RCA Photography Curiously Austere But Edgy At 2016 Degree Show

The work of this year’s RCA photography is curiously austere by the institution’s’ standards. Some of the work is so straight as to make the viewer seek a level of irony possibly missed. Not only has the manipulation of the image/print been eschewed, but there isn’t any coloured perspex to be seen anywhere. Other fashionable tropes for which the RCA has been a key proponent in years past have also been dispensed with- process based abstraction, postmodern plasticky  still lives and, thankfully, work that questions photographic truth.

No, it’s all very medium-specific this year. Walking through the galleries, one gets the sense of a more conservative output across all the departments, as if this venerable institution’s staff and cohort have just become tired of pushing at edges. Maybe moving away from asking questions already answered ad nauseam is the new trend,: well executed and formally sophisticated work that seeks no more than to visually engage. They say culture moves in cycles so maybe this the both the end and the beginning.

The work I liked the most was made by Tim Sullivan. Set as an installation involving three screens and four images of differing sizes, the work is the result of a road trip in which the artist explored the Swiss Landscapes that had formed the basis for romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s commune with nature’s sublime.


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Tim Sullivan, Woanders, 2016


For Friedrich nature was both wild and, for the right man, reflective of the timeless logic of world for which the human species is but an insignificant blip. In Sullivan’s images, showing a logging storage depot in one instance, a beautiful clearing in a forest marred by the presence of hand railing in another, nature has rolled over without hardly any fight; man has mastered it and, seemingly, with relative ease. The quite nature of the images reflect the neutering of the sublime they portray. It’s intelligent, subtle work.


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Tim Sullivan, Woanders, 2016


I also liked the work of Tom Hatton but, having seen the show and consulted the artist’s website I cannot tell you what the images are of exactly. THe series is called ‘ Now Here’. Large black and white silver prints of what seems to be temporary immigrant/refugee shelters, using available materials, juxtaposed with other images in which the landscape on which they once stood has been laid bare. The images are both direct and poetic in their documentation in that they both celebrate and lament the need of such spaces to exist.


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Tom Hatton, Now Here, 2016


‘Skene’. the title of Darek Fortas’s project, is a word taken from ancient Greek and literally means ‘structure that supports the background in theatre’ as well as ‘seeing and exposing’. In his modern interpretation of this term, Fortas has photographed the rigging and temporary structure that support, backstage, the concert and theatre stages one visits today. Fortas’ is a simple, formal investigation that is well executed and on point.


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Darek Fortas. Skene, 2016

I found Mia Dudek’s installation, ‘Body Recasts’ evocative but cannot, again, confirm what it might be about beyond what the title implies. Two small images of concrete walls are placed on a wall with a freestanding concrete wall imitation on one side, two circular perforations within suggesting an arm or other body part maybe, and the kind of temporary metal fencing one might find at a concert or festival on the other. The fencing has been interfered with using expanding foam (the material du jour it seems; perspex 2.0). I’m assuming the work explores notions of the body on the urban environment but I cannot be sure. It works very well as an installation regardless.


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Mia Dudek, Body Recasts, 2016

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Mia Dudek, Body Recasts, 2016


There is much more to see so catch the show while it’s still on.

Words/Photos: Kerim Aytac © artlyst 2016

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