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


Department 21 is an experimental interdisciplinary space established by Royal College of Art’s students in 2009.

Department 21’s Working Space
January- February 2010

Department 21 was, at the beginning, a temporary, physical space established by students as an experiment in interdisciplinary practice, in the vacant Painting studios. Department 21 seeks to explore whether this territory, freed by the departure of one department and the anticipation of another, can become a new kind of conceptual and social space as well as physical one.
For six weeks only, students from all departments of the College were invited to use Department 21 to develop independent work and cultivate collaborative projects in a multi-purpose environment. Whilst continuing to develop independent projects, students were able to share thoughts in cross-disciplinary crits, bring in tutors for open tutorials, participate in workshops, invite outside lecturers, join informal events and explore how their practice evolves in an open and discursive environment.
Department 21 offered one space per existing college department, allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis. A flexible, communal area within Department 21 offered further opportunities for more students and tutors who wanted to benefit from this productive environment without fully inhabiting the space on a day-to-day basis. This was not an opportunity to gain extra studio space, but a challenging and progressive exercise for open-minded students wanting to share and develop knowledge and practice.
By testing the possibilities of a cross-disciplinary initiative, Department 21 aimed, from the very beginning, to be challenging, inclusive, radical and productive.

Department 21’s show
June-July 2010

During the College’s final show, Department 21 continued beyond this temporary experiment to offer visitors a glimpse of its distinct model of alternative education based on process, peer-learning and serendipity. Guest speakers, RCA alumni and graduating students were invited to take part in lively discussions and workshops on Department 21’s purpose-built deck in the central courtyard of the Darwin building.
The spirit and diverse content of Department 21 was be reactivated through this installation, adding a necessary dimension of critical self-awareness of issues in contemporary art and design practice (theoretical, ethical and political) to the display of graduate work.
It was also the opportunity for Department 21 to launch its publication that brings together essays, reflections, poems, visual works and hard facts collaboratively compiled.

Department 21

The Department 21 will continue through the year, on the basis of one or two events per term.
The goals remain unchanged: to bring together, develop and promote the activities of students across disciplines; and to encourage student-led approaches and initiatives. Its space is non-physical, it will act as a ‘parasite’ in different events.

Contributions welcomed.
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