Grace Manning

© Grace Manning, Secretion, 2014
© Grace Manning, Secretion, 2014

How did you hear about Central Saint Martins?

I found out about Central Saint Martins from my wonderful art teacher at school, Mrs Gardner, and from my Dad.

He was a key part in showing me where my interest could lead me to, and took me to see a degree show at Southampton Row when I was around 15. That visit left a lingering ambition.

Please describe your work.

To describe one particular piece of work for me always feels difficult, and I think always will do.

I am a cross-disciplinary designer, working in and nurturing the skills to explore various fields of craft and respond to various briefs within animation, art direction, performance design and live art projects – ranging from set and costume design, to environment and installation work.

I am material-led and across these artistic platforms – at the heart of all my projects – is the emphasis on material experimentation as a starting point. But with strange matter, the things that repulse.

This is demonstrated in Pupa, one of my three final major projects. It’s an eight-minute stop-motion animation, my first piece in this medium. The tag line: a tactile voyage into guileless imagination; unearthing material conceptions among the undergrowth.

How would you describe your course? What is a typical day like?

Things aren’t typical, as we all follow different branches of practice. The general division is between devise and design, however everyone produces something that resides in a different line of specialisation.

Every one of us is experiencing a totally different journey, together. We collaborate and experiment with each other. We agree, disagree and everything in-between.

We spend time sourcing totally obscure objects, and solving ridiculous problems that may arise. The Performance Design and Practice course has its own very unusual pulse.

Why did you choose this particular course?

My first work experience was at 15 in the art department in a film at Ealing Studios. It opened my eyes to ways that I could apply my enthusiasm for many different creative paths to an industry.

I studied textiles, fine art, product design and media at A-level and I never wanted to put an emphasis on one particular skill, or restrict my creativity to a certain medium. I was always interested in the amalgamation of artistic disciplines. I would not have chosen the course if it was BA Theatre Design for performance, as stage design is not my interest, although it is others’ on the course.

For me, Performance Design and Practice allows me to apply a diverse range of interests and experimentation. It invites and allows me to blend them with experiences and observations of life and unite them in a moment or a space.

What sort of person do you think you need to be to do well on your course?

To have an undercurrent of strangeness and a good sense of humour – to have the ability to not take yourself too seriously. The lack of pretension among the people on Performance Design and Practice I feel is quite unique. It’s a course about being human and responding to human experiences.

To not be precious. Collaborating means you need to understand and accept the sacrifices that you may have to make to your own ideas and ideals.

To be extremely self-motivated and brave enough to find and use the facilities that aren’t specific to the course, but are there and so can be employed to widen your skills base.

You have to be organised, spinning plates and prioritising. Completing three projects simultaneously is logistically very difficult without one suffering too much. In the end what you are presenting to the industry is yourself, so to do well it’s important to understand what makes you a unique individual and designer.

Did you get any experience of working with industry while on your course?

Externally I gained experience in various art departments for film and television, including working across three series of Downton Abbey based at Ealing Film Studios, producing props and working with graphics, on-set work and assisting art directors. This has led me onto working on various productions based at Ealing Studios.

In my final year, I worked for Secret Cinema – a successful London-based immersive theatre company. Commissioned to produce an interactive installation at The Troxy, responding to the brief of the film given, I took over the basement space with a sculptural installation.

In my final year, I also was a guest designer on a project in collaboration with the Royal Opera House and Pop Up Festival of Stories, a children’s literacy festival. I worked with the learning and participation team at the Royal Opera House – alongside an art director, scenic painters and textile artists – in a series of ten design workshops with the community surrounding the production workshop located in Purfleet, Essex. In these workshops my design was realised and the project culminated in three touring festivals around the UK.

What have your highlights been?

Making work with my friends, developing creative partnerships as well as close friendships.

What do you love about Central Saint Martins?

The people, their relentless spirit and unhinged imaginations.

How did you find supporting yourself in London?

Financially, I worked and cycled. I lived close to college to avoid expensive taxi rides or uncomfortable tube rides with large-scale objects.

In terms of all other levels of support, I’m fortunate that my parents live just outside London, and are extremely supportive of anything I do. So I was never too far away from their aid if needed. Without them some things wouldn’t have been logistically possible and this made a huge difference to how much I could achieve.

What are your future plans? What are you/others from your course doing now?

I just completed a freelance animation project for a children’s book publisher, and will continue to embark on freelancing as an animator/illustrator. I also have plans to join an art department for a television series in the new year.

I am currently providing the means to stay in London and also relaxing into a life without education, and not succumbing to the pressure of beginning your career immediately. I feel I may need to take a trip to the jungle first. Others have had assisting jobs on productions, or events, or shoots, costume and set related.

What advice would you pass on?

Some generic advice would be: don’t wait for anything to come to you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember everything is an experiment – even when it is refined – and that everyone in the college is learning everyday, so it’s all about experiences and the level of experience.

You will tick the boxes academically if you forget about them and concentrate on documenting and developing your creative journey, for yourself. Don’t forget to sit back from it all on a regular basis and reflect, it’s not a waste of time.

Visit Grace's website to see more of her work.

© Grace Manning, Secretion, 2014
© Grace Manning, Secretion, 2014