The launch of University of the Arts London’s (UAL) much feted degree show season has already seen two of the university’s six colleges showcasing some of their finest postgraduate talent. The Never Seeing Nothing exhibition has featured work from London College of Communication students on the unique, online version of its photojournalism and documentary photography MA. The internationally-renowned course allows students from around the world to use live web conferencing to work together.
Central Saint Martins, meanwhile, is hosting two shows across May and June, including prestigious MA courses such as photography, fine art,art and science, character animation, performance design and practice with thousands of final-year students from all of UAL’s six colleges will exhibit their work through the summer months, among them undergraduate and postgraduate students in art, design, fashion, communication and performance.
The exhibitions, catwalk shows and performance events will be attended by high-profile visitors and industry insiders, keen to spot the next generation of stars, and snap up their work – much of which is for sale. Exhibitions are free to visit and open to the general public. These eclectic events mark the highpoint in the university’s calendar, and the pinnacle of students’ academic careers. But they are not without their drama. For most, they are the result of months of hard work, and sometimes even tears.
Sarah Fortais, an MA fine art student at Central Saint Martins, used the bricolage technique (creating an artwork from diverse materials that happen to be available) in her degree-show spacemen installation. She came up with the concept, which utilises plumbing parts and curtain materials, 18 months ago. The past nine months have seen an intense period of mock-up, followed by trial run, and then five solid days of installation. This saw her washing windows, wrestling with mannequins, climbing ladders, and hauling around power tools, cables and crimping wires. In the process she lost her voice, had to communicate with college staff using a notepad, and spent so much time under a spotlight she reckons it has given her a tan.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” she laughs, “but my degree show is more important to me than my graduation ceremony. It reflects the passion of the past couple of years – and what makes this course so special.”
There is a lot at stake. Degree shows can change an arts student’s life. Some will sell work. Others will gain commissions, or make connections that will determine their future career. UAL has a roll-call of famous alumni and a reputation for turning out high-calibre graduates. As a result the degree shows become a fertile, talent-spotting hunting ground.
Testament to this spotlight on UAL graduates was the decision byLondon College of Fashion to move its MA catwalk shows to coincide with London Fashion Week earlier this year (the BA catwalk show and exhibition still take place in June). Ten collections were presented to global media, while viewers from all over the world watched the showslive on the college’s website. Commentary on Twitter focused on major new talent, including womenswear designers Keiko Nishiyama andMaddalena Mangialavori.
“Moving the MA show to coincide with London Fashion Week signalled the coming of age of our MA programmes,” says Frances Corner, pro vice-chancellor of the college.
Postgraduate students from Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon colleges also have their own separate degree shows, which bookend the summer season in September. Gallery owner and art collector Charles Saatchi has become a frequent visitor to the Chelsea show, which includes renowned courses like MA fine art.
Other industry heavyweights and celebrity regulars on the UAL circuit include Julia Peyton-Jones (co-director of the Serpentine Gallery), fashion designers Sarah Burton and Christopher Kane, International Herald Tribune fashion editor Suzie Menkes, designer Sebastian Conran, artist Grayson Perry, Whitechapel Art Gallery director Iwona Blazwick, and Jane Shepherdson, chief executive of clothing brand Whistles.
But it’s not just the VIPs, students and the general public who get caught up in the buzz. The university’s tutors, technical and other staff play a key, behind-the-scenes role in the frenetic days and months of preparation. They also develop a close bond with students, culminating in the private view. This is even more special for students on London College of Communication’s online photojournalism and documentary photography MA.
“It’s quite a peculiar feeling working with a group of talented, dedicated photographers for two years, yet never meeting them in the real world,” says course leader Paul Lowe, “until they all come together to celebrate the end of the course in the form of their graduation show. That they produce work as innovative as they do is a testament to them as individuals. But also to the unique sense of community that we develop together over the years, as we share our journey to try and make sense of the world of photography today.”
All degree show dates can be found on UAL’s summer shows website, which has a full calendar of events and visiting information. If you can’t get to the shows, you can view the newest graduating talent from all six colleges in the online portfolio showtime gallery. Or you can go behind-the-scenes and join the social media conversation at Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram and more.