RA Schools students spoilt for choice

Moving image artworks at the Royal Academy Schools Show until 3  July

The RA Schools final year show is always worth a visit because the student’s enviable three year, fee-free postgraduate course offers the time and resources to allow full reign to their creativity. I imagine this could have a downside if the plethora of choice becomes overwhelming and difficult to navigate. The variety of the students’ responses to this dilemma is the appeal of this show. I was fortunate to be given a guided group tour of the show by two of them, Tom Worsfold and Gery Georgieva.

Tom’s powerful, gritty and absurdist figurative paintings of urban scenes immediately recalled Philip Guston’s later works. The four artists that featured moving image work are the focus of this review although the 13 others are well worth your attention.

Claire Undy, quoted in the RA magazine, saying:  “It is best that you know you do not want to do something because you have tried it, rather than speculating” has also arrived  at a distinctive signature style.  Her two performance art videos demonstrate her confidence in taking an apparently straightforward image and squeezing out the maximum visual interest. Shoes features the artist’s feet clad in glorious mustard coloured trainers. Did she dye them herself?  They are a perfect foil for the pine wooden floor. As they slide and tiptoe around we get an impression of weightlessness and we gradually realise that a hidden harness is suspending her. At times her feet mimic those of a helpless puppet. I was transfixed for all the 7 minutes.  Mime is a similarly minimal work which parodies the stereotyped grimaces of the traditional mime artist. She gives it a conceptual twist by converting the video into 10,000 uniquely numbered poster images neatly stacked in a two metre high sculptural version which is slowly diminishing in size as a Deller style offer of a freebie is taken up by gallery visitors.

Installation view of performance video,  Shoes  (2014) courtesy of Claire Undy and Andy Keate

At the opposite end of the scale, Gery  Georgieva is the magpie of the group. Her room is an immersive aural, tactile and visual experience akin to a fairground at night  where she presents work in an astonishingly diverse range of media including videos from wildly differing genres: documentary footage of a car wash, a digitally manipulated scene of  her colour spotted face against a seascape backdrop and an abstract video, Tingle Continuum, that uses multiple screens of cacti to create an entrancing, wavelike caterpillar pattern,  (see below). This work  is forging a similar path to abstract realist photographers but using the moving image, a highly fertile development.

Installation view of Tingle Continuum, 2016, courtesy of Gery Georgieva

Molly Palmer’s visceral two screen installation is similarly gripping. Consisting of four separate videos that form an interlinked whole we are alternately soothed with luscious a cappella harmonies and vibrant colour and then startled with flashbulb images that seem to bounce from one screen to another. Again, as an artist who has mastered a diverse range of media she combines them all, textile printing, digital animation, performance art, installation and sound sculpture. It is great to see how an interdisciplinary approach can produce such a tightly focused  and powerful work.

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Still from Heart Song, 2016, two channel HD video with surround sound – courtesy of the artist, Molly Palmer

Elliott Dodd has an interesting take on gender. His digital  video work (see below)  is a mash up of the innocent Jane Eyre’s frank interchange with Rochester about his previous “petty ribaldry” and the glossy macho fiction of modern car advertising. Its title, “Limpid and Salubrious” is a quote from Rochester and sounds vaguely obscene but actually means “clean and healthy”. Contradictions like this are peppered through the video which contribute to its disturbing atmosphere. This  is further heightened by having the Bronte dialogue voiced through grossly distorted heads set on otherwise naturalistic figures with huge lolling tongues first seen as a representation of lasciviousness in Ally McBeal. This groundbreaking 1990s drama series was, I think, the first TV programme to blend digital manipulation with live action. Check out the dancing baby  on Youtube.  Dodd also creates sculptural images on metal fenders which could be a successor to Grayson Perry’s pots.

Still from  4K digital film Limpid and Salubrious (2016) courtesy of Elliot Dodd

Overall then, a show where the moving image artworks avoid the pitfalls that often mar this form. I particularly appreciate the way the performance videos on show here are succinct, economical and lacking in narcissism. The inventiveness, sly humour and visual luxuriance that underlies many of the works is refreshing and bodes well for the future.


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