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Contemporary Art Practice (MA)

Justin Piccirilli

Justin Piccirilli is an interdisciplinary artist based in London. His current work explores critical subjects such as austerity, the shortcomings of the welfare system around disability, the cost-of-living crisis and art practice for promoting positive mental health in communities. His work is autobiographical inspired by a life-changing accident. 

His contribution to the Disability Arts Movement has been recognised through the selection of his work for the Shape Open in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and his works featured in the Shape Open Retrospective at the Hoxton Arches, London 2018. In 2021, he participated in the lecture series Don’t Worry I am Sick and Poor at the ICA, facilitated by Babeworld.

He performed AR haptic poetry for Tate Lates at Tate Modern in March 2023 and curated the Inside Out exhibition at Core Arts in May 2023. He has newly commissioned work by Shape Arts for The Many Costs of Living campaign for the Adam Reynolds Award Short List exhibition, both online and on billboards across the UK. He is the recipient of the Arts Council England’s Develop Your Creative Practice Award 2022. 

He is a co-founder of the RCA’s Disabled Students’ Network (DSN), providing essential peer support, and he co-facilitated the DSN’s Disability History Month in collaboration with Shape Arts in December 2022.

Currently graduating with an MA in Contemporary Art Practice, Public Sphere, he previously studied Drawing at Camberwell College of Art. He was awarded a distinction for his RCA: School of Arts and Humanities dissertation on ‘My Body in Crisis: An Inquiry into Trauma, Identity and the Welfare State’.

Photo credit: Benjy Nug and special thanks to Maryam Alfa-Wali BSc (Hons) Med FRCS (Gen Surg) PhD, Consultant Trauma Surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Special mention to Benjy for your help with my practical support.

Degree Details

School of Arts & HumanitiesContemporary Art Practice (MA)Public SphereRCA2023 at Truman Brewery

Truman Brewery, F Block, Ground, first and second floors

Photograph of a written sign reading, "NIL BY MOUTH" above a hospital side table with white plastic cup, toothpaste + toothbrush

“Nothing killed my ego more quickly than being an adult and having people I don’t know (nurses) or people I know well (my father) take away my bedpan and wipe my ass.” 

Carolyn Lazard, How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity, 2013. 

I explore the metamagical traces of medical data, the philosophy of phenomenology, particularly the subjective conscious experience of trauma and amalgamate them to create narratives around social injustice. My research activates the interplay between memory, specifically PTSD, and the recycling of data, aiming to transform our perception of digital images and virtual objects. The essence and motivation for this body of work originates from my lived experience of trauma, whilst reflecting on the socio-political conditions that frame this experience. I address questions of identity and agency and how the state relates to an individual in crisis. My work extends across various media platforms including dry-point etching, screen-printing, sculpture, installation, filmmaking, performance, physical computing and time-based interventions that encompass experimentation and interactions in AR and VR. I am committed to making work around social themes, pushing the boundaries of digital processes, and discovering innovative approaches to captivate audiences.

I am immensely grateful to my tutors Jordan Baseman, Jessica Wiesner and Andy Holden, to all of the skilled technicians who have shared their wisdom and lastly to my peers for their invaluable support as, without them, none of this work would have been achievable.

An invisible partition.
A sequence of three computer generated images shot through Justin Piccirilli's head viewing his skull.

Qualia are individual experimental works developed in multiple media in relationship to particular instances of subjective conscious experience and the human condition. Slices of MRI data captured from the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel are repurposed using segmentation software to create 3D digital objects from scans of my skull and brain. 

An invisible partition.
Another intervention of Qualia is my experimentation with VR. Created in the Unity game engine, the participant interacts in a 360-degree environment and engages with a game object, my skull constructed from my medical data. The particles and slices represent the fragmentation of time in PTSD. The landscape represents a flashback; the audio from an MRI scanner immerses the participant in the experience.
The remnants of data ingrained out of the phenomenon of near-death experience are translated to an AR experience where the spectator is invited to download an app and then activate the MRI to reveal hidden traces of trauma and the embodiment of self, perceived from the liminal space. The AR experience is incorporated into the sculpture by way of physical computing.
An upside down solid bronze cast of a skull being welded on a perforated steel table.
An invisible black boarder effect.

The metaphysical nature of the data is then transformed into sculptural pieces combining the traditional lost wax bronze technique used in jewellery vacuum casting with castable 3D printing methods. 

Special thanks to Hannah Terry, Thomas Deacon, Antoine Hacheme, Ian Stoney, Pietro Bardini, Karleung Wai and Alex Lumsden.

A blood red filtered photograph of an operating surgery theatre from the inside view of a VR headset.

De_Motion Sickness was made in Unity game engine as a way of exploring various immersive, interactive narratives in VR. My primary objective was to raise discourse surrounding the UK government's Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to evaluate the ability of disabled benefit claimants to engage in work. Drawing from my personal experiences within this twisted system, I constructed a prototype game that encompassed a broader socio-political backdrop. 

An image of a green filtered landscape of a building with the FT newspaper as a UI, from the inside view of a VR headset.

I created a social impact game for change whereby the player wakes up in an operating theatre and then finds themselves crutching towards Tresco House, a WCA centre. You are then teleported into a maze that tells a story through interactive gameplay, inspired by the Greek myth, Theseus and the Minotaur. 

An animation cut scene from the inside view of a VR headset of Justin crossing a zebra crossing towards Tresco House.

The player must navigate their way around the maze, feel the frustration, the anxiety of the bureaucratic process and be made aware of the wider social-political context of the narrative. The player is made to believe they are in full control and have the agency to make choices within this structure. 

A perspective game view of a grey maze.

Ludonarrative Dissonance, a term coined by video game designer Clint Hocking had the notion that choice upholds the nature of free will. The game makes you believe you have a choice but the algorithm has other ideas. This is a metaphor for what really exists in the convoluted process of the WCA.

A waiting room from the inside view of a VR headset. Two lifts to your right and a reception desk to your left.

The choice of VR as a medium was influenced by the profound sense of mundane bureaucracy and the altered reality one endures while in a vulnerable state experiencing the outcome. My aim was to create a virtual world devoid of human feelings and emotions—a disassociated state of consciousness experienced within a hollow system. 

A bland, grey office space with one computer sitting on a desk and glaring office lights shining from the ceiling.

The project constantly presented technical hurdles that required debugging and testing. This learning experience has prompted me to reflect on the power of socially impactful storytelling in a playful manner and continue to use VR as a medium. 

Special thanks to Kam Raoofi, Thomas Deacon, Antoine Hacheme, Kyle Ramsey, Connor Reid, Mike Faulkner, Kevin Koekkoek, Charlotte Raymen, Gregory Osborne, Christine Ingaldson and Mel Brimfield.

A yellow and white Tesco's label saying, "REDUCED, was HUNGRY, NOW FREEZING" JP 2023
A invisible black partition.
In February, Shape Arts commissioned four artists to create protest banners for the 'The Many Costs of Living' campaign, which would be displayed online and on billboards throughout the UK as part of the Adam Reynolds Shortlist online exhibition. The artwork I made for the brief was titled "Eton Mess," which highlights current socio-political failure, drawing inspiration from research on the difficult choices disabled individuals face regarding heating, eating, or even breathing.
A photo of four protest banners on the street near Clapham Junction about the cost-of-living crisis in the UK

Eton Mess, 2023


Living standards, inequality, education, learning conditions, school meals, inflation, pay, working hours, services, rent, food, energy costs, social and medical care and transportation.


  1. Begin by reducing living standards, except for the wealthiest, to increase inequality. 
  2. Reduce funding in education to decrease the standard of learning conditions.
  3. Drop school meals and trim childcare.
  4. Slowly depreciate pay while extending working hours.
  5. Diminish services while increasing rent, food, and energy costs.
  6. Mix together tensions within the public transportation system.
  7. Season with crushed social and medical care.
  8. Make sure the dish is oven-ready, avoid microwaving.
  9. Serve cold and let the markets decide the outcome.

Special mention to Francesco De Manincor and Damon Rostron.


Ink on Paper


510 x 620mm

LiMA (Logical Integrated Medical Assessment) is a short film manifested during the development of De_Motion Sickness, when I came to the realisation that some parts of the narrative posed potential conflicts and would be better conveyed through dialogue. I decided to write a short script originally intended for the game. However, I chose to produce a short film instead despite the strict time limitations. I didn't want to miss the opportunity to make a film and later regret it. I wanted to explore new ways of storytelling by collaborating with a film crew, and this project provided me with the opportunity to do so.

LiMA, the antagonist, represents an algorithm that uses extensive lifestyle data and clinical information from a benefit claimant who participates in the health assessment. The claimant's answers are compiled into the computer system, which the algorithm analyses to determine both the impact of their disability on their daily life and their fitness for work. As the assessment progresses, the protagonist gradually succumbs to an intense emotional breakdown.

My aim was to craft a story that intertwines elements from the past and speculates on future narratives, highlighting the concept of technological redundancy. As humans become more reliant on technology and machine learning, are the majority of us destined to be a burden on the state as we move into the post-human era?

Close up shot of the protagonist's eyes welling up.
Invisible partition

Special thanks to the crew: Joey Del Negro-Love, Benjy Nug, Rishabh Mehrotra, Precious Amerie Hughes, Saffron Jacobs, Matthew Wong and Mishael Holdbrook.

Special mention to Roddy Canas, Gill Dibben, Harry Johns, Mike Faulkner and Francesco de Manincor.

‘I am thinking of all the trees of the world, flying birds, their nests with eggs, abandoned nests. And, in that moment, I, too, become a tree, a bird, an egg in a nest, and an abandoned nest.’ Maria Bartuszova

Infinita Ova for Tate Lates at Tate Modern was inspired by Maria Bartuszova’s life story and is a celebration of her work. In this piece, I borrow the image of her Tree, the site-specific installation as a symbol for life. I play with her Endless Eggs motif for this interactive performance and quote her from the exhibition at the Tate Modern. 

The image of the plum tree in her garden is used to spawn 3D-animated cracked egg-shaped shells in augmented reality. They are thin and hollowed out, multiplied inside one another. This is displayed on an iPhone through an app which I have developed called IO. Bartuszova’s quote (above) is read out whilst the interaction takes place. The work symbolises birth and rebirth, our vulnerability, the fragility and ephemeral nature of existence. Bartuszova combined the effects of gravity, air pressure and touch in her castings, and I adopt similar principles by ‘gravisimulating’ game objects through code, producing the egg reliefs which rise out of the sanctuary and into infinity. The physics of the game objects are triggered when the visitor’s finger activates the haptic touch sensor by way of a virtual button.  

A black and white photograph of Justin performing 'Infinita Ova', an AR haptic poem at Tate Lates at the Tate Modern.

Photo Credit: Sophie Shaw and special thanks to our Head of Programme for Contemporary Art Practice, Professor Chantal Faust for facilitating this memorable event.

A purple and yellow poster that reads, "Disabled Students Network, Disability History Month"

The Royal College of Art’s Disabled Students’ Network (DSN) celebrated Disability History Month, International Day of Disabled Persons and Purple Light Up in December 2023. The network produced significant talks, symposia and events designed to generate discussion and visibility around issues concerning accessibility, inequality within and beyond the College.

The DSN at the RCA is a group of disabled students and alumni who formed two years ago. Their drive and focus were to provide a platform for disabled students where they could support and connect with one another. The network is working towards highlighting and improving disability access in and around the RCA, whilst promoting the social model of disability and the Disability Arts Movement.

We are honoured to have been asked to curate the collection for a second year running which has allowed the DSN to bring attention to the significance of disability access, creative practice, equality, as well as personal stories and perspectives within the RCA community. As a result, the Network has been able to reach out to a broader range of disabled students and showcase their talent.

A photo of the RCA's Kensington Campus lit up with purple lights on the ground floor.
#PurpleLightUp is a global movement that celebrates and draws attention to the economic contribution of the 386 million disabled employees around the world. Photo credit: Stephen Pover Location: RCA Kensington Campus.
An invisible partition.
In May, I curated a group exhibition at Core Arts in Hackney where I volunteered last year. The exhibition, titled Inside Out, featured the creative contributions of 30 students from both the RCA and Core Arts. Through their artworks, we illustrated the unifying potential of therapeutic art practices, transcending societal boundaries and fostering healing within vulnerable communities.
A multi-coloured exhibition poster that reads, Inside Out in bold black letters.
A photo of a performance with three actors dressed in costume dancing whilst spectators watch.
A pianist playing the piano for the performance whilst spectators stand and watch surrounded by paintings.
An invisible partition.
The exhibition received an overwhelmingly positive response, emphasizing the significance of accessible and inclusive art for underrepresented individuals. This immersive journey taught me the value of active participation and thoughtful engagement within a community.

Snowdon Trust, Oppenheim-John Downes Memorial Trust and Unlimited