The Royal College of Arts students opened their studios in Battersea to give us a glimpse of what there is to come. After the typical beer bottle holding experience of the opening night on Friday, I returned on Saturday to see the actual works. The departmental demon of the RCA divides the open studios to two different events, Open Studios: Ceramics & Glass and Jewellery & Metal and Open House: Work in Progress, School of Fine Art, regardless to the fact that they both happen at the same time, in the same place and are practically indistinguishable. Thankfully, the otherwise astounding facilities of the RCA, some of which have only been in use for the past semester, constitute such a maze for the uninitiated that the departmental divides vanish after a few wrong turns on a scouting mission for the nearest toilet. Being irrecoverably lost I had only one thing to keep reminding myself while wandering, that this is not a show and the pieces are still being negotiated by the artists. Keeping in mind the unsettled state the works and my complete disregard for clear distinctions among principles here is what I saw.
I saw Lisa Porter’s experiments with clay. Lisa’s speaks of her work as a process of investigating the limits of the material and the firing techniques. There is a heap of clay in strings as it was spewed out of the pugmill, propped up by card boxes, drying on the floor. More pasta like masses of clay are resting on the shelves in various states, some fired, some drying. Lisa picked up one of them and passed it to me, she told me about the way she had fired it on an open flame and how the fire was still in the clay. There are a couple of different brunches of her work around the studio, a couple of different paths the material is driving the practise. Her work seems untethered from the outcome, it’s a series of experiments and playing around, exactly what one should expect from an artist at this stage.
I walked into Yun Ling Chen attentively watering a rusty steel L bar mounted horizontally on the wall of her studio. Drops of water were hitting a plastic sheet directly underneath the bar as her brush was sliding along, a brief rainy urban landscape. She said that this is what would happen to this steel bar had she not brought it in her studio. Inverting the traditional notion of natural and artificial, Yun Ling treats buildings and their materials as “natural”, meaning they are the stuff that our environment is made out from. For city dwellers concrete, brick and steel are what dirt, wood and stone were for our ancestors. She treats her salvaged bricks cardboards and steel bars with the delicate attention one would spend on a flower pot, balancing them in discreet arrangements and keeping them watered. Naturally we will have to wait until her final show in 2017 to see where this is going.
I caught Mark Langston’s video “Canary” jumping from an old black and white coal mining promoting reel of long past decades, to an vacant industrial landscape shot in all familiar contemporary high definition. His films character is stuck jobless in an ex coal mining town. We bounce from the resined narration of the young man, trapped between an almost romantic landscape haunted by the carcasses of coal industry and the relentless pragmatism of the job centre, to the propagandistic tone of the old reel promoting us to invest in coal mining. The character in Mark’s film must feel great distrust for the establishment, yet he is so stranded, that has to offer himself back to it.
I found the Julia Schuster’s “Movement plates” spread on a working bench under the looped video of a hand rubbing some white material against a work bench with wide circular gestures. Julia disillusioned me by explaining that this was not actually a video of how the plates were made. While she went into the details of how the plates were actually made, I switched to denial mode and allowed myself to believe that the gestures imprinted on the form of the plates were in fact the same gestures captured in the video. Regardless of the process the plates carry the aesthetic of natural motion and the with each one being a unique record of a flattening gesture.
I laughed in front of Thomas Van Linges’ studio space. The car tyres dressed with cycling shirts with water bottles in their back pockets reminded me of my own struggles to fit in my cycling pants every morning. Thomas’ studio looks like a car bodyshop, wheels, fenders, plastic car body parts with all their vanity. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to meet Thomas in any of my visits so I looked him up online and his website left me looking forward to see more of his work.
I heard Vanessa da Silva talking about her installation Parade #1 to a group of visitors and I stuck around. Vanessa uses textiles designed by her to make wall mounded pieces as well as three dimensional objects, steel armatures covered with her colourful textiles full with the potential of motion. Vanessa’s work traces the roots of the Brazilian carnival to it’s African roots, utilising tribal patterns and masks with images of tropical beaches and favelas. With the carnival as a central point of reference in Vanessa’s work I had to bring up the matter of sound and rhythm. Reminding myself that this was not a show but a studio visit I left Vanessa tell me the plans she has to incorporate sound to this work using one of her African props, who’s 3D scanned rendering was rotating on a screen next to us.
Admittedly the rawness of the material and the sheer amount of the works was not easy to digest and combined with my constant state of being lost made me walk away a bit overwhelmed. On the other hand meeting the works and the artists in their studios, even under the pressure of their academic pursuit, was worth the visit.
By Thomas Apostolou