Looking Back: with fists, it kicks, it bites – an exhibition by RCA graduates in Fitzrovia

with fists, it kicks, it bites (18-22 August, 2020) was a collaborative exhibition hosted by four Fitzrovia arts spaces to showcase work produced by students graduating in 2020 from the MA Photography course at the Royal College of Art (RCA). Spread across the historic Fitzrovia Chapel, as well as galleries Edel Assanti, TJ Boutling and Webber Gallery, the show featured a rich body of experimental, engaging and assertive work.

In effect, this was a degree show with a difference, taking place after the RCA’s own physical show was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the RCA created an online presentation as an alternative way to access students’ work, the exhibition in Fitzrovia gave the MA Photography graduates the opportunity to hang their work in a public setting. The Net Gallery was proud to be able to capture this unique show, with the virtual walkthrough still available to view online.

Since taking part in the exhibition, RCA graduates Daniel John BrackenTom MedwellNadja EllingerThomas MoenBobby MonteverdeTris BucaroEden HawkinsElliott MickleburghRoei GreenbergJames Wilde and Sine Zheng have all become members of The Net Gallery. We caught up with a few of these artists to find out about their experience of participating in with fists, it kicks, it bitesand what it meant to be able exhibit their work.

Daniel John Bracken

Still Life Study at Sunrise 2020
Still Life Study at Sunrise” (2020) by Daniel John Bracken was on display at Edel Assanti as part of with fists, it kicks, it bites, 18–22 August 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

“All things 2020 considered, with fists, it kicks, it bites was probably one of my own personal highlights. With the inherent conflicts in the art scene and the everyday brought on by COVID-19, the ability to procure space, collaborate with peers and put together a stellar exhibition was such a rewarding and significant experience.

“Spread across the four galleries, the exhibition not only exhibited works that had been years in the making, but also provided such a succinct conversation among practitioners in response to an unprecedented time. Having had a few other exhibitions at the time move to digital platforms and others postponed into the unforeseen future, it was such a pleasure to not only work with the galleries involved, but also the general public who attended the shows. I think I speak for everyone involved in saying how grateful we all are to the galleries involved for opening their doors during such a trying time, but also how significant it was to see visitors come out after lockdowns and reinvigorate the London art scene.

“Like most exhibitions, the act of putting the show together was both a learning experience and a work in progress, with a lot of hard work put into making it a success. With some peers having gone back to their respective home countries outside of the UK, there was a strong sense of camaraderie that developed almost overnight – with prints being sent in from around the world, lots of Zoom meetings and an allocation of installation, presentation and curation responsibility that made the entire process run super smoothly.

“I think personally as well, having taken part in the exhibition has opened my eyes in regards to the works selected to be shown, the depth of standalone works and the capacity for more work to be made in response to such unsure times. The works I exhibited were part of a series titled It’s Safe Behind the Glass that I’d been working on for some time before heading into lockdown and again throughout, and the more I expanded upon this series during lockdown and beyond, the more I realised how personal and in some cases conversely universal the works were as a response to isolation, physical time and a lived reality that was so quickly shifted from the norm.

“Drawing on still life, domestic space and the fragility of the photograph in regards to spectatorship, the works acted to draw in viewers at a state of pause, to reflect on the shifts we so inherently pass by or misunderstand. Displaying these works in relation to slowing time within a gallery space not only exaggerated the importance of the moments depicted, but created a dialogue within the space at Edel Assanti that I think personally affected the interpretation of the show.

“Of course, I can only speak for my own experience, but from what I saw I believe several other pieces throughout TJ Boulting, the Fitzrovia Chapel, and Webber Gallery also began to touch upon these universal liminal experiences and shifted the conversation of the exhibition into one of nowness: one of importance within the contemporary, something of a fresh response to inherently new restrictions, life changes and an unprecedented experience.” Daniel John Bracken.

Nadja Ellinger

a nice bouquet of flowers
“The Path” by Nadja Ellinger was on display at Fitzrovia Chapel, 18–22 August 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

“First of all, thanks to the team from The Net Gallery for making the virtual exhibition possible. As delighted as I was to have a physical degree show, a lot of my family and friends couldn’t come in person in the end, due to the pandemic. So having a virtual representation was a great opportunity to invite everyone who wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise.

“I think the internet as an exhibition space is still a young and unexplored concept in many ways. For me, it’s inherent communal aspects are quite interesting as my work blurs the borders between author and audience – something folklore as well as the virtual space have in common. But the virtual exhibition is still in its infancy, and in my opinion still quite traditional at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing more approaches that embrace the interactive and communal aspects of the internet and I’m excited about new ideas in this field.

“I don’t see the virtual exhibition as an alternative for a physical one, but as two absolutely different approaches, that is not a decision to be taken at the very end but should be carefully chosen and developed according to the artwork.

“After the first lockdown, I have moved back to Germany. I’m currently working on expanding my body of work “Path of Pins”. Besides taking new photos, I’m creating new exhibition concepts, both physical and virtual and experimenting even further with the idea of interactive experiences including author and audience. I’m also researching two new upcoming projects, one dealing with orality in folklore, the other with the human body and its (non-)borders.” Nadja Ellinger

Eden Hawkins

img2
Eden Hawkins is currently working on a new project with Glasgow artist Mina Heydari-Waite. Image courtesy of the artist.

“It was a big blow to us this year not being able to finish our Masters at the Royal College of Art in the traditional way. with fists, it kicks, it bites gave us so much more than a physical place to actualise our two years of work: it was a celebration and ceremony of two years in the making. It was such a joy working with TJ Boulting.

“The process of curating and installing felt like a step into the ‘real world’ which you do not get with a more traditional degree show. We were lucky enough to be working with Hannah Watson, Co-founder and curator of TJ Boulting and the exhibition became a hybrid degree show that positioned our work in a more professional space.

“As the show was spread across four galleries, you could see careful attention paid to curation that comes with working alongside different gallerists. What I thought was particularly exciting was the dynamic of being able to experience the physical work in the galleries and then having the option to go away and revisit the research and extended project in the virtual RCA degree show.

“Both platforms were experiments for everyone involved. From the web design teams, tutors, students, and staff – all working together in new ways under strange circumstances – it certainly felt like an experiment.

“Since graduating I have worked on a few new projects. I worked with Vogue US on a shoot of a Moncler bag that was published in its September Issue. I won a mentorship program with Metro Imaging as part of my graduation and will be working on a project with them over the next year that will use their talented staff and printing facilities.

“I have also just given a workshop on photographic studio set-ups with LCC as part of their New Waves Programme. The next workshop will take place virtually on the 1st of December and will be focused on editing techniques. Other than this, I am working on smaller personal projects and collaborating with Glasgow based artist and facilitator Mina Heydari-Waite on a project and publication that explores re-imagined places of spiritual significance.” Eden Hawkins

Sine Zheng

Window Sine Zheng
“Window” by Sine Zheng was on display at Webber Gallery, 18–22 August 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

Sine Zheng’s work explores the connection between people, nature, urban life and space, which generates an undefined dimension between reality and illusion, questioning whether they can exist independently. Her photographs give no straight answer to her audience, prompting them instead to form their own interpretation. As a contemporary artist, Sine wants to invite the audience to reflect upon how humans are a threat to the ecosystem and should therefore value every element given from Earth.

Sine experiments with original analog photography techniques, for instance she uses natural elements such as ice, glass, sand and salt in the printing process in order to powerfully convey her artistic and personal perception of the current world. As she explains:

“Following the development of urbanization, people living in dazzling modern architecture and skyscrapers take natural resources such as water, wood and electricity. Despite living in the city, individuals surround themselves with simulative images of plants and water in order to create an environment which reminds them of nature.”

Talking about her experience of taking part in with fists, it kicks, it bites, Sine adds:

“It was such an inspiring opportunity to show alongside other talented peers’ works that we devoted ourselves to developing for two years. This substituted exhibition symbolized our school life ending and the official initiation of future careers.”

Article by Toby Buckley.

While the physical exhibition has now ended, work by these four artists and many more can still be seen in the virtual exhibition on The Net Gallery.

The image shown at the top of the page is “Bathtub” by Sine Zheng. The piece was on display at Webber Gallery, 18–22 August 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

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