Expo Review: “A Visual Celebration without Justification”
Review of the third year illustration WdKA exposition:
Introduction. Last Friday 20th of January 2017 the opening took place of the exposition: “Untitled-JPG” at the SLASH gallery in Rotterdam. The exposition of 3rd year illustration students from the Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. More than 30 students presented works based on their independent research project. They had the opportunity to develop a personal illustration research project within 8 weeks. The exposition was accompanied by a website where more information about their projects can be found (www.untitled-jpg.nl). The project is the final phase of the major illustration bachelor program. In the next phase of their studies these students will start their internship at design-, animation-, games-, or other illustration-related companies. Next year they will have their minor-program and complete their studies with an independent graduation project.
General Impression. At first hand the exposition gives the impression that illustration at the WdKA is a colourful, hectic, and personal orientated course in which the students are stimulated to challenge the status quo. The exposition shows a wide diversity in subject matters, visual styles and products. There are; 3D objects, video installations, comics, publications, drawings, paintings, photographs, and lasercut-drawings. The exposition shows that many of these students are brave enough to go beyond the obvious, to discard the well-known and seek originality instead of portraying themselves as traditional illustrators.
Untitled.JPG. The ambition of the students to seek new opportunities could explain why the name of the exposition and website doesn’t seem related to the practice of illustration. There is little information about the exposition on the website. Some of the works offer no information about the project at all. There’s an interesting subtext on the facebook-event page which explains: “In a society where we feel there’s a need to justify everything, some things are just better left untitled.jpg”. It leaves the impression that the students are willing to show the tip of their iceberg, but they are not interested in clarifying the details of their process with the audience.
Critical Reflection. From an academic point of view it’s an interesting development when students critically reflect and question the identity of their own discipline. Many students have presented personal related visual experiments in which they did not make a clear connection to the (commercial) practice of illustration. Many paintings for example seem presented as fine-art objects. Not many of the works can easily be placed in an applied context, with the exception of a few illustrated publications.
Themes. If the chosen themes of the projects says something about what these students are feeling; the overall impression is that their times are not easy. Themes like: anxieties, fear, pain, conflict, and heartbreak are reoccurring in the exposition. It is surprising that little of the works are related to todays means of communication or technology. Only a few works are related to modern technology such as; the laser-cut illustrations and a short film about mind-control technology. Also not many students take on critical themes of society. There’s a series of visualisations about a future world scenario and two projects take a somewhat critical approach towards the fashion industry. However the majority of the works are about personal experiences. Works that stand out due to their fresh, positive and humorous approach are; a comic about every day life confrontations, illustrated songs (funky taste), 9 bright and colourful illustrations about relations, and clayaew sculptured female figures.
Illustration Future. The critical approach towards the practice of illustration can give these students a competitive advantage and make them stand out in an overcrowded illustration-market. However it might also lead to confrontations, when it leaves them unable to connect with today’s market demands. The exposition raises the question if these students are conscious enough about these demands. The projects are all authentic, and outspoken on a personal level. However their focus is mainly inward. I believe the world is waiting for new authentic and eager illustrators. But they have to be willing to connect and contribute to others. I hope in the remaining duration of their studies these students will further develop themselves and learn to better define the context for their work. The upcoming internship period will be a great opportunity.