The graduating class of 2020 have been dealt a tough blow this year with the COVID-19 pandemic; academic years were shortened, graduation trips were cancelled, and convocation ceremonies were postponed. For the students of Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Art, Design, and Media (ADM), a double whammy was served as the annual graduation showcase was postponed.
TheHomeGround Asia spoke with five of the graduating students from ADM to understand their journey and experience graduating as artists amidst a pandemic.
About the ADM Show
The ADM Show is an annual affair for graduating students to showcase the results of their Final Year Projects (FYP), a year-long project students undertake in their final year of university. It is a significant milestone for these students, marking the end of their university life while serving as the start of their entry into the working world.
In a typical year, the ADM Show would have been held in May, just as students finish their academic year and are entering the workforce.
Christopher Lee, an ADM graduate majoring in Interactive Media, informs us that the ADM Show will involve potential employers from relevant industries coming down to review the students’ work, with potential job offers on the line.
Beyond that, the ADM show is also a means of creative exploration for the students. According to ADM Photography and Digital Imaging major, Lin Shiauyu, the physical exhibition gives students a chance to “fabricate the ideal setting for their work, achieve the intended viewing experience, and for audiences to interact with the works.”
Postponement of the ADM Show
However, the spike in cases in April and the subsequent implementation of the Circuit Breaker meant that the ADM Show was forced to be postponed. Understandably, students were disappointed.
The students we interviewed reported feeling like they “have not fully graduated”, lacking the closure that the showcase and convocation ceremony usually brings. Additionally, many of them were dismayed that the effort and time they spent invested into their project will not get a chance to shine.
For some of them, the medium with which they were working with is best represented in real life and does not translate well to a digital medium.
For instance, Vanessa See, 23, majors in visual communications at ADM; her FYP, titled Threaditional was a series of fusion wedding gowns inspired by the traditional costumes of the four major races in Singapore. She had learned how to sew for the project and painstakingly embroidered the self-designed motifs onto each gown.
Yet, because of the Circuit Breaker, she was unable to fulfill her dreams of staging a mini fashion show for her project, especially since her project was tactile in nature. She says of the postponement, “I would love to have the audience look at, touch, and feel the dress, but that couldn’t happen.”
Shiauyu also expressed similar sentiments regarding her photography project titled Mould, even though her project deliverable was a photobook. While most would think that a photobook can exist in a .pdf format without issue, Shiauyu clarifies that a digital format actually “undermines the details of the book”. She clarifies that in a physical book, you get to choose “different paper types and different types of binding”, all of which affects the experience of reading the book.
Understanding the significance of the annual ADM Show, the chairman of ADM, Professor Michael Walsh made a promise to the students that the ADM Show will go on when the pandemic is under control in Singapore.
The faculty kept to their promise – with the pandemic now under control in Singapore, they went ahead to organise the ADM Show 2020, one of the first physical exhibitions in Singapore since the onset of the pandemic.
ADM Show 2020: LIVE
After working on their project for nearly a year, students were finally afforded the opportunity to showcase their works to the public in the two-week exhibition from 27 November to 13 December 2020.
Mathias Choo, who majored in Digital Filmmaking at ADM, said that the ADM show helped provide “a sense of closure to [his] journey in ADM”, and that it meant a lot to him to be able to “showcase a project that is the culmination of a year’s worth of effort”.
With this exhibition, students from all six majors were able to showcase their works to the public, allowing the audience to experience them first-hand without the barrier of a digital screen. When TheHomeGround Asia visited the ADM Show previously, we were thoroughly impressed by the works on display.
The projects ranged across a variety of mediums, including fashion, photography, video games, animated films, and more. It was clear to us that the students truly took pride in their craft, and many of their works showcased not just their talent and creativity, but also the heart that they put into their work. Many of the works had been inspired by their own experiences as they sought to use art and design as a means to communicate ideas that can’t be translated into words.
One of our interviewees, Rachel Ng, had majored in product design at ADM. For her project, she was inspired by architecture and the coolness associated with citrus scents. From that, she designed a collection of cooing wearables titled CODIL, named after “cotton drill”, the material used in all the outfits in this collection. Her work is both meaningful as it is practical, catering to the regular folks on the streets, and also improving the work experience of labourers who have to work tirelessly under the sun.
It wasn’t all joy, however, as the postponed date meant that some students inevitably missed out due to work commitments or relocation post-graduation. Vanessa was one such individual; due to her work commitments, she was unable to commit the time required to set up her work for the ADM Show 2020. Even so, Vanessa might still have her chance to shine as she has submitted one of her pieces to the RE•MIX fashion competition organised by the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre.
Despite the turmoil that students were thrown into due to the pandemic, they have proven their tenacity and resilience in the works that they have produced. With the ADM Show 2020 marking the closure many of them sought, TheHomeGround Asia checked in with them to learn what their plans were for the future.
Jobs are hard to come by in this economy, and the creative and media industries have not been spared. Thankfully, the students we spoke to have all found their paths even if it was not the route they were originally planning to take.
Still, some of the students have chosen to look at the bright side of things. Christopher expressed that with the move towards digital learning, his own learning abilities have actually accelerated as many forms of virtual communication have opened up, creating new opportunities for him.
Similarly, Rachel and Mathias both acknowledged that while the pandemic has thrown a wrench into her graduation plans, they did not see this as a long-term setback. Rachel expressed that she will take her current experiences as a learning opportunity, while Mathias sees the crisis as a “new challenge in enabling [him] to re-evaluate how [he] can meet [his] goals”.
The creatives of our future
At the height of the pandemic, an article was published that revealed a large proportion of Singaporeans saw artists as a “non-essential” role.
But these young creatives think otherwise.
Art and design are integral to our daily lives. In the words of our interviewees, art provides comfort, it informs, it inspires, and it communicates. Without these creatives, infographics regarding mask collection and advertisements to promote safe distancing wouldn’t exist.
With increasing digitisation, design and visual communication becomes the bedrock for any business, and these young graduates represent the new generation of creatives that will eventually take the lead in this industry.
As Christopher says, “good design is unnoticeable to the eye, but bad design is [apparent].” It is easy to undermine the value of artists and designers when we are dealing with an unprecedented crisis, but let’s not neglect the value that they bring.
As they close this chapter and enter the workforce, TheHomeGround Asia congratulates the graduating class of 2020, and wishes them the best in all their future endeavors.
To support the graduates, head on down to the ADM Show from now until 13 December 2020 at the Gillman Barracks, Block 9 Lock Road, #02-21. The exhibition will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Otherwise, you can also check out the portfolio of all the students in the Class of 2020 here.