The first cohort of graduates from the controversial New College of the Humanities are to each receive an original artwork based on their brainwaves or CV.
The NCH, whose professors include Vernon Bogdanor, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sir Christopher Ricks as well as the founding master A. C. Grayling, has been in the spotlight ever since it was founded in 2011 in London’s Bloomsbury.
The £18,000-a-year private institution has attracted criticism as “parasitic”, “exploitative” and “an institution for the very rich”, and one of its visiting lecturers – the late Ronald Dworkin – once told a debate organised by Times Higher Education and The New York Review of Books that colleagues had criticised him for joining what they characterised as a “fascist, capitalist institution”.
Now, however, its first 36 students have completed their degrees and NCH has found a highly unusual way to mark their achievement: a free one-day public event which it describes as a combination of exhibition and careers fair.
On show to graduates, potential employers and the general public will be striking works by three internationally renowned artists designed to celebrate each individual’s personality, talents and achievements.
All three artists have made more or less direct use of student CVs to produce works in very different styles.
Spanish-born Juan Osborne, for example, has previously created images of famous figures ranging from the Beatles to US President Barack Obama. For The Art of the CV exhibition at NCH, however, he has drawn on keywords found in the graduates’ CVs to create large digital photographic portraits.
Andy Singleton has meanwhile made elaborate paper installations or sculptures from multiple printouts of the CVs themselves that also evoke the students’ journey through the college in the life cycle of caterpillar to butterfly.
Los Angeles-based artist Marcos Lutyens has already exhibited at venues such as the Royal Academy of Arts, Centre Georges Pompidou and National Museum of China. He has interviewed some of the new NCH graduates about their CVs and educational experiences, using specially designed software to track brainwave activity and detect even small changes in tone of voice and emotion.
These recordings form the basis for colourful abstract ink-on-canvas prints that reveal what was literally going on inside the students’ heads.
Professor Grayling said that the NCH was an institution “founded on principles of innovation, exploration and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in higher education”.
“Our first graduation is a milestone moment in NCH’s evolution and we wanted to mark it in a typically creative way. The specially commissioned pieces of art will become part of our history, depicting some of our first students who were instrumental in founding and growing the college.”
But surely going to such lengths to mark such an occasion does not come cheap?
Rob Farquharson, the college’s chief operating officer, said that although the event was taking place in a marquee in London’s Bedford Square Gardens, the “same venue is used for graduation ceremonies by universities in London” and was already “in situ, making this a cost-effective use of an existing resource”.
Meanwhile, he added that the artists were commissioned “at a specially negotiated rate because of their desire to be part of a world-first exhibition, as well as their interest in NCH as a unique higher education institution”.
The Art of the CV will be open to the public from 10am to 9pm on 18 September.