ECA Degree Show 2016: Design, Film and TV & Animation

Across Design disciplines, Film and TV and Animation, it's all about experimentation with traditional techniques, cutting edge technology, ringed by a sense of social responsibility.

Article by Adam Benmakhlouf | 17 May 2016

“We’re knitting together Kevlar thread, then blowing the structures like glass, embracing technologies like the laser cutter and 3D printer. But there’s also people who want to learn to spin again.” That’s Lindy Richardson Head of Textiles at ECA, giving an indication of the multidisciplinarity that’s got this year’s graduating students toiling over their subject specific courses. Grabbing at all the facilities and techniques they can get, the class of 2016 are cooking up igneous rock (Toby Starr, Product Design), new coral life (Jessica Gregory, Product Design), plans for your unwanted garage (Annabelle Ruddell), and – how best to explain it? – the chair that can play havoc with your Facebook and online banking if you mistreat other furniture (Mariella Barzallo, Design Informatics).

Product Design sees some of the most diverse interests and media put to good use. Emily Annand’s work might easily be mistaken for fashion jewellery or a smart interior accessory, but this is a strategic aesthetic, blending technology that alleviates Seasonal Affective Disorder with necklaces and portable lamps. Sensors are hidden deep in attractive jewellery, which vibrates to let the wearer know they could do with a quick lamp session.

Annand draws a nice yet accidental parallel with the work of Jewellery student Sophia Harrison-Hall.  Her bracelets and necklaces go towards stress relief, as she explains: "There are herbal and medicinal plants inside them; lavender, peppermint, chamomile and geranium. They are scented, and you can spin them to distract yourself.” Built up from seed- or pod-like forms which quietly clack together, the meditative noise of their subtle contact is – just like the scent – for the wearer only.

Tania Ortega’s wearable technology is also designed to alleviate anxieties, but specifically deriving from DNA mapping. Coming from Design Informatics, her final work is heavily theoretical and connected to her dissertation. Researching the human body as an analogy for data storage, she found that people didn’t want to know their health dispositions. Addressing these concerns, Ortega proposes a device that is worn and lights up when it encounters another person of similar genetic disposition – an attempt to solve worries about personal health through social means.

Thinking about technology’s impact on the design process itself, Product Design student Sorcha Sutherland has designed bowls via an experimental making process. Starting with a ceramic form, she pinches and forms using traditional techniques, then 3D-scans and prints the results, making a mould to take to cast in the glass workshops. Using this technology paradoxically gives the impression that the molten glass was somehow crafted by hand.

Jumping department to Animation, there are more craft/tech hybrids to be found. Mark Boston's films combine painting technique with digital photography, as he explains: “One is a frame-by-frame stop-motion of painting on glass. Each layer is rubbed away then repainted.” The stop-motion has then been combined digitally with music and time-lapse elements, in this instance telling “a tale of a child lost in the city [where] everybody has forgotten the existence of the sky.” In another film, he tracks the making of painting on canvas, each layer a frame in stop-motion animation.


Filipe Caeiro
Film - Filipe Cairo


Also graduating in Animation, Alison Macpherson describes her own hand-drawing processes: “I’m making a five-minute film that’s about where I’m from on the West Coast. A fisherman rescues a horse from an island, but it’s about the journey and getting back.” As she explains, most important for Macpherson is representing the landscape and environment.

This travel-based work might make a nice accompaniment to Ramón Durman’s experimental film. His degree show piece, he tells us, opens with a newspaper story from 2005: "A guy ended up washing up [alive] in a South English coastal town. He didn’t speak for a month.” While on the way to shoot the script he’d written, Durman shot footage on the ferry and from then on the project remained minimal and simplistic. Referencing the dissociative disorder of the man from the original story, Durman employs a professional voice actor to read out the DI questionnaire over a single shot from Aberdeen harbour to Orkney (“It’s available and you can take the test online,” he adds). Once he began talking again, the man in the story turned out to be from Germany, leaving the artist with one thought: “It’s socially acceptable to dissociate every day in some ways, but what does it take to get to that extreme?”

There’s more experimental moving image in the Film department, where Filipe Caeiro sets the question of what might make a young woman join the Islamic State. Disagreeing with the suggestion that he's made a straightforward activist film, he clearly states: “The agenda is there’s no agenda.”

Also handling pressing topical issues, Design student Christina Arbenz has been rethinking the potential of the ECA as a site of community and education for refugees. She’s picked out a nearby building as a proposed space to “integrate refugees, with studios, a café, exhibition spaces. The back is for accommodating people in a one-and-a-half-year training programme of further education.” It’s a thoughtful look at space and place, and finds room for radical potential within the university.

Engaging just as thoughtfully with her immediate context, graduating interior designer cum aspiring property mogul Annabelle Ruddell spotted her niche in the New Town. “In Edinburgh, there are masses of freestanding garages,” she says. “In New Town, they’re on a heritage site, so the owners don’t have planning permission to rebuild. They can’t fit a Mondeo car, and people can park on the street so they don’t want them.” So it is that Ruddell made an interior design for pod living, inspired by Scandinavian design trends. Since all the garages are identical dimensions, it can be easily replicated across the whole city – to the future delight of Airbnb-dependent festival-goers.

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More on ECA's 2016 degree shows:

ECA Performance Costume Design - Zoe Longbottom Performance Costume Design

ECA Fashion Show 2016 - Design by Megan Mitchell Fashion: Our picks from SHOW 2016


Also looking at the future of real estate in Edinburgh, Jewellery student Isabel Archer has taken her cue from the Quartermile. More generally, she refers to “modern architectural concepts and designs not yet made” through her glass and metal compositions, which comprise geometric shapes that are hinged to one another, incorporating movement. Archer sums up her aesthetic concerns as “simple and basic composition, spacing, placement and balance.”

While Archer looks towards large new commercial developments for visual references, Textiles student Jennifer Duncan looks inside the new office environments of companies like Google. “I’m creating tactile tiles for shared workspaces to make an adult play area,” she says. Laser-cut bases are embellished with different textures, with various textile techniques put to use: “The idea is to have the tiles to touch and look at, and increase creative productivity in employees.”

From work to homelife, we consider the work of David Mahoney in the Product Design department. Unlike some of the other more proposal-based and theoretical presentations, Mahoney has made a showerhead and boiler attachment that could amass household savings of £200 a year. “There are no controls,” he says, “they connect to other home technologies, like the lights and thermostat,” allowing his project to limits behavioural waste such as “just spending too long in the shower.” Crucially, he explains, “it’s hi-tech without looking hi-tech. Parts are built directly in the boiler room, without a remote. There aren’t displays or LEDs.” He’s avoiding the stigma of frilly futuristic-looking gadgetry, and also the label of eco-product.

Keeping up the environmentally friendly vibes, Mahoney’s classmate Jessica Gregory displays an arrangement of coral skeletons across her desk, and has big plans for them. “There are huge problems of deceased populations of coral, caused by human impact,” she says. “I’m making coral farms from calcium carbonate coral skeletons, where research shows coral is more likely to settle.” She’s sent her prototypes to the Horniman Museum in London to see if the coral will settle on them. If all goes well, she imagines a kit made from the same substances, providin an opportunity to create coral reefs at home.

Next we take a look at Chloe Gillbanks work in Textiles. She started her days at ECA as a Costume student, but after transferring she draws inspiration from narratives and storytelling. For her degree show, she’s made up a girl band who hate the heat and sun. Set in 1976, during a particularly hot summer, their clothes are made so as not to catch any rays. Each member has a playlist and moodboard, and there’s a zine with plenty more drawings and context.


Interior Design - Fiona McLay
Interior Design - Fiona McClay


Also with a punky DIY outlook, Holly Graham’s Textile work comes from her visits to the botanic gardens: “I was taking of photos of texture and colour and it started to influence my work.” She started doing drawings that led to small scale sculptures, with beads and different elements being crafted together into complicated embellishments on silk and voile. They’re brightly coloured, evidencing time, care and skill. “I want to make high end fashion. You either love or hate it.”

Also working to combine different everyday materials with more precious ones, Orlaigh Murray’s jewellery collection references fishing and harbours. In her own words “I’m using rope and fishwire, plastic and brass painted with salt and ammonia, taking bits off and filing back – putting them in solid plastics to play with visual illusions.” Brightly coloured neon fibres used in fishing and sailing have been hand-crocheted and little miniature buoyancy aids are made from brass.

From sailing equipment to sports apparatus, there’s the work of Molly Buesnel, who makes pieces from silicon and silver, patterned with the properties of silicon. “The silicon sits in the silver metal frames, and can be layered and changed,” she explains. Their forms reference the pictures of arenas and swimming pools that can be found dotted around her work area.

For Fiona McClay in Interior Design, sport equipment is a negative reference. She’s designing a brand new way of getting fit and staying fit: “For a lot of people, there’s a mental barrier to going to the gym. It’s a chore. But remember when you’re a child, and it’s instinctive and fun to run around – there’s not that barrier to being active. Gyms now are clinical and industrial.” It’s intended to be built in a Glasite (old Scottish religious sect) Meeting House, and so includes both outdoor space and a food area inside. In renderings of her proposals, there are living walls and artificial nature, with group classes taking place in engaging environments.

The students mentioned here represent a small part of their respective classes, with plenty more products, beautiful designs, and innovative, thoughtful films to be found across ECA's various departments. Just one final warning/reminder, though: beware the phishing chair.



Go with the Glow – Wanshu Li

Want to know more about this year’s ECA degree shows? Read our guide:


ECA Design Degree Show 2016, Evolution House, Lauriston Campus, 28 May-6 Jun