Yajing Hu has scooped the top prize in the 2018 MullenLowe NOVA Awards. The judges were impressed with the MA Photography graduate's artwork, Heartbeat, which traces a heartbeat into a strip of 16mm film and projects it at chest-height onto a wall.
It's the eighth year of the annual competition, sponsored by MullenLowe Group and created exclusively in partnership with Central Saint Martins, celebrating the most exceptional work from across the London college.
Speaking of her winning project, Yajing says: "Just as every one of us has a heartbeat from the moment we are born, it will also cease at the moment of our death. The heartbeat is our proof that we are alive. Since our heartbeats are 'natural', we tend to ignore them as we go about our daily lives.
"Or perhaps because our resting heartbeats are too slight to be noticed, we only tend to notice them after rapid, intense stimulation. What I'd like to express in my work is that the heart still moves without stimulation; we are alive in the world even if we fail to notice our hearts beating."
The runners-up include BA Fashion: Fashion Design and Knitwear graduate, Paolina Russo, for her A Love Letter To My Hometown project where she draws on her Canadian hometown Markham, embodying techniques and materials that remind her of the sports and craft culture she grew up with, like crochet, draping shoes and soccer balls.
"My project remembers the boredom, freedom and time spent alone as a hopeful, naive teenager in the suburbs," explains Paolina. "I began experimenting with imagery and materials from the competitive sport by playing around with draping shoes, which were either donated to me by members of the Markham community or found in local charity shops. I then began crocheting around the shoes and hand-stitching them together, replicating shapes such as corsets and armour.
"I really wanted to balance the handmade craft elements in my collection with the technical fabrics I developed – showcasing the juxtaposition of domestic lifestyle and femininity alongside the imagery of sports culture."
Another runner-up was BA Fine Art 2D graduate Cybi Williams for Untitled – an artwork that he hopes will "prompt the art world to reconsider what fine art is and encourage them to adapt beyond the gallery space".
"At its core, my artistic practice conveys my desire to communicate in a morally honest way," says Cybi. "I aim to produce work that is accessible, transparent, and relevant – for me, these are the fundamental values of democratic art. I am aware that the significance and even the aesthetic of my work are not determined solely by me, but that is something I embrace."
Meanwhile, the 2018 Unilever #Unstereotype Award went to Veronika Fabian, a BA Jewellery Design graduate who created Chains For An Average Woman, a chain-inspired jewellery collection that points to the possibility that women might be confined to the pre-existing identities of the "female personas of our time".
The award was introduced this year to recognise inclusive, forward-thinking creative work that breaks away from limiting and outdated stereotypical gender portrayals. "Women have made huge advances in equality, widening the scope of potential roles that were previously restricted, making identity even more fragmented," says Veronika. "While the mass media has a large influence on society, pattern seeking and stereotypes have become dominant, placing increasing expectations on women.
"The question arises: Are women more liberated or more constrained nowadays? Using the symbolism of the chain, I explore different female roles and archetypes under the current sociocultural conditions, translating them into pieces of jewellery, the chains representing different characters. Wearing them altogether reflects an impossible mission: to be the perfect woman."
Finally, the 2018 YourNOVA ‘People’s Choice’ Award was awarded to Montague von Richthofen, a BA Performance: Design and Practice Central Saint Martins graduate for his project that comprises two parts: a five-minute video inspired by his past year on the road and an immersive installation that invites us to observe the process of nine short statements being tattooed onto nine human canvases.
"My project is a collection of observations and thoughts that interact with the environment in which they're sourced from, through the form of video, poetry, tattooing and graffiti," explains Montague. "It's my surroundings, the situations I find myself in. It's a reflection of the circumstances in which I live."
That wraps up the 2018 MullenLowe NOVA Awards. Watch this space next year for the 2019 competition. In the meantime, you can find out more about MullenLowe at mullenlowegroup.com or Central Saint Martins at arts.ac.uk/csm.