RCA Show2016 — part 1: Glyphs, Spider’s Silk and Festering Sores. The future is bright.

This year’s graduation show from the Royal College of Art (RCA), referred to simply as SHOW2016, was a treasure trove of inspiration and talent across so many disciplines. I accidentally found out about it through a friend who had been the week before. When I asked about what to expect and his favourite piece, he suggested that I just go and check it out for myself but that he was particularly inspired by Luca Alessandrini’s working and world class violin made from the silk of Australian Golden Orb weaving spiders. That was enough to convince me. I visited the show expecting to breeze through in an hour or so. Six hours later I emerged with my mind blown.

Speaking to the students themselves and considering the variety of projects on display, what struck me was the prevalence of a handful principles that they seemed to have in common to a greater or lesser degree— namely:reframingchallenging assumptionscross-disciplinary exploration,internationality and collaboration. At least one of these factors could be found in almost every project, from design thinking to innovation design to product design.

Considering the current volume of negativity in the world, the collective mindset represented at Show2016 gave me a glimmer of hope for an exciting and positive future. These five characteristics and perspectives are undoubtedly critical if we are to re-think, re-design and re-build the institutions that are currently failing us globally.

 Laura Leddy’s G.I.S.T. (General Information Symbolic Translator)

Laura Leddy’s G.I.S.T. (General Information Symbolic Translator)

At its core, G.I.S.T. is about communication through connection: face-to-face, hand-to-hand, person-to-person.

Laura Leddy’s ‘G.I.S.T.’ (General Information Symbolic Translator) was a great example of a reframe of the way we communicate, or perhaps re-visit might be a more apt description. As our understanding of the world is increasingly at the mercy of technology — with in-ear devices that help us to translate voice in real-time and apps that overlay our language onto menus in foreign restaurants — we are no longer required to make any effort to learn a common language or way of communicating. And how about those places and people that don’t have the same access to technology? If nothing else, this project asks us to consider the way we communicate and the power of symbols to transcend language barriers.

 Yiyun Chen’s ‘Sick Better’

Yiyun Chen’s ‘Sick Better’

He films his skin festers caused by diabetes, and proudly exhibits them as a nature documentary.

Yiyun Chen’s ‘Sick Better’ project is a beautiful and thought provoking challenge to the assumption that illness is bad. I asked Yiyun about the inspiration for her project. She explained that she’d had a really bad cold last year and in a state of boredom had started counting her coughs. She was surprised to realise that she coughed about 600 times in one day and thought, “What if I could capture the energy of those coughs and use them for good”. This inspired a project that asks us to consider the positive side of illness.

 Luca Alessandrini’s Spider Silk Violin (photo credit: Luca Alessandrini 2016)

Luca Alessandrini’s Spider Silk Violin (photo credit: Luca Alessandrini 2016)

The result of this research it is a silk based composite material that could potentially disrupt the use of carbon fibre in the field of acoustic representing a more performing natural replacement.

My friend was right. Luca Alessandrini’s project is an amazing example of cross-disciplinary exploration. Biomimicry has been the source of many inventions, the most famous of which is perhaps velcro, invented by George de Mestral in 1941 when he noticed how the burrs clung to his trousers and his dog after a walk in the woods. What’s exciting about Alessandrini’s project is that he’s taking materials out of context and applying them in new ways.

The final two principles introduced earlier — internationality and collaboration — we’re not isolated in a single product or project but were positively pervasive throughout Show2016.

The international diversity of the students represented was astounding and a good reminder of the state of today’s world. Never before have we had such easy access to people who are different from us in almost every facet of their being aside from them being human. We have different ideas, different expectations, different values. In a time when we are all frantically looking for new solutions to some of our most complex challenges, surely engaging with those who think differently to us is a good thing, even if it’s simply to avoid the debilitating and blinding effects of the likes of groupthink.

To communicate and work effectively with those who are not like you requires an open and collaborative mindset. It was clear at Show2016 that collaboration is one of the founding principles that guides how their generation thinks and acts. It is not a requirement but a given. It is simply taken for granted. It got me thinking about how so many organisations struggle with this. These days, the term ‘silos’ seems more commonly applied to the departments in large companies than it does a structure to store bulk materials.

There was a lot more on show at Show2016 so you can expect further observations in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the next chance you get to take a peek inside the minds (and creations) of the next generations, I challenge you take it. It could be a design exhibition or a college debate, a business plan competition or a stage production. Whatever it is, explore and observe with an open mind and take note. I’m positive you’ll learn something. They are our future, and as far as I have seen, our future is bright.