A whistlestop tour of RSA New Contemporaries 2018

The Royal Scottish Academy showcases its pick of the 2017 degree shows next month in New Contemporaries: 2018

Article by Adam Benmakhlouf | 15 Mar 2018

Consisting of a selection of last year’s graduates across five different art schools spread across the country, the Royal Scottish Academy New Contemporaries are, by their nature, a diverse cohort. What follows is a loosely themed series of groupings and suggested comparisons for navigating the exhibition. Each cluster is arranged around ideas like working with found materials, different approaches to humour, or more specific comparisons where these have emerged surprisingly across two distant institutions. It’s a whistlestop tour, and hopefully gives a good indication of the exciting and diverse work that will be on show in the Royal Scottish Academy from 24 March to 18 April 2018.

In her riotous sculptural assemblages, Sophie Edwards uses everyday and found objects, combining these materials into arrangements that clash between different forms and textures. Working with found materials, too, is Gayle Watson, who sets up man-made plastics and other substances that are charged with environmental and political significance. This is a strategy shared by Anne Mie Bak Andersen, who creates juxtapositions of plastic bag sculptures and fake foliage environments. Also seeking to defamiliarise what might otherwise be easily recognisable, Alexandra McGregor’s performance practice involves sculpture representations of irons and repetitive chores made into public events.

Repurposing found materials continues with Rhona Jack’s large scale contraptions made from discarded wood and engineered into representations of different kinds of Scottish industries. Lydia Morrow also works within a similar geometrical and graphical aesthetic to Jack’s drawings with her own knitted garment and text pieces, though coming from research into Scottish mythology and the immigrant experience.

Giulia Gentili examines the impermanence of seeming solid materials, as well as the translation between two and three dimensions, utilising live film elements and 3D imaging of sculptures. Elements of work transmogrify from sculpture to sound to moving image. A different kind of transformation can be seen in the work of Lara Hirst, who combines trickery with alchemical alterations to money, and Paula Buŝkevica, whose sculptures are often representative of melted and broken forms.

More traditional forms are subverted by Samantha Parkhouse’s large scale portraits, which are slickly rendered and unnervingly face-on. Large scale portraits are also the subject matter of Ross Miller's work, which is rendered in stark black and white woodcuts.

Setting a different kind of tension, Cassia Dodman’s abstract sculptures of wood, plastic and metal are deliberately set in moments of precarity – they often seem overstretched, like they’re about to snap or fall over. There’s some relationship here too, with Amorn Bunsri’s kinetic set-ups of heavy concrete slabs with pneumatic joints and Casper Cosmus AlsØe’s ghostly, kinetic mechanical sculptures.

There’s also some interest in collaging in this year’s RSA group. Working in a saturated palette and with different kinds of collages, James Alexander McKenzie makes paintings that valorise a kind of intuitive simplicity and childish imagination. Taking a different slant on collage and painting, Louis Bennett combines politicised imagery from news and historical sources, creating lively and bustling compositions. Hugh Morton’s figures on the other hand, often share a painting but are meandering around one another, only to meet in parts in a clash. Also cut-and-pasting in his compositions, Jack Dunnett’s small works take a more sparse approach, setting contemporary dressed small figures within romantically sublime, Turneresque landscapes. Then there are David Rae’s paintings of empty open landscapes, often with the sky rendered in a bright warm colour – they could be cinematic scene setters.

Taking collage in another direction, Adam Castle’s video work combines acted scenes with rehearsals of lines excerpted from popular culture. Doaa Yule also makes references to pop culture, using clips from films like The Truman Show in order to delve further into complex philosophical ideas of the mind and the self through text- and video-based multimedia installations.

Earthy humour is also well represented. For instance, there’s Elise Bell’s installations that centre on the Grandmothers of Methil, with drawings and sculptural objects that take their cue from grandparents' living rooms and the idiosyncratic objects often found there. Edith Pritchett’s comic strips are also disarmingly funny, and her multimedia explorations of feminine representation take on a similar informal and bright humour. More humour, though altogether more improvisational and cerebral-seeming, can be found in Robbie Campbell’s draped fabric prints of everyday images and spaces.

A cooler joke style carries into Michael Kay Terence’s large scale sculptures, which creates set-like tableaux and sets up a cartoonish sense of danger. There’s a similar poker-faced style in Amy Grogan’s sculptural quoting and partial disfiguring of vegetable and poultry forms, combined with direct references to Bernard Matthews’ sandwich meat. Keeping up a certain wry laughter, Marion Miranda’s carefully drawn illustrations of artistic and philosophical exchanges poke fun at the professionalisation of thinking, and its blustering high-mindedness. Lachlan McFeely Bolt’s performance practice is also based around a kind of sharp-edged humour – for his degree show, he spoke to visitors through an intercom from a nearby cupboard.

Sticking with a sense of nostalgia, Lucy Buchanan’s work is an impressive homage to classic stop motion animations from British television, like Paddington Bear and The Clangers. More imagined beings are to be found in the work of Filippa Pirrip, who depicts strange but nevertheless endearing creatures that are often calm, ethereal and as friendly as they are extraterrestrial seeming – cf Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus.

This brings us to the diversity of film work that has been selected for this year’s show. Coming from the time-based department from outside the traditional fine art programmes, filmmaker Glen Thomson makes narrative-driven and scripted short films. Jamie Edmundson takes his cue from more filmic influences, and investigates through (sometimes epic) documentary videos of rural lifestyles, as well as legacies for this way of living for those who have moved to urban areas. Emerging from a more experimental ethos, Josephine Lohoar Self’s uncanny film practice combines surreal narrative and handmade elements of costume and sculpture with drawn and animated segments.

There is a perceptible impetus in some of the participants to record urban and rural environments, experimentally or imaginatively. For instance, Kirsten Millar’s practice combines experimental sound and sculptural installation. Also thinking of an immersive relationship with the environment, Calum Wallis’ detailed and technically virtuosic drawings call to mind a romantic attachment to landscape, as well as a sincere and thoughtful care in depicting its swoops and infinitely detailed surfaces. These are also to be considered alongside painter Hannah Mooney’s more gestural, but still careful landscapes and still lifes. And there is also Suzann Ross, who works with archival images and architectural forms, often making painterly interpretations of parts of Aberdeen’s buildings and streets.

Alexandra Roddan’s cityscapes combine lively abstraction and emotive colour schemes, taking their cue from the different moments that are abstractly depicted, sliding out of figuration into a visual representation of the sensory overload of walking through a bustling metropolis. They correspond in some ways to the painted works of fellow exhibitor Anna Kajos, who works with freestanding painted frames, as well as wall-mounted work.

Thinking still of the urban environment, William Braithwaite’s concrete sculptures quote and sometimes pile the forms of modernism and brutalism at an intersection of architecture and sculpture.

Fiona Steel’s photography combines sparsely lyrical landscapes, with candid, characterful and intimate portraiture and atmospheric and soft hued, late-afternoon interior shots. Also representing portraiture is Craig Waddell, whose projects have ranged from seeking to explore queer and contemporary masculine identities, as well as more ambiguously charged portraits and cityscape images.

Taking on a different way of considering spatial relationships, Emma McCarthy’s cross-media practice considers power relations as played out through group dynamics and collective physical movements and exercises. For example, community hall workshops are considered in their choreography and the kinds of relationships between self, space and other that is fostered by these set-ups. Photographer Matthew Buick also looks to the occupations of familiar spaces, but turns to the spectators of zoos and other tourist spots. Taking on a more complicated relationship with place, Ben Soedira considers the constant redevelopment of Dubai.

Thinking globally also, flags are a common feature in the work of David Kennedy and Robbie Spriddle. While Kennedy abstracts the form of a flag in the wind and solidifies it into a heavy-seeming pastel sculpture, Spriddle’s sharp edged cubes are emblazoned with crisply painted national colours. This is a visual form that Spriddle shares with fellow RSA exhibitor Rowan Crawford, who prints horizontal line compositions digitally on to perspex as mediated representations of the colour palettes of sublime paintings. Looking around the world in a different way, Bastian Thuesen has embarked on an international project to record the sun as our world travels around it as a large scale photographic collaboration.

Chiara Von Puttkamer and Alan Aitken both combine the materiality of paint with abstraction in colourful textural compositions, suggestive of round edged growths and natural forms. These might also speak well to the globular, unnameable forms of Millie Layton’s motorised and brightly coloured sculptures.

Still with a keen eye on texture, Juanita Zaldua’s work depicts in trompe l'oeil the familiar sight of cracked and peeling paint, keenly analysing the relationship between the depicted surface and the flatness of the painted surface itself, while resting the viewer’s gaze uncomfortably on the details of decay that might otherwise go conveniently overlooked. Sylvia Tarvet’s figurative sculptures also have a strange fascination with peeling, cracked surfaces in their rough textured casts of heads, set within narratives of aging and carrying on the skin signs of one’s own psychology and past.

As well as the exhibition itself, there will also be two events running during the show’s dates. The first is a professional development event for recent graduates, Let’s Talk About… establishing a career in the Visual Arts – challenges and rewards (£10/8). Then there’s RSA New Contemporaries – Creative Conversations, an opportunity to meet and chat with exhibitors over a glass of wine (£10/8).

RSA New Contemporaries, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 24 Mar-18 Apr, £6/4 (Free on Fri) http://www.royalscottishacademy.org/exhibitions/rsa-new-contemporaries-2018/