ECA Degree Show 2016: Past Alumni

You may not know it, but you’ve probably already seen the work of ECA graduates – it’s everywhere.

Article by David Simpson | 18 May 2016
  • The Innocents - Rachel MacLean

They create the costumes in the TV shows you are addicted to, make the sound effects for the computer games you can’t get enough of, design award-winning buildings, curate exciting new exhibitions and produce thought-provoking art which is recognised internationally.

Some names you might know, such as Katie Paterson, whose new exhibition Syzygy runs until mid-July at the Lowry, or Rachel McLean, one of the leading lights of British Art Show 8. Some films you might have seen, such as John McLean’s Slow West or Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette, which opened the 59th BFI London Film Festival.

This year you might have listened to Django Django’s new album Born Under Saturn or worn an item designed by ‘Queen of Prints’ Holly Fulton. If you're a graphic design professional, you won’t have missed the Graphic Design Festival Scotland, established by 2014 graduates James Gilchrist and Beth Wilson.

Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee in John McLean's Slow West
Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee in John McLean's Slow West

The contribution of ECA graduates to the cultural life of Edinburgh is immeasurable. Rhubaba, The Number Shop and Embassy were formed and are run by ECA graduates, and provide an invaluable starting point for artists beginning their careers as well as a great foundation for a growing arts scene. The work and talent of ECA Graduates also makes a difference across the city’s other arts institutions.

Last year’s Degree Show was a great springboard for 16 students who were chosen to exhibit at the RSA New Contemporaries showcase. Four of those students (including Emily Binks – see below) won prizes, giving them a huge boost as they develop their creative practice. Make sure you take the opportunity to see the work of the students who are leaving us this year, because they are going to do some great things.

Here is a taster of the experiences of five recent graduates from across our diverse range of subjects.

To learn more about ECA alumni visit eca.ed.ac.uk/alumni or email our new Alumni Officer David Simpson at d.simpson@ed.ac.uk

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More on ECA's 2016 Degree Shows:

ECA degree shows 2016 - Sculpture by Troy Holmes Sculpture

ECA degree show 2016: Painting - Ed Compson Painting


Morwenna Darwell

BA (Hons) Fashion graduate Morwenna Darwell left ECA in 2013 and now works as a designer for Gucci in Rome. She was listed by Wallpaper Magazine as ‘one to watch’
Edinburgh College of Art gave me extremely thorough groundings in design. It still impresses me that we went from learning how to thread an industrial sewing machine on the first day to designing and sewing our entire collection three years later! Sewing your entire collection alone, something that is unique to Edinburgh College of Art, was a huge task but well worth the elation in achieving it! Everyone in my class was very talented and dedicated, so there was a real pressure to constantly raise your game, by peers and teachers alike, but it was always a really supportive environment.

Emily Binks

Graduating last year from the BA (Hons) Sculpture course, Emily Binks won the Glenfiddich Artist in Residency Award at the RSA NEW CONTEMPORARIES exhibition
Out of the blue, two weeks before the opening of the RSA exhibition, I got an email from The Suttie Arts Space in Aberdeen. They had seen my work in the ECA Degree Show and tracked me down to commission me to make a new sculptural piece for them, to be on display for eight weeks from the beginning of May 2016. My first ever paid commission.

My biggest achievement since leaving has been the Glenfiddich Artist in Residency Award. It is an unmissable opportunity to completely immerse myself in developing my artistic practice further by providing me with a house, a studio and a budget for making new work. As an emerging artist there really isn't anything greater than what Glenfiddich are offering me; total creative freedom, and the space and time for it to thrive.

Orfeas Boteas

Whilst at ECA, Orfeas Boteas, who graduated from the MSc Sound Design programme in 2012, developed his business with support from the University of Edinburgh’s Launch.ed programme
I was able to develop a Dehumaniser prototype as part of my MSc Sound Design at Edinburgh College of Art. Operating as a vocal processor, Dehumaniser develops high-quality creature sounds in real-time using one’s voice. While still a student project, it received extremely positive feedback from various industry professionals, even some names from Hollywood, and I decided to take it a step further and create a commercial release.

Today, the software is utilised by top film and game studios worldwide and featured in numerous games, films and TV series such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Far Cry 4 and Finding Big Foot. The company has grown to a team of 10 employees and has received various grants and awards such as Edge Higgs and SMART, as well as being part of the High Growth Programme of Scottish Enterprise.

Katie Paterson - Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon) (2007)
Katie Paterson – Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon), 2007
Photo © We are Tape, courtesy of Katie Paterson

Thomas Aquilina

Thomas Aquilina graduated with an MA (Hons) in Architectural Design in 2012. He has worked in architectural practice in London and at UN-Habitat in Nairobi. Last year he was nominated as one of twelve RIBA Role Models. Below is an extract from his RIBA profile
My time in Nairobi was a formative experience because it exposed me to runaway urbanisation and stimulated my interest in how space is used in an emerging urban context. I went on to win the RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship, which meant I was able to travel to half a dozen other African cities, conducting a comparative analysis to understand better the growing distance between urban renewal and street life. The people I interviewed were curious about where I come from because I looked a little bit like them and a bit like someone else. With a Jamaican mother, Maltese father and having been born in London, I have three possible identities right there. This ambiguous heritage and diffuse background offers me access to places and conversations that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

How is that relevant to architecture? It allows a level of empathy, insight and connectedness. We need to highlight stories of diverse students from diverse backgrounds to show that it’s possible for people to progress and thrive within architecture in their own way. I am from an ethnic minority and neither of my parents went to university and my family didn’t have a lot of money – you need examples like this to show what’s possible, to challenge convention and confound expectation.

Matthias Pfaller 

After graduating from the History of Art, Theory and Display MSc in 2014, Matthias Pfaller subsequently won internships at three renowned institutions including MoMA and the Getty Museum
Getting to know so many wonderful people from all over the world enriched my life a lot, especially when I meet my friends again in the most random places on earth. For example, my Chilean flatmates introduced me to a whole new world of South American culture during my time at University, which I then was so interested in that I wrote a paper about it and presented at a big international conference. There are so many opportunities ahead and the best always turn up when you least expect it, so I am very curious about where I will be in two, three, four years’ time.

The most important practical reason that got me into all three internships was my specialisation in photography, notably my dissertation on Emerging Photographers’ Websites. The course allows you to find your niche within the syllabus and the teachers encourage you to find your own topics.



Go with the Glow – Wanshu Li

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