Art holds up a mirror to our times. The past year has been a period of upheaval and uncertainty, but it has also inspired innovation. A spirit of determination and adaptability has been crucial. As Hereford College of Arts (HCA) opens its doors to the public to celebrate the Festival of Arts, we interviewed Xaviere Hughes, Head of Further Education, and Justin Gregory, Head of Higher Eduction, about their students’ journeys over the last year. Hughes and Gregory delve into some of work on show, highlighting what to expect from HCA’s latest cohort of up-and-coming talent.
A: 2020-2021 has been a period of upheaval and uncertainty, but it has also inspired innovation. How have your students responded over the past year?
XH & JG: As part of a specialist Arts College, students at Hereford College of Arts are in a unique position to explore their personal discipline. This year, the level of interrogation across all aspects of the creative arts has been taken to new heights. We have been amazed – although not surprised – at the strength of the work produced and the personal resilience of our students over this and the last academic year. The students have responded to the pandemic (maybe unconsciously in some cases) by making work that interrogates the senses.
We have seen art and design that is more colourful, tactile, wild. Themes that are more personal, deep and hard hitting. Music that is softer or louder. Song writing and melodies that are more meaningful, speak of a collective experience and feel important. Performances via acting, singing and dance that have yearned for a live audience. Dialogue that shouts of togetherness and community. Theatre that shines a light on contemporary production and questions global events. Digital media that is inclusive, accessible and genuinely interactive in a time when physical interaction has been impossible for us all.
Each student has had a unique journey, but they have all developed not only their work but their resilience, tenacity and positivity. They have been able to inhabit that liminal space between presence and solitude. The online space feels like company, but it is a different form of company to what we are used to, and our students have managed to use that in myriad of ways to drive their personal practice forward. Students have been held in the stage of idea and design development for longer this year, resulting in more highly developed work. They then completed this work through increased access to facilities when lockdown lifted. Personal reflection has increased, and the tenderness of their responses has been poignant.
A: What can we expect to see? What types of media are on display, and are there any themes running through the festival?
XH & JG: As ever, we will be able to offer our visitors a chance to see work by students from all levels and abilities, and an opportunity to join us in celebrating their achievements and progression pathways – of which we are so proud. We have everything on show, from film to installations, websites, photographs, paintings, drawing (digital and analogue), computer aided design, books, zines, postcards, stickers, brochures, apps and sculptures.
A: Art is always moving in new directions. How are the next generation of artists – experimenting with new technologies?
XH & JG: At HCA, students have the luxury of excellent teaching and industry standard equipment and facilities, so it is not unusual to see a range of media and technologies – from the very traditional to the cutting edge – in the same collection. Out of necessity, the world has seen a need for online content over the last 18 months. Our Digital Futures & Interactive Media students have been the driving this forward – responding to employers’ and live client briefs by developing innovative work within this context. They have also focused on communication and global connection via gaming, concept and virtual reality.
A: We live in a society which is increasingly saturated with digital images; the lines between truth and fiction are often blurred. What can we expect from this year’s photography graduates?
XH & JG: Communication through images has been part of human culture for tens of thousands of years. We live in a culture that generates more images than ever before, which you might think devalues image making. In reality, the opposite is happening. Images are increasingly used as a shortcut for words when people need to get a large amount of information very quickly.
Digital photography is part of this boom. What you will see in the degree show is a mixture of digital and analogue photography that can communicate directly with the viewer – whether on a personal, political or aesthetic level. We have images that demand a response, images that pull you into a tender moment, images that reel you into a history. Authenticity, honesty and clarity sing out of many of the images on display. All truth is relative, and you will see many hard won, heartfelt truths if you come to the show.
A: What do you hope audiences take away from the Festival of Arts?
XH & JG: When visitors come to the college they always comment on the superb quality of work produced by our students and our unique sense of community. We have a longstanding history as a specialist arts centre that encourages our learners to join in, to communicate, to share and collaborate. I hope that visitors take away our values; that our learners are individual, inventive, inquisitive and brave.
A: What would your message be to prospective students thinking about studying the creative disciplines?
XH & JG: My message would be to get in touch and talk to a member of staff who can advise you about a creative pathway. If your favourite thing to do is make music, perform or create, then you are probably already halfway there. If you are a musician, a singer, rapper or songwriter… a photographer, film maker, animator or gamer… if you love drawing, working with your hands and exploring materials and processes, communication via graphics or illustration, textiles, fashion, interiors and styling… or if you are a writer, actor, choreographer and would like to work on stage or screen… then we can help you start your creative career with one of our professional and internationally recognised qualifications.
For full information including how to book, opening times and details of live music and performances visit www.hca.ac.uk/festivalofarts
1. Natasha Myatt
2. Daisy Morgan
3. Isabella Draper