LONDON — University of the Arts London, which comprises a series of fashion, photography and fine arts institutions, will unveil the work of thousands of final-year students on a shared online platform on July 28.
The platform is the first shared showcase for UAL’s six colleges: Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion, London College of Communication and the Chelsea, Camberwell and Wimbledon Colleges of Art.
The UAL Graduate Showcase web site, operated by IBM, has been designed to provide members of the public with the same sort of interaction that a physical event would offer.
There will be student presentations, social media handles, photos and immersive videos by students from courses ranging from a bachelor’s program in architecture to a master’s program in photography.
The aim is to ensure that students can still present their work to the public — and to potential employers and partners — despite canceled school terms and social distancing.
The students’ projects were managed and delivered by a project board, team and working group, and professionals can buy directly from the web site. Viewers can search by themes such as Black Lives Matter, the coronavirus and climate change.
UAL Chancellor Grayson Perry, a ceramicist, artist and broadcaster, said he was “excited to be forging my own adventure on the UAL Graduate Showcase, and experiencing the collision of disciplines all under one roof.”
The platform will host public events, including panel discussions, screenings and workshops until August 7.
Earlier this month, Royal College of Art in London created an online platform for its M.A. students’ work across a variety of disciplines, with detailed search functions and open access to the industry and the wider public.
Each graduate has been given the opportunity to share five pages of work, such as photos, videos, or a mix of both, and to discuss their creative process.
“It gives the work more context. We’re relating to the work in a very different way, a more human way,” said David Kappo, fashion graduate diploma course leader and B.A. fashion senior tutor at CSM. “The reason behind what they do is [made] available to us.”
The showcase will give fashion students the chance to show their work despite not being able to stage a live runway show due to the impact of COVID-19. Some B.A. fashion students chose to create a physical collection while in isolation, while others reduced months of work into a handful of visuals.
“Our students are resilient and smart, so they were able to translate their work and concepts,” said Hywel Davies, fashion program director at CSM.
Some projects turned out to be difficult to translate into a digital format. B.A. fashion communication student Isobel Van Dyke has been working on an LGBTQ magazine, which was originally conceived as a print publication but is now digital. “I’m desperate to hold my magazine rather than scroll through it,” she said.
Bradley Sharpe, a B.A. fashion design women’s wear student, confirmed that “it’s been difficult,” especially because CSM “has always encouraged physical, hand worked projects.”
Tutors and course leaders who supported the graduates throughout their projects said they admired the students’ creativity and resilience. Sarah Gresty, B.A. fashion course leader at CSM, thought “the outcome was unexpected — and incredibly — creatively exciting,” while Kappo argued that the students’ voices have “been coming through with so much more impact with the digital presentations.”
All of the students who presented their final collection on the UAL Graduate Showcase platform had to complete it during lockdown, preventing them from accessing all the resources that would usually have been available to them, pre-COVID-19.
Many students admit they struggled to work on their projects without being on campus. Van Dyke, from B.A. fashion communication, said she was locked down with three of her course mates, and it forced them to be inventive. “The four of us have each created our own magazine and, simultaneously, have all been one another’s editors, interns, art directors and models,” she said.
For designers, creating garments without having access to studios and professional help proved to be difficult. “I worked in isolation with my floor becoming the pattern cutting table, and my domestic sewing machine on its last legs, struggling to deal with fabric it didn’t like,” said Aaron Esh, a B.A. fashion men’s wear graduate from London College of Fashion, who did his fittings on Facetime.
Students said fittings were the toughest part. Women’s wear student Sharpe created a collection using unwanted tent poles, making fittings in his flat impossible. That frustration led him to think quickly and to develop other skills.
“We’ve had to totally reform the way we have been educated these past five years,” he said. “We’ve had to learn how to become videographers, video editors, photographers, in the space of a month.” He added, “It’s been really hard to learn all these new skills so last minute, especially when our main focus has always been to design and make a collection.”
B.A. ceramic design graduate Sara Howard used her time at home to develop her book and launch her web site. “This time was surprisingly beneficial, as I began to develop my digital skills and think about the future,” she said.
Sirui Ning, a B.A. jewelry design student, may have struggled with securing beads, but managed to develop her collection without being at school. “With what I had got, I could work from home as I didn’t need any college workshop facility for this project,” she said.
Kappo said he had seen “some much more interesting, inventive, experimental work coming out of those courses, because the students weren’t just working on autopilot towards that show at the end.”
The limitations of lockdown have fired up many of this year’s graduates, including London College of Fashion’s B.A. fashion men’s wear student Linnea Nordquist, who wants to be “a part of this big change that needs to happen now.” Women’s wear designer Sharpe said he feels “more confident with making quick decisions” about his work.
Many students are already working on upcoming projects. Ceramic design graduate Howard is planning to move to Sri Lanka to work for a ceramic mass manufacturer while fashion graduate diploma student Li-Shiuan Chen aims to open his own studio.
Others, like men’s wear student Esh, plans to continue his studies, despite the uncertainty. He has just enrolled in the M.A. fashion course at CSM, which will start in October. “I’m really looking forward to being part of the first class, reflecting and reacting to the huge changes in our society,” he said.
The UAL Graduate Showcase will exhibit the students’ projects for a year, adding more work from other courses throughout the 12-month period. UAL has decided to use the platform annually from now on, to enable graduates to have wider exposure, regardless of whether they stage live shows or presentations.
While the web site will be the norm for future graduates, the class of 2020 will always be one-of-a-kind. “These guys are part of history,” said Kappo. Fashion course leader Gresty concluded, “We are extremely proud of our 2020 graduates. They will never be forgotten.”