GSA Showcase 2021: School of Design

Inventive problem-solving runs through this year's GSA School of Design crop, with stimulating work providing creative solutions to our ever-changing world

Feature by Sophie Allardyce | 09 Jun 2021
  • GSA Design

The School of Design at The Glasgow School of Art encompasses a wide variety of programmes, all with a focus on inventive, inspirational and critical thinking. The graduating students of 2021 have overcome many challenges over the past year – minimal access to studios, working remotely and with limited access to resources – to create some truly exciting work.

“Everything can change in a moment, and in a world that is changing so significantly and so rapidly, being adaptable and open to change is especially important,” says Silversmithing and Jewellery student Rachel Hetherington. The challenges that this year’s students have faced have forced them to adopt new approaches and adapt to creative environments outwith the studio. The awareness of the ever-changing world around them has become prominent within their works; some chose to look to the past while others chose to look forward.

Silversmithing and Jewellery student Monica Findlay focused her graduate collection on tactile and emotional engagement. Findlay explores “tangible remains and surface qualities as important signifiers of memories both ancient and modern,” bringing together storytelling and archaeology. She uses manipulated materials to test the interrelation between memory and object, allowing her to test their possibility to trigger nostalgia.

For Cara Smith, looking to the present and the effects of the global pandemic has been hugely influential. Smith has created interactive body adornments made from recycled milk bottles, “sculptures intended to become animated once positioned on the body; to become an extension of the body.” Smith’s Flight Mask is a facial adornment that emulates flight through the movement of the jaw. The piece encompasses hope for the success of the vaccine to bring freedom.

Longing for the familiar is a recurring inspiration this year. Fashion Design student Poppy Brooks encapsulates this in her graduate collection Television Snacks and Tiaras, which looks to British heritage and home comforts. Brooks’ work discusses reminiscing about memories of loved ones through the clothing of our past. Her oversized garments using statement floral fabrics are a nod to parties from the past – and ones to look forward to in the future.

Conscious design is at the forefront of this year’s graduating Textile Design students’ work. Kialy Tihngang combines themes of western overconsumption, planned obsolescence, and rapidly regenerating technologies within her collection. Tihngang has created a collection of interlocking laser-cut wooden shapes covered with waste textiles, supported by a selection of music videos and fake adverts. Her designs aim to promote awareness of the global electronic waste dumping crisis. Sustainability is also the key ethos of Jessica Turnbull, a knitted textile designer who has spent much of this year experimenting with zero-waste design. Turnbull pairs unconventional deadstock and donated yarns made from recycled plastic bottles, creating a juxtaposition of properties within her exploration of Baltic constructivism.

For Interior Design student Eilidh McEwan, the experience of loss was imperative to her introspective work. The loss of her grandfather was the inciting incident that caused her to challenge the “societal and cultural issues of death” within her project Finale. The interior of Finale courageously provides a visionary progression for the funeral industry, which is modelled around empathy, community and compassion.

Adaptive Living by Klaudia Radlinska also considers the cycle of life through the design of a modular space that adapts to the passage of time. Through the pandemic there has been a collective shift into the domestic interior, and our homes have demanded a unique dynamic. Adaptive Living provides flexible sanctuaries that can continue to evolve. With a consciousness for sustainability, Radlinska states, “The property can grow and shrink as we do in our lifetime, adapting to our needs and circumstances.”

“I found myself drawing huge crowds of people, reminiscing about city life and the things that have disappeared from our daily lives,” says Communication Design student Rachel Cannings about her risograph-printed book, which features a short narrative of arresting illustrations. Sardined crowds, elbow-to-elbow events and the corresponding printed matter and posters are the image and antithesis of ‘social distancing’ in all its saturated sublimity. This yearning for a ‘before’ is further captured in a presentation of stirring images produced through a collaboration between two more Communication Design students, Sadbh Grehan and Thomas Ive, who identified the opportunity to work outside of the studio and celebrate their fundamental connections to the natural world. The resulting images bare a surreal mimicry of nature through clever use of props, and the oddly comforting juxtaposition of summer nostalgia captured in a winter context.

Sasha Delmage also felt the disconnect from her peers and from the School due to the pandemic. Her work seems to acknowledge that, and responds to the distance wedged between the creative communities at GSA this year. With a knitting machine that she refurbished herself, Delmage has produced a striking knitted flag – a nod to community and cultural identity demonstrated through symbols and natural dyes used in Fair Isle knitting. The flag is photographed in context by Josh Kroll, resulting in a series of engaging images which appear to suggest a semaphoric language at use – a code used to communicate at distances.

Interaction Design is an experimental programme within the School of Design that combines technology with visual thinking and inventive problem-solving. Graduating student Amber Struthers’ project Teaching Machines Intimacy is a speculative exploration of the relationship between humans and machines, through capacitive textiles, machine learning and robotics. The themes in this mindful work resonate deeply with our so-called ‘new way of living’, reflecting the new ways we have had to show affection to each other in isolation, largely through the use of technology. Continuing on a similar theme, Captured Transition by Marta Palacz delves into mindfulness and technology, considering what machines ‘see’ when we meditate or perform yoga in front of them. Her work utilises creative coding and machine learning to generate impactful imagery of what this may look like, resulting in a myriad of surreal and intriguing work, as well as interactive and immersive experiences.

Product Design Engineering student Emma Williamson emphasises this: “this has been a year like no other and we have all had to adapt massively,” she says. The work Williamson has produced demonstrates the power of designers as world-changers. Her GuidePod™ is a smart device to promote routine for people living with dementia through sensory prompts. Using auditory and olfactory elements, GuidePod™ is a solution that could really empower and positively impact the lives of people with dementia, post-diagnosis. The vision expressed across Product Design Engineering is compelling; a testament to the change that good design can cause.

Graduating students from the School of Design have worked incredibly hard to produce an extraordinary and varied body of work encompassing themes from adaptability, to sustainability, to cultural identity – and so many more.

Explore more of the Mackintosh School of Design Showcase at