Whitehot Magazine

2009 Royal College of Art Summer Graduate Show

Brigit Connolly

Highlights of the 2009 Royal College of Art Summer Graduate Show at Royal College of Art
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU
29 May through 7 June, 2009

Final year Master of Arts students in Ceramics & Glass, Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork & Jewellery, Painting, Photography, Printmaking and Sculpture

The Royal College of Art building is somewhere between a series of office block corridors and a multi-storey car park. The students struggle to register their artistic intentions within this banal environment – and some lose the struggle. The struggle is no-where more evident than in Seeping, Creeping, Breeding by Signe Schjøth. Bulbous and bubbling growths appear throughout the building, undermining the bureaucratic imperative. One senses the omnipresent mind of Big Brother wishing away these blemishes – but I wish they had been more offensive.... and more effective!

The painters struggle to live and breathe in a world which has consigned them to the rubbish bins of history. Alex Crocker makes a great show of trying to realise a vision of human relationships but cannot break out of the paper bag of subservience to masters of the past such as Paul Klee. Ian Homerston uses traditional painting methods but breaks free from slavery to the past through spontaneous marks which weave within worlds of tonal mistiness.

The three artists I wish to focus on are ones who make strong personal statements which transcend the communal environment. They work in various disciplines.

Brigit Connolly (Ceramics) - A Place at the Table

Brigit Connolly, Place at the Table, 2009, detail, courtesy the artist and Royal College of Art

Brigit Connolly's Place at the Table isolates itself and yet at the same time draws one into its ritualistic inner sub-stratum. It is a circular construction redolent with unconscious murmurings and primal implications. Eight large earthenware plates are arranged ominously around a central octagonal platter on a round table. The archetypal interaction is completed with the positioning of a single symbolic chair, which is a withdrawn segment of the circular table. One is invited to sit down - the offer is not trivial – to confront the plates within which are embedded the counter-images of the viscera of a dead pregnant sheep.

One is reminded of the ancient practice of Haruspicy where Hittite and Babylonian seers examined the entrails of sacrificed animals to see into the the celestial world and divine the future. One is unnerved and at the same time entranced.

Brigit refers to the work of anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss who studied, amongst other things, the culinary practices of 'primitive' and modern man, and identified subconscious patterns and 'structures' of meaning. But for Brigit, this is only a starting point for her own investigation into various levels of meaning underlying the human meal. In her own words:

 “The forms of the intestines underneath the plate disrupt and destabilize the surface, creating a landscape echoing and exaggerating the ridges and channels along which meat juices or bodily fluids flow in traditional platters or on dissecting tables. I used the viscera of a sheep to make the plates, because the alimentary canal is a passage, which makes us hollow. It challenges notions of containment, of inside and outside, since only superficially does skin separate the visible from the invisible. The largest organ is not merely a boundary of what we are or are not, it is body and we are skin, interface, coating and membrane, a series of openings, a doughnut. Skin therefore becomes a conduit & writing surface on which the body’s thoughts are inscribed. The plates are intended to embody the notion of the journey from life to death, a metaphor for the way the body consumes, processes and discards. The ceramic material in the form of the dinner service can be seen as a veneer or layer of civilization, masking issues of provenance and destination and creates a framing or supporting structure, which objectifies and removes. In doing so it sets up a barrier between the raw and the cooked, the natural and the processed (See : The Origin of Table Manners, 1967.)

The whiteness of the plates refers to ritualistic forms of sacrifice as in the Last Supper, the Passover feast and Communion, and to a containment of the monstrous which is often embedded within these rites. In this I am thinking of mythical figures like Saturn (also depicted by Goya in his series of black paintings), Tantalus, Humbaba (the monster from the epic of Gilgamesh), his successor - the Minotaur in his Labyrinth, and, more recently, the monster from Pan’s labyrinth. It is intentional that the table structure can be read as a: fortress, cattle pen, bull ring, Coliseum, operating theatre and United Nations Security Council chamber.”

Brigit Connolly, Place at the Table, 2009, courtesy the artist and Royal College of Art 



Caren Hartley (metalwork): Installation

Caren Hartley, Installation View, 2009, courtesy the artist and Royal College of Art

Here is another artist who clearly defines her own space. She presents items on a table, but utterly different from the one just discussed. This is something like a White Elephant Stall at a village fête - one of the best of English traditions. Old books, ornaments, cutlery etc. are scattered and arranged on the table surface.

Certain objects have received intensive attention and reworking. A Georgian spoon is cast a number of times, and each time retains an echo of its former self, but also becomes an object of contemporary artistic interest. At each casting the echo gets softer and more distant, but the historical character of the original is never completely lost, and indeed is emphasised by contrast.

The personalised history of each object is investigated through layered transformation. It is as if things from the past are viewed through a gathering mist, and as the mist thickens they progressively distort and diminish, but their essential character and epoch shines through. Various castings receive a variety of treatments, e.g. burning, rubbing, gilding. This refining produces surfaces, textures and tones of great quality and refinement. Some indeed make unique items of jewellery.

Caren Hartley, Gold-tipped Georgian Teaspoon, 2009, courtesy the artist and Royal College of Art


The artist's thoughts behind her work:

Replicating and casting an object translates the original marks of time and use, though in the recreated mark there is always an element of untruth, there is always a trace left from the process, a sprue, a seam line or a subtle distortion. I have found that these marks are important to contextualise my work, they are the scars of rebirth, the evidence of a life before, and the clue that gives away the replicated. I can only make honest copies, it is important to me that my objects speak about the past as well as the now. Honesty in my work is vital, honesty of object and of material, each new translation of the object or the material leaves its mark. In the case of the spoons I emphasised these distortions to create objects that are outside of our expectations.

From the chance encounter of a gift of spoons, my work has grown and developed, following the theme of rebirth, simulation and object translations. I have become increasingly fascinated by the lives of familiar objects, bits and bobs, bric-a-brac, especially those that are seemingly unremarkable or have fallen from favour. Through this process of rebirth, I have been exploring how a parody of the original is created when material truths and untruths are interfered with.


Caren Hartley, Distorted Teaspoons, 2009, courtesy the artist and Royal College of Art



Glen Wild (ceramics): various pieces

Glen Wild's work has an immediate impact.  


Glen Wild, Untitled, 2009, courtesy the artist and Royal College of Art


I work intuitively and from the gut. Feelings, instincts and unconscious impulses are an important part of the vocabulary I draw on.

It is interesting that he grew up - and has travelled widely - in Africa. He has absorbed something of the African soul, and this is evident in the spirit and vitality of his work without being superimposed, consciously applied or derivative. In fact he continually rejects thoughts, plans and prescriptions and accepts only a feeling of innate rightness, if and when it spontaneously emerges.

This anti-intellectual approach is aided by his focus on the process of working with clay.

The work I make highlights the process and the handmade. Blemishes, imperfections and the reality of the making process are integral to my approach. I work intuitively.

As such, each piece stands on its own as a creative engagement – with the working process laid bare. And ultimately it is not an African or European soul which shines through – it is his soul. The best of his work has an intensity of personal vision which is ruggedly symbolic and almost terrifyingly iconic.


Glen Wild, Untitled, 2009, courtesy the artist and Royal College of Art

Richard Crowe

Born 1955 Colleenbawn, Zimbabwe. Studied Rhodes University: B.Fine Art (Hons); Master of Fine Art, cum laude (1973-9) Lecturer in Painting and History of Art, now Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (1982-7) Manager of non-racial GAP Art Group (1985-6) Represented on first South African non-racial international travelling exhibition - Tributaries '85. Solo Exhibitions: Durban 1987; Johannesburg 1988 Settled in the British Isles 1990: ran 'Creative Force Gallery' 1990-2002 He is interested in Goethe’s Theory of Colours especially as used by the painter J.M.W. Turner ( to whom he is distantly related.) Working as Artist and Writer in London since 2002  crowbiz@hotmail.com  







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