RSA New Contemporaries 09

The RSA Student Show is no more. Rosamund West heralds the arrival of RSA New Contemporaries.

Feature by Rosamund West | 29 Jan 2009
  • Kevin Harman-July 08 Showcase

This year, the RSA’s Student Show has been completely redesigned. The old car boot sale system of everyone bring, everyone display, has been ripped asunder to be replaced by a selected show a year in arrears which offers 2008’s graduates the chance to reconsider, refine and make again in the cold dark months following the degree show.

Those who have visited previous RSA student shows will remember the vast, confusing scale, the disparity of the work, the somewhat baffling concept of inviting all the final year fine art undergraduates from all of Scotland’s art schools to turn up and put in a piece. In fairness, I remember participating in the exhibition myself, and I remember it to have been exhilarating. The opportunity to display in the daddy of all Scottish galleries, to have your work written about and photographed, was new and exciting. I remember the hilarity that ensued when one of my classmates was demonised by the tabloids for an ill-conceived Mickey Mouse – Taliban crossover work, and the sense of shock when another became the hate figure of animal rights activists for a genuinely touching film of the last moments of a poisoned mouse. I think the bittersweet disappointment at not causing such controversy still resonates with a few of us.

While the Student Show used to be an exhilarating first brush with the real live media art world, it was also a bit of a school play of an exhibition. All the kids got in, even the “special” ones. For the viewer, it was an overwhelming mish-mash. For the embryonic artist, it was a distracting challenge to complete a resolved artwork during the lead up to the degree show.

The new format offers something altogether different and, dare I say, better. Instead of a glittering distraction in an already stress-filled time, it now offers last year’s graduates a purpose and perhaps a hope after the degree show has been dismantled, the certificate framed and hung on the wall, and the cocoon-like support structure of art college has fallen away. Having to work out how to simultaneously make ends meet and make art after the comparative (at the time unrealised) luxury of four years at art school is pretty damn hard. The more opportunities and support that exist for recent graduates the better.

The Skinny caught up with some of this year’s participants to hear how they were finding the experience of life and the RSA:

Fraser Gray, who featured in our June'08 Showcase, has spent the months since graduating in a Wasps studios scholarship in Dundee, and has taken part in a variety of exhibitions throughout Scotland. He plans to exhibit new painting works exploring “the bastardisation of the Scottish landscape” in a composition borrowed from Caravaggio’s The Calling of St Matthew. The Skinny feels the works will nicely complement the horrific Landseer paintings over the road.

Alex McAndrew is submitting the frankly dazzling black mountain sculpture he showed in his degree show. He’s spent the months since graduating trying to balance working and making, and talks about a “six month slump” which he feels a lot of his contemporaries have experienced since leaving college. He points out, fairly, that while the new show format is beneficial in terms of an exhibiting goal, it is difficult for those without a studio or funding to actually make anything new.

Kevin Harman, who featured in our July'08 Showcase, stayed on at ECA to do a masters. For the RSA show he’s departing from his site specific, guerrilla style work (keen observers will recall his skip rearrangements and the near-legendary Stolen Doormats of Bruntsfield) in order to make something more permanent. He’s collected hundreds of old tools and stripped their surfaces, effectively removing and keeping their individual histories of toil. He’s planning on using the fragments to construct a large, intricate floor and wall mounted piece. Since graduating, he’s pursued a variety of projects, including working at a bronze foundry in London assisting on work by high profile artists such as Marc Quinn and the Chapman Brothers. He sees this as a challenge: “The standard of work has to really be improved to be viewed on that level. That’s what I’m doing.”

Read The Skinny's review of RSA New Contemporaries 09 here.

RSA New Contemporaries, RSA, The Mound, 14 - 25 Feb. £2 / £1 (conc.)