Department 21 a student-led interdisciplinary department at the Royal College of Art

Featured in Metropolitan Magazine

Department 21 has a nice review in the June issue of the Eurostar Magazine, Metropolitan. Eurostar has supported us this year, by giving tickets to bring in artists and designers from Brussels and Paris.


Here is the article:
The Royal College of Art in South Kensington is one of the world’s most prestigious art schools with 20 departments offering everything from animation to vehicle design. Then there’s Department 21, a student-run collective who occupy a narrow space on campus but have the broadest of ambitions.

Department 21 began in January 2010 as an attempt to break down barriers between the RCA’s departments and create a physical space where students on different courses could work side by side. It also holds exhibitions, making imaginative use of spaces throughout the RCA campus, and creating events that explore Department 21’s ethos of inclusion and collaboration away from the college system. For this, it has been helped by Eurostar, who have provided tickets so artists from Paris and Brussels can come to London for workshops and exhibitions.

The students believe strongly in a non-hierarchal structure. ‘Department 21 doesn’t belong to anybody,’ says Sophie Demay, a 25-year-old from Paris who has been part of Department 21 for a year. ‘There have been 50 people from dozens of countries who have collaborated.’ Afonso Martins, a 27-year-old who previously lived in Brussels, adds, ‘Anyone can get involved. There’s no formal structure.’

In Department 21’s working space – an old painting studio – desks are booked for periods of up to two months. Somebody studying textiles will sit next to an architecture student next to an electronic sculptor. ‘We encourage collaboration. We hope that by working next to each other there is the potential you will become influenced. It’s more incidental.’

After hooking up with Eurostar, Department 21 brought over Brussels-based graphic design collective OSP, who use open-source software in their practise. ‘Open source software is developed by a community and that relates to what we do. They showed us how to create a poster using a robot controlled by people in a chat room.’

Other exhibitions have featured French designers coming to London to discuss their practise and collaborations for a poster exhibition aimed at generating a dialogue between France and Britain, and for OpenBooks, an exhibition that looked at how books can be used as an exhibition material. The group have also been ‘reclaiming’ spaces around the campus, including building a working sauna for a week-and-a-half opposite the Royal Albert Hall. ‘The college has been enrolling more students but has no extra space, so we are interested in investigating temporary spaces that do not belong to anyone. We used the sauna for meetings to see how the space influenced our way of discussing things.’

Department 21 will expand this theme for the final show, the RCA’s big end-of-year exhibition at the end of June, which they will also use to introduce the next generation of Department 21ers. ‘We want to construct a structure in the parking lot. It will link two buildings but would not be part of either. It would be an alternative exhibition space and we hope to get the first-year students involved in building and planning it.’

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