One of the ways of finding seeds of change is to go where the frontrunners are. What better location to find them than at an art academy graduation show! But how to visit these shows to get the most out of it? This blog gives you 4 practical tips.
Just before summer really hits many art academies hold their graduation shows and these are amazing breeding places to get to know what the younger generation of trailblazers are up to. As stated in my book ‘How to Research Trends’ visiting these type of events is an essential part of your field research during the scan phase of the trend research cycle. So I recently visited the graduation show of one of Amsterdam’s finest art academies: Gerrit Rietveld Academie.
The topics these young students address and the way they do this, whether via a painting, a sculpture or an installation, give you a glimpse into emerging themes in society. These grad shows help you to stay updated on issues explored. I will now give you 4 tips & tricks on how to select which shows to visit and what to look for when visiting them.
Tip #1: Know the location you are visiting
It's essential to know what type of art academy you are visiting: is it a more applied or a more autonomous one? For instance, in the Netherlands the Design Academy Eindhoven or the Willem de Kooning Academie are more applied art academies, whereas Gerrit Rietveld Academie is a more autonomous one. This means the first have more concrete projects, maybe even already prototypes of products or services, while the latter shows more free spirited projects that leave a lot to your imagination. When you are a newbee to dropping by a graduation show, it’s best to start with the more applied ones, because for the more arty ones you already have to know how to read between the lines.
Tip #2: Take your time
When planning a visit, try to estimate how many hours you would walk around there. Then: double this! Because you will linger at grad shows longer than you might think. Getting to know the lay-out of the space, finding people to talk to, taking the right pictures, taking a lunch break to let it all sink in. It’s all part of the experience. For example, at the Gerrit Rietveld exhibition there were performances scheduled at fixed times, so this also influences your visit.
Tip #3: Find as much information as you can
When visiting graduation shows try to get as much information as you can. This means taking a lot of pictures so you have your own photo material to use in trend reports or presentations. Talk to the graduates and take notes of interesting quotes or words that spark your interest and that relate to changing values and needs. If the students are swarmed by others, try to eavesdrop to get your info. If there are no students to explain their work, take an information leaflet or business card to take home and do desk research on the graduate and their work afterwards. Often there is a catalogue or brochure available that shows an overview of the works exhibited. Also talk to other visitors to get to know what sparked their interest and why. As mentioned in the book it’s about quantity when you are spotting, so keep an open mind and don’t be too critical yet.
Tip #4: Select your info at home
When you are back home you can scrutinize your trend treasures one by one and decide on which to hold on to and which to discard and leave aside. People often ask me how to decide on what to keep and what not. I feel this is a very personal process, so there is no one size fits all formula. Often, after a good night sleep and looking at the info again the next day, I know more clearly what really fuelled my imagination most. I know it can be scary to throw away information, especially when you are just starting in trend research. But really, just try it and see how it makes you feel. Practice makes perfect.
I can already hear you thinking, but Els, what stood out for you at the Gerrit Rietveld graduation show? Well, since I just visited yesterday my head is still spinning a bit of everything I saw. But there are two projects that made me look twice. I’ll elaborate a bit on why they interest me, so you can follow my trail of thoughts.
Frederique Albert-Bordenave – Anywhere but here, anytime but now
Unfortunately the picture does not do justice to this ingenious installation. It would have been better in video, but it was too dark to shoot footage (damn!). I’ll try to explain it in words: This graduation student of the department of Inter-Architecture made a mesmerizing choreography between time and space by making a 3d architectural framework and having a robot arm with a light source move around it. This created a kind of surreal and almost VR experience of the shadows projected into the space moving in and out on me as a visitor. I feel this encapsulates perfectly our need to get immersed into an experience and lose track of time and space in a very physical way.
Vytautas Kumza – 4
I was immediately drawn to the photos by this graduation student because they seem so hyper realistic and at the same time there is something artificial going on. The photos are vibrant, clear in contrasts and made me want to close in on them and touch them. I wanted to get into the photo itself. To me this chimes into nowadays blurring lines between the fake and the real. I also liked that Vytautas just gave one sentence to explain his project: “surrealism and everyday construction in photography”. A perfect example of just show, don’t tell!
I hope these tips and my personal experience will help you to feel more confident in spotting at a show yourself. Go outside and explore one nearby you! If you are an avid graduation show visitor and have any other helpful tips or tricks on visiting graduation shows, please leave them in the comments: sharing is caring!
Pssst: All photos shot by me