Since 1989, the CSM Museum & Study Collection has actively purchased works from graduating students during the College’s end-of-year shows. Now, after more than 30 years, the process has taken on a new form in our first ever Deans’ Awards.
For our graduating students this year was a year unlike any other; no cohort have spent their last months at University quite like the class of 2020. With physical degree shows unable to take place, our students instead took part in the University’s first online Graduate Showcase. Mirroring the unprecedented nature of 2020, the Deans’ Awards were an opportunity to celebrate work which showed outstanding innovation within the context of the past year.
As part of this new acquisition process, our Deans of Academic Programmes – Rachel Dickson, Paul Haywood and Rebecca Wright – selected a total of 19 works to add to the Museum collection. Together, they chose from a range of projects nominated by Course Leaders and the finalised works are presented together in a collection on the Graduate Showcase. The awards were presented during a live, online ceremony on 28 July, with the Deans, Head of the Museum Judy Willcocks and the selected students.
Introducing the event, Willcocks began by contextualising the collection: “I think it’s really unique in the fact that we have this extraordinary record of what our students have been producing. So, you can see the way the adoption of technology drives changes in design languages; you can see how there’s a zeitgeist for working with something like light and shade. It’s such a wonderful record of what has emerged from Central Saint Martins in the last 30 years.”
Across a wide range of disciplines, the Deans selected work which reflects what is important to both our community and wider society. Alongside the complexities of creating during a pandemic, this year’s acquisitions address issues including racial and social injustice, personal and collective identity and the climate emergency. The Museum’s teaching collection spans the 13th century to the present day and one of its greatest strengths is the contemporary work from our graduating students. By taking on graduate projects, and using them for teaching and object-based learning, it allows for conversations in the study room to be guided by work from our students’ own generation.
“We are always keen to acquire works which enable us to have the discussions we want to have in the classroom. I see students coming through the College who are very motivated by the big issues of today – anti-racism, social justice, gender equality and the climate emergency. And so, we’ve been really pushing for the collection to acquire works which speak to those themes so we can have the challenging conversations we want to be having in the Museum.” – Judy Willcocks
Speaking at the online event, Dean of Academic Programmes Paul Haywood echoed this idea: “In relation to this opportunity, we are very conscious that museum collections need to move forward, they need to be modernised by graduate work. Our collection needs to reflect something of the now, the contemporary and some of the urgencies we are faced with at the moment.”
“As Deans we have the real joy of being able to help collect work and we had very particular thoughts about how the work we were going to acquire spoke of these times. We are very conscious of our history at Central Saint Martins, but while history is important, the present is perhaps even more so – because it speaks of what’s happening now but also of the future and who we want to be. The work had to be 'of now' but also signal a better place of tomorrow.” – Rachel Dickson, Dean of Academic Programmes
“What you students have all produced is extraordinary work in extraordinary times. But it would be extraordinary whenever it was made. The work that really spoke to me was the work that somehow gave voice to this moment and your experience. But I was also struck by how many of you have chosen to give voice to something that’s both personal and public, that has a real poetry to it and is also truly powerful.” – Rebecca Wright, Dean of Academic Programmes
This new acquisition format has enabled Course Leaders and Deans to come together across programmes, providing the opportunity to see what brings our community together as a whole. Opening up cross-disciplinary conservations, this collection of works draws attention to the confluence of interests, influences and agency of our graduating students.
Graduating from MA Art and Science, Mariana Heilmann’s project pivots around mycelium and its networked forms of existence. Introducing her work during the live ceremony she said “I’m interested in scale interconnectivity and the ways in which the human world is a meeting point between microscopic and global scales. My degree project Running with Mycelium, specifically looks into the vast complex and mysterious kingdom of fungi.”
Also speaking at the ceremony BA Architecture graduate Rebekah Mithinji said of her practice: “I’m a diaspora student so that has influenced a lot of my work. For my project, I looked into vernacular architecture, the use of sustainable materiality and how light and material can work together to create spaces which provoke an emotive response.”
All of the 2020 works that have been acquired will also become part of the Museum’s online collection – where the public can search and see links between the new and the historical. Speaking about the online resource, Museum Curator Sarah Campbell said: “You always stumble across new and unusual connections which can make you re-think relationships between works from different eras. A search by a student on a certain theme might bring up a print by Albrecht Dürer and a new digital video work at the same time. The interconnectivity of the collections is great and I hope our future students get as much out of these new works as we do.”