RSA New Contemporaries: Fresh Meat

Like a pack of wolves around the back of a diner, we wait eagerly for the pickings of the degree shows, siphoned off and served up in the RSA’s New Contemporaries. A few of them kindly agreed to spill their plans for the show

Feature by Emma Ewan | 02 Apr 2013

It’s ten months now since the new graduates of 2012 jumped from the safety net of their respective art schools and plunged instantaneously into life as legitimate artists. Spring approaches swiftly and it’s time for the Royal Scottish Academy’s New Contemporaries show. Now in its fifth cycle, the annual exhibition plucks the most promising of Scotland’s art school graduates and proudly presents them to the masses in the splendour of the twelve RSA galleries on Edinburgh’s Mound.

Sixty graduates will be showcased this year, working across every medium from installation to architecture. Petter Yxell once again takes the building and its immediate surroundings as his starting point. After graduating from Glasgow School of Art he embarked on a period of research, tracking the influence of Neoclassical and Greek Revival in Scottish architecture. His interests lie in how we “search the past for beginnings and pick out trajectories that chime with our current position.” He describes the outcome, to be shown in the RSA, as a “messy” sculptural installation, presenting interesting clashes on a number of levels. In a recent development, he has decided to embrace computerised production for this work in order to explore the act of History Writing, its artificiality and its reproducibility. 

Glasgow-based Theresa Moerman uses memory and narrative as a means to explore our natural inclination to preserve the past. Building on the work she recently showed at Studio 41, Moerman will investigate the tensions between holding onto and letting go of memories. “We find containers to hold our keepsakes and heirlooms, we store our knowledge in files, archives and books, we create technology to record more information for the future, we make photographs and videos lest we forget the things we’ve seen, the words we’ve said, the places we’ve been and the people we’ve loved,” she says. Moerman embodies these concepts in a variety of materials, from emotionally distanced memory sticks to heart-wrenching TrueType fonts (developed by Apple in the 1980s to allow a high level of control over how fonts are displayed) made from the handwriting of deceased relatives.

With an interest in consumption as a means of seeking and digesting bittersweet pleasures, Gray’s Painting and Printmaking graduate Katie Shambles places cigarettes and advertising among the inspiration behind her recent, sci fi-esque work. For the RSA show, she has produced a series of printed advertisements, portraying “an instant culture, bent on pleasure, vaguely macabre, illustrating a ‘post-utopia’ malaise.” Alluding to grime and decay, they follow a series of characters through a fictional narrative, their neon personalities projecting “a super fake reality, an amplified self.” Shambles also orchestrates workshops where artworks, papers and propaganda are explored through the medium of the multiple.

Caroline Inckle from Moray School of Art creates process-based work involving natural materials and the environment. Her pieces for the RSA will present a form of documentation which stems from material processes developed whilst working between Glasgow Sculpture Studios and Side Door Studios in Forres. Her most recent body of work investigates the relationship between the construction of traditional clinker boats and the human body, informing “a process of making which views construction within the context of a developmental relationship to both the physical body and conceptual forms of self.”

Duncan of Jordanstone graduate Khalid Alsayed explores perceptions of popular media in his work. At the RSA, he will show a projection and sound piece which “challenges the notion that there is no static image.” It will investigate the possibility that everything is a moving image, informed by the use of images in society and a series of questions that probe the validity of the photograph. Utilising his background in philosophy, he aims to unearth the importance of film to the individual and the impact it has on ideas of the self. Alsayed intends to continue exploring these themes in live workshops.

Also from Duncan of Jordanstone, Sylvia Law spent two months in Florence on the RSA John Kinross Scholarship. Using her voice to explore ancient baptisteries across Italy, she obtained a series of sound recordings that will be developed into a public encounter in the RSA. Her interest in the octagonal baptisteries stems from a fascination with the architecture’s inherent symbolism, including the number eight and its links to eternity. Ritual, purification and rebirth are also themes that will be manifest. The new piece will integrate sound, metal and water to produce a resonating and immersive sound installation.

Georgina Bolton also embarked on the Kinross Scholarship. In response to the ornate Florentine architecture, she has created a giant freestanding exterior wall bracket for show at the RSA. Like her work in the Edinburgh College of Art degree show, it announces itself boldly in an incongruous neon orange. Bolton describes it as a spatial drawing – “a functionless yet recognisable form, a contradictory linear yet three-dimensional construction hovering somewhere in between the realms of sculpture, object and line.” Accompanying this will be a “uselessly uninformative” billboard depicting Florentine street scenes, and a hyper-real photographic work. Place, surface and space are themes that run throughout.

We will have to remain in eager suspense with regard to the new work produced by Sarah Louise Alexander, also a graduate of ECA. In relation to her previous work, it considers themes of showmanship and control – however she wishes the work to speak for itself. All she will offer us is the teaser: “My work tends to explore different elements of trust and usually encourages the audience to put their trust in my work without knowing much about what they are doing or what my intentions are.”

Taking on the RSA straight out of art school is a pretty daunting prospect, however it presents a major opportunity to bring the work to a wider audience. For many, it is their first exhibition in an established institution. In the past New Contemporaries has been a show of ambitious and cutting edge work by Scotland’s newest talent; undoubtedly this year’s artists will up the stakes once again.