Emily Dunlop's Protesting Plants use technology to make house plants scream when you touch them. Given the house plant's usual aloof silence, at least in my experience, this is somewhat unnerving. I remember encountering them at last year's Edinburgh College of Art degree show, and then watching other people encountering them. Screaming pot plants! I hear you say. Well, quite.

Dunlop is just one of the artists showcased at this year's Royal Scottish Academy New Contemporaries show (NB no house plants were harmed during the creation of this show), an endeavour now in its eleventh year, showing the RSA's top picks from the five Scottish art college degree shows of 2018. Dunlop uses technology to animate the inanimate, an ongoing theme in work that also includes a punk band called Chlymadia The Band, which performed at the opening of Monster Chetwynd's exhibition “The Owl with the Laser Eyes” in Turin last autumn.

Dunlop's work is one of the rare pieces that has been transplanted lock-stock, from degree show to RSA gallery, for an exhibition that is at heart about encouraging these early career artists to create new work for their first (and major) post-college show.

“Part of the whole thing for New Contemporaries is writing a proposal for the RSA exhibition, presenting images, thinking about how work will look in the gallery,” says Colin Greenslade, Director of the RSA. Work from the 63 chosen graduates, from art and architecture disciplines, fills the whole of the RSA exhibition space, from the lofty galleries of the main halls to the more intimate galleries below stairs.

The selection process is the same as it has been since the beginning – the Academy Convenor and Academicians go round the degree shows with representatives from the each of the art schools looking for artists they feel are “ones to watch”.

The students' degree results are hidden from the Academicians who make their decision solely on the basis of the work presented on the day, meaning a student who was awarded a Third or a 2:2 in their degree may be chosen along with those who have received Firsts.

“We always said we didn't want to know the marks,” says Greenslade. “That year of working after art college, of getting on with it, is really important, and that's what we want to showcase, to support as much as possible.” Some artists only thrive when they get out in the real world. And anyway, he points out, the £24,000 of prizes awarded by the RSA often cover all the Firsts anyway.

In this year's show, there will be large scale installations, sculptural interventions, paintings, architectural models. There is perhaps an interest this year in more “elemental” subject matter, I am told by Flora La Thangue, Exhibition Manager.

“Artists working with water and light, in particular...the foam-based works of Amy Truscott (Edinburgh College of Art) and the light works of Caitie O'Hara (Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee),” amongst others. There is also, she tells me, a number of artists looking to blur the definitions between art and architecture, “introducing architectural methodologies to their practice and vice versa.” The lot is, as we speak, safely in the gallery, although all still wrapped up in its travelling garb, neatly packed and awaiting the hang that will happen in this coming week.

“The Galleries aren't easy,” says Greenslade. “Upstairs it's daylight, lit from above, with no corners - all the rooms open through doorways. Downstairs there is more flexibility, the rooms are smaller. Large work doesn't always mean the best position and wall space. Last year we had Hannah Mooney who produced the most beautiful set of little paintings, really quiet, they really held their own. We gave her a whole wall in the large central gallery.”

This exposure is key, this sense of the real world. And then there are the roving bands of gallerists and curators that scour the exhibition for new talent. Mooney was picked up immediately, last year, by the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, where she will have a solo show in October this year. A few years ago, Jonny Lyons' understated performance-documenting photography on the subject of friendship and adventure - stilt-walking out of a tree, shooting a beer bottle off a friend's head, trying to balance on two legs of a chair – was taken on by Edinburgh's Ingleby Gallery. “And, well, everyone knows about Rachel McClean,” says Greenslade, referring to the artist 2009 ECA graduate and New Contemporary who represented Scotland at the Venice Biennale in 2017. Who knows what the future holds for this year's batch? What is in no doubt it that they are in very good company.

RSA: New Contemporaries, Royal Scottish Academy Building, The Mound, Edinburgh, 0131 225 6671, www.royalscottishacademy.org 9 Mar – 3 Apr, Mon – Sat 10am – 5pm; Sun 12pm – 5pm Admission £6/£4/Free on Mondays and for RSA Friends

Don't Miss

Last chance to catch artist Andy Holden and ornithologist Peter Holden's fabulous Natural Selection exhibition at the old Anderson High School in Lerwick. This multi-layered Artangel exhibition, which opened in London last year and will tour to Arbroath, Bristol and Inverness, is a story of birds and their eggs, of evolution and necessity, and of the obsessive collectors who stop at nothing to illegally take those eggs out of the birds nests. It is also a cross-species story of father and son, of knowledge passed down in the bird world as in our own, and the meeting point between ornithology and art, filled with porcelain eggs, "museum" exhibits and sculpture inspired by bird art.

Natural Selection: Andy Holden and Peter Holden, Old Anderson High School, Lover's Loan, Lerwick, Shetland, 01595 745500www.shetlandarts.org , Until 10 March, Wed – Sun 11am – 5pm

Critic's Choice

There have been a number of artworks, from literature to music to art itself, that have originated in dreams – you might point to the work of Salvador Dali or Edgar Allen Poe, or famously Robert Louis Stevenson's “Jekyll and Hyde.” Dreams are the meeting of the conscious and subconscious, an area of much interest to artist Kate Walters, whose latest batch of work is inspired by vivid dreams experienced whilst undertaking a series of artistic residencies at Sumburgh Head in Shetland.

Perhaps Walters is more attuned than many to this kind of thing, for whilst having trained in Fine Art she is also trained in shamanism in which “dreams are considered a pure state untainted by the ego”. The works here combine art and shamanism, animal and human forms, in delicate Rorscach-like watercolours of form and metamorphosis. Walters had intended working in oil whilst in Shetland, but her dreams, she says, required the lighter touch of watercolour, the paint sheer, the colours nonetheless vibrant.

“Shetland Notebooks”, which is also the title of the publication of art and poetry which accompanies the show, is filled with the shapes of birds “reminiscent here of Shetland's ubiquitous arctic tern,” and seen here as “spiritual messengers, bestowing wisdom and connected both to the earth and feminine elements.” The Arusha Gallery points also, here, to Walters' own love of the Scottish islands, “a place to which she feels tethered, a place of vision and clarity.”

Shetland Notebooks, Arusha Gallery, 13a Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 557 1412, www.arushagallery.com Until 17 March, Mon – Sat, 10am – 5pm; Sun 1pm – 5pm