We had our degree show a few weeks ago – my first up here. I always find degree shows a mixed affair for various reasons: you can never get to see everything, they’re sad (especially if you know the students well), they’re happy, they’re packed, they look depressing when the crowds go, and finally they tend to reduce students’ learning to ‘look at me’ – seeing all that work with no context is problematic. I’ve been to some shows where the work looks great, but you wonder what the student learnt in the process. Similarly I’ve seen some shows that on the surface look a bit rough but you know the students have been too busy learning to polish the work. I think that’s fine, but I know others think the show is everything.
As we come up to New Blood (D&AD’s student show), New Designers and Free Range, where hundreds of design students will show off their work in London, I think anyone visiting with the idea of recruiting needs to make sure they look beyond the work on the wall – it’s the ideas that count and the thinking behind them.
Since moving up to Scotland I’ve had to learn an awful lot about fields of design outside my own experience. Teaching jewellery and textiles students isn’t so different from, say, graphic design students, and the concepts I cover are equally – if not more – applicable to them. But the examples I show to make points tend to come from graphics and advertising (often because those fields are the most ‘obvious’ examples we encounter day to day). This causes problems though as some students will reject ideas if they think it only applies to graphics.
Wandering around the jewellery show the other week I was struck by a few students’ work in particular, and by how they (maybe without knowing it) knocked on the head the idea that theory and practice have nothing to do with one another, or that teaching design students stuff from other disciplines isn’t worthwhile (something Paul Rand rather bizarrely claimed in ‘Design, Form, Chaos’).
One student had been inspired by images of bacteria and germs, another had created shapes that were straight out of omnidimensional mathematics, while another, Kate Pickering, had examined the idea of memory to create a range of pieces.
The two images above show some of these. The vials contain (I’m told) her blood, sweat and tears (don’t ask! The ‘blood’ one was missing when I saw the exhibit but a red stain on the floor suggested what had happened to it…).
The idea behind the second piece, ‘Heart to Heart’, escapes me for the moment (my own memory being a bit temperamental at the moment) but I do remember being intrigued by it. In a way, it’s the fact that I can’t quite remember the meaning, but I can remember the feeling, that I like.
There were some other pieces, not shown, that took me back a bit. Kate had some items that looked like vials combined with a censer, one of those incense holders they swing in church, and they contained items linked to people (lovers, friends etc). They reminded me of the relicry in my old school, a convent in York, that contained items like the bloodstained robes of martyred saints and, most chillingly, the actual hand of St Margaret Clitherow (below) who was executed in a particularly nasty way on the banks of the River Ouse in York.
Kate had, perhaps unconsciously, produced modern pieces that have a long tradition and that mix memory, emotion and (to me) a little bit of a chill factor.
I’m going to show these images to new students next year because they are great examples of how ‘contextual studies’, far from being irrelevant to design practice, can be a source of ideas and depth. If Kate decides to take this idea further there is a wealth of literature from fiction to cutting edge research that could inform her ideas.
Kate is showing at New Designers in London from 5-8 July, along with her classmates and others from here and around the UK. Worth a visit if you’re nearby. (Week 2, 12-15 July, includes graphics, illustration, product design and more.)
Kate’s email address: kate-pickering at hotmail dot co dot uk