London art school Central Saint Martins (CSM) has a history of producing some of the world’s best in artistic talent. From Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost, to fashion designer Alexander McQueen, CSM courses in art and design seek to energize the next generation of creatives, breaking boundaries in the commonly accepted notions of what condones an art practice. This year’s fine art degree show, Art Years in the Making the Future is Here, four students were shortlisted for the MullenLowe Nova Award: a £6,000 cash prize ($8646.90) given to one CSM graduating student. Standing out among all nominees, was the interdisciplinary cross between physical art and virtual spaces.
“I am interested in what it means to be connected,” says Naomi Ellis, a 21-year-old fine art student, named to the Nova shortlist. “People assume everyone is connected, but that’s not the case and there’s a politics to the system. I'm interested in the various inequalities that exist over virtual and geographical distances.”
For her final year project, Ellis engaged in correspondence with two isolated islands in the South Atlantic and Pacific Oceans: Tristan da Cunha and Pitcairn. Intrigued by how the Internet was used in such secluded places, Ellis exchanged email narratives—limited to 100 words due to the incurring expense for being so remote—with the islands' inhabitants. She started the project in June 2015.
“It has been very slow paced due to the nature of the Internet connection on the islands,” she tells The Creators Project. “Whilst I was waiting for a reply—often for months—I was creating physical sculptures in the studio.”
Illustrating the relationship between online and offline landscapes, Ellis produced a mixed-media installation that included plastic sculptures formed to the islands’ topology using Google Earth and satellite imagery. A book chronicling her conversations with the islanders was also created.
Converting aspects of the online space ran parallel in MA Photography student Neale Willis' work, another Nova shortlister. Presenting two pieces, Willis made a facial recognition machine, alongside bass heavy recordings of deleted tweets made with an algorithm powered to a music sequencer.
“My two works on display touch upon the online world and stand at each end of the 'data tunnel,'” says Willis. “One collecting and concealing, while the other disseminates and excretes. They both nod toward the current state of personal data fought over by governments and companies.”
While Willis’ final project repurposed digital information, MA Art and Science student Sarah Craske used high level technology to reconsider a physical object, in this case, a 1735 edition of Ovid’s Metamorphosis.
“Knowledge itself is continually being redefined and accessed more immediately while acquisition and storage of knowledge is moving from the real to the virtual world,” explains Craske. “The expansion of digital material prompts the question: What will be our eventual relationship with the physical archive? Will it hold any value?”
Working with microbiologists, Craske, 34, was able to chart a scientific history, identifying bacteria and diseases within the text. “What I was hoping to achieve was the presentation of another reality,” she says. “What would the practice of a truly mutual artistic and scientific enquiry look like and what new knowledge could you gain through this practice?”
Craske wasn’t the only one on the shortlist demonstrating the hybrid between art and science disciplines. Julius Cowyn-Foulkes, 24-year-old MA Art and Science student, designed three sculptures influenced by Complexity Theory, or more specifically, how the human body is comprised. These complex systems were intricately forged within three spheres, highlighting different dimensions of what it means to be human and a new way of storytelling.
“Making the shortlist is a real treat,” says Cowyn-Foulkes. “It means that perhaps some of the things that move and intrigue me, move and intrigue others too. That is reassuring.”
On July 7th, 2016 The Creators Project will help decide the Nova Award winner, a £6,000 prize given to one CSM graduating student. Two runners will receive £2,000 each. Find out more here.