to engage with their new environment, second-year MA Critical Writing in Art and Design students have produced Propland. A collaborative publication, the project is a reaction to their new home sharing a space with the BBC Television Centre (TVC), and showcases alternative narratives of the TVC in a series of essays and creative writing segments.
“The concept was brought about through meetings with the whole year group,” explains Jacob Pardoe, one of Propland’s designers – alongside Liam Johnstone and Yuanbo Jiang. TVC presented itself as the perfect topic for their explorative project as a place with a rich history of production, the institution it housed for 50 years, as well as opening up possible discourse surrounding the materiality of television itself. “It gave us a lot of raw material to work with,” Jessica Dyer, one of the contributing writers reaffirms.
Propland takes its name from the nickname given to the area by set designers who would visit the numerous prop warehouses that existed around TVC. It presents a series of essays, developed in “crits” where each writer brought their initial ideas to be worked through as a group and individually. These essays are set forth in three groupings, broken up by shorter snippets, with a fold-out timeline (which contextualises the BBC to a global audience) also included. “It was important that the essays engaged with different aspects of TVC, the BBC and television,” Jacob tells It’s Nice That. Therefore, “the shorter texts or vignettes that intersect these are a way to address important areas that had not been explored in the main texts,” Jessica explains.
From a redefinition of the term “prop” by Jessica, Propland includes writings on signals, transmission towers and networks by Sam John; the history of the area from a 17th Century farmland to the construction of TVC by Kelvin Chuanh; a look at the BBC from an international perspective by Shira Jecsmien who used it to learn English; and an examination on Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing style by Izabela Moren. The publication also features the work of Jacqueline Duan, Kole Fulmine, Alice Larsson, Ella Lewis-Williams, Oisín Prendergast Knight, Louis Shankar, Alex J Todd, Sophie Tolhurst and Kit Webb. “It’s through this diverse lens that Propland comes into view,” Jessica concludes.
Propland’s treatment embodies its concept in every way possible. When designing the book, Jacob, Liam and Yuanbo settled on the concept of changing channels, meaning every essay has a unique dot sequence or channel number which can be referenced on the contents page. To mirror the BBC’s ethos of being impartial and transparent, texts are printed on a Bible paper. Its cover is also a simplified graphic rendition of the BBC test cards used to calibrate the cameras when filming.
Throughout the book, as well as archival graphics and photography, Propland features the illustrations of Peony Gent. “This was something of a dream project for me,” she explains, “the writers really encouraged me to create work which only reflected me as an artist as equally as it reflected the essays themselves.” Using a combination of scratchy pencil marks overlaid with thick sweeps of dark texture, Peony’s illustrations provide a visual distinction in their organic quality. With their layers of texture, they all mirror the subjects of each essay and the “reoccurring theme of the layering and interweaving of time, and the layering of masked meanings and veiled intentions,” Peony adds.
Thanks to a process of collaborative design, writing and illustrating, Propland’s content interlinks and references itself perfectly. By using the area’s history and cultural relevance as a springboard to create work, these students have not only helped carve out their current standing but have begun to define the area’s future as the home of the RCA. Although a one-off publication, the writers have formed a writing collective and are currently looking for a new subject to tackle in the hope of publishing together again in the future.
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