RCA graduate show 2010

Last week I walked to London in order to, amongst other things, see the Royal College of Art graduate show (2).

The show was a highly polished affair, a topic i’ll return to later, but as a result it made me think more about whether this type of exhibition is the best vehicle for communication art and design, product and interaction design, and so on. What the alternative would be, i’m not sure, but i can confirm that spending a week looking over the Communication Art and Design (CA&D) publication and associated websites (not a solid week, obviously, as a clarification for any pedants out there) proved a far more interesting experience than the show itself. However I’m not denying that it was a very pleasant day out, and perhaps as good a route into the work as any other.

For an overview of individual students work, these reports offer more detail. Plus: (Interaction Site / C&AD site)

A hot topic of debate around CA&D at the RCA is the imminent arrival of a new head of department. Readers of Creative Review (amongst others) will be aware of the art vs design rumblings (aside: probably best steer clear of the detritus in the comments section, a more accurate analysis of blog-comment-structures here) and the machinations about big-names vs unknowns and false dicotomies of practitioners vs theorists. There are various sides to these arguements, but one thing they possibly have in common is to locate the head of department too centrally (or at the top of a big pyramid) in the eco-system of this course. Interaction design is an interesting case-study at the RCA, as though much of the work is intriguing and engaging and does open up questions of sorts, this year it all felt very much in the mould of a particular type of critical-design, as practised by the course leaders, and though my visit was brief, I didn’t see much which challenged this world-view. Another point to return to later.

Tucked away, and modestly presented, some very interesting projects were on view as part of the RCA/V&A MA History of Design Course, and I’m interested to know how this course interacts with the others.

On that note, I was also very interested in Department 21 which was in evidence at different points and in different departments in the show. A student-led initiative, it took a temporarily empty painting studio and used it as the focus for an ongoing programme of inter-departmental projects, talks and events. This for me is another ‘indicator’ of a desire acrossformal and informal educational experiences for a inter-disciplinary approach. I am not trying to claim that this is a new or radical thing, but am suggesting that the desire is strong and does exist, and that institutions (in their heirarchical, top-down mould) seem incredibly ham-fisted at delivering them, prompting interesting experiments like this one to spring-up.

One particular aspect of dept21 that interested me was a workshop and seminar on ‘de-skilling’. I’m fascinated by the idea of amateurism (in the best sense), and the prospect of an ‘amateur masters course’ (or masters in amateurism) is one i’d (perhaps mis-guided) sign-up for.

In a circular fashion, this brings me back to the emphasis placed on the new head of C&AD, the professionalism of its show, and a wondering about whether the significant developments in the course are likely to happen at its boundaries, and away from any one individual.

With the appointment of Neville Brody, I would hate the CA&D course to come to mirror its leaders. There are already enough supersonic ego’s in design education, and the star-cult of the individual is writ large. Thankfully there are those challenging this view, and even if the appointment was made on that basis, hopefully Brody will fall into this latter camp— I suspect he’s well aware of this potential pit-fall, and am interested to see what happens.

Images: RCA show2, Printers: ©Xavier Antin, and various, and Those that Move, off-site exhibition of Camberwell BA Graphic Design, at the Rag Factory, off Brick Lane.

P.S: Thought this RCA project was good, in relation to Central Station.