For over a year, each of our lives has been impacted by the pandemic. For the visual arts, this has meant a significant paradigm shift to how we make, engage and consume art practice – and none of us yet know how temporary this will be.
The boundaries between living and working spaces and how we now must navigate them and each other is setting a challenge to architects to rethink how we design our and move through our buildings. For artists, the impact of the pandemic questions whether we are making work to be seen in physical spaces, as digital documentation or as digital experiences in their own right.
Whatever the case, there is evidence of an increased urgency in the work of artists and architects across Scotland and beyond. What perhaps connects the selected art and architectural works from this year’s RSA open submission is not the themes or subject matter, but a distinct emotional intensity that is deeply human – whether haunted by the ‘time before’ or the ‘time since’ all our lives changed. All those who submitted are aware that, at least for now, these works will only be seen on a screen, so their excellent visual documentation is a testament to their adaptability, investing ambition not necessarily with the scale of works, but its impact on screen.
This year’s Annual Exhibition has been convened jointly by Delia Baillie RSA and Jessica Harrison RSA and the Deputy Convenor for Architecture is Neil Gillespie RSA. There was optimism that it could return to the Academy building. It was not to be, and the adjustments made by Delia, Jessica and Neil adapting their vision to an online exhibition must be lauded, ably supported by selection team of Ade Adesina RSA, Mary Bourne RSA, Jo Ganter RSA, Kenny Hunter RSA and President Joyce W. Cairns PRSA.
We are delighted to present work by invited artists Oana Stanciu, Erica Eyers, Sally Hackett and Darren Cullen, each of whose work explores unique and engaging commentary on human interaction. For architecture, it is also a great privilege to welcome the work of Elizabeth Hatz and David Chipperfield HRSA.
The RSA Annual Exhibition is a principal showcase for the Academy’s 120 elected members whose work on committees, exhibitions, selection and awards panels as well as their commitment and support to their disciplines is the heartbeat of the Academy. This year, we are showing the work of 52 Academicians, whose practices are as diverse and wide as their geographic locations. Showing for the first time as members are two of our newly elected members; Rab Bennetts, providing insight of his architecture practice through his ‘synthesis’ drawings, and Leena Nammari, exploring the simplicity of the folded paper aeroplane to invest ideas in her work ‘Grounded’. In 2020, in response to the Pandemic, we were delighted to offer live online presentations from a selection of members' own studios and talk about their projects from locations from Orkney, right across Scotland and London – all of which can be viewed on the RSA YouTube channel.
In 2020, through generous sponsorship by the Morton Trust, the RSA was able to provide support for early career artists to continue their practice and make work in response the impact of COVID-19. The Pandemic Awards attracted a staggering 249 entries. From a very strong submission, 12 artists were awarded £2,500. The Academy was due to showcase these artists in a major exhibition in January 2021, however closure due to COVID restrictions prevented this from going ahead. These works will now be showcased at different times throughout the year, including in our recent online exhibition Latitudes. An accompanying publication featuring each of the award winner’s works will also be produced.
Since the last Annual Exhibition, the Academy has been saddened to announce the loss of distinguished members Alan Robb RSA, James Morrison RSA and David Evans RSA. Just before last year’s exhibition, we also we lost Alexander Fraser RSA and Kirkland Main RSA whom we had planned to pay tribute at this 2021 exhibition. Therefore, we are now planning full tributes and showcases of work for all those we have lost in a special exhibition in next year.
The work of the Academy has continued apace throughout 2020 and 2021 as we prepare ambitious plans for our 200th anniversary celebrations in 2026. The ongoing programme of exhibitions and events would not be possible were it not for the dedicated work of our staff team lead by RSA Director Colin Greenslade. The whole team must be congratulated for the onerous job of moving our exhibition programme online last year at very short notice, lead and coordinated by our Gallery Manager Flora La Thangue and Programme Coordinator Amy Cameron.
Finally, a huge thanks to you all for taking the time to browse our Annual Exhibition and engage with our activities. Most works are for sale, providing vital income for artists with all commission going back to support the work of the Academy, part of which is providing further opportunities for artists and architects.
Robbie Bushe RSA
Secretary, Royal Scottish Academy
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