Design interrupted at the Royal College of Art

Publié par le 17 janvier 2014

Every winter, the Royal College of Art presents the aptly named “Work in Progress” exhibit, which offers glimpses into the artistic process of the students. It is a prelude to the main graduate show at the end of the school year. Until January 19th, the School of Material is in the foreground, with pupils from the Ceramics & Glass, Fashion – Menswear, Womenswear, Accessories, Millinery and Footwear; Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery, and Textiles programmes sharing their endeavours.

Royal College of Art Work in Progress Niels Sigsgaard jewellery
Max Danger (jewellery) created these curious bees venturing on the brim of a classic English tea cup and saucer set. A magnifying glass disposed on the table prompts you to look closer.

Because of its very nature, the exhibition is an assortment of various fragments, unfinished thoughts and blurry outlines. The result can be quite puzzling, as each display pulls you into a different universe. Luckily, the work on view shows such strong aesthetic perspectives that the visit is a highly compelling experience.

Walking into the galleries at Kensington campus, it looks as though the artists have just vacated their atelier, momentarily allowing you to poke about their work. Items are lying around in a disorderly fashion, seemingly waiting for their maker to return. Some pieces are interactive, asking you to pull, slide and flip. You might feel a child-like excitement at this behind-the-scenes, almost forbidden atmosphere.

Peruse through the white rooms and you will see a bubble-gum pink sweater embossed with laser-cut foam spelling out the message “Have a magical day”. The matching shorts in jacquard weave of yellow and blue geometrical pattern – reminiscent of a city skyline – have a blue foam noodle protruding from the waist, not so subtly evoking male genitalia.

In womenswear, Janni Vepsalainen’s silhouette is particularly arresting. A cream high-low sweater looks all but demure with its ruffled shimmery tulle sleeves. Underneath it appears a delicate white cloqué dress, covering woollen capri pants. It is a vision.

However the pièce de résistance lies in the textiles part of the exhibition. The level of creativity displayed is astonishing, especially for a discipline that could otherwise seem so abstract and dense. Three blackened ashy logs are shown next to unfinished copper fabrics with ragged edges and rolls of metallic threads. Pieces of lightweight voile are printed in bold dark-blue strokes. Rows of tubular beads are sewn onto coarse pieces of fabric and arranged in  patterns evocative of spiders and insects. Tiny scraps of knitted fabric in colourful stripes are dangling from the ceiling next to abstract watercolour paintings.

The show’s main flaw is that there is little text and no instructive material. Why do the students consider the themes they do? What are their backgrounds? What do they want us to reflect on? The bystander is left to wonder. That’s because “Work in Progress” must firstly be felt, not understood.

Royal College of Art Work in Progress Gwen Wei Weilong Xie
Gwen Wei (jewellery) teamed up with Weilong Xie (architecture) for Faetus, a surprising artwork whose dainty appearance (baroque pearls, artifical tridacnas and mother of pearls adorn it) contrasts with its slightly morbid theme (it refers to a not-fully-formed embryo face). The pair describes it as “an inside out universe which contains everything but looks chaotic”.

Royal College of Art Work in Progress Alicja Patanowska ceramics
Alicja Patanowska (ceramics) created a poetic and fascinating work of art with Plantation, allowing the viewer to look closely at the growth process of plants, not only from its stem, but also from its roots.

Royal College of Art Work in ProgressJustyna Michalowska printed textiles
Justyna Michalowska (printed textiles) incorporated vivid watercolors into her work.

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