Recently I was fortunate enough to receive the Turning Point West-Midlands artist development bursary to visit the British Art Show 8 at Leeds Art Gallery and to write a short report on my findings.
Here is my report:
Since it’s conception, the British Art Show has brought together the concerns and practices of both emerging and established artists from the British art scene, in all its imaginings, every 5 years. Standing side by side in this years incarnation, British Art Show 8, artists newer to a general public such as Rachel Maclean and Jesse Wine sit alongside more recognised names like Ryan Gander, Ciara Phillips and Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost, exhibiting new, old and specially commissioned work, all selected by the curatorial due of Anna Colin and Lydia Yee.
The voices of the curators can be heard at the beginning of the exhibitions stylishly printed catalogue where the roots of the show, the object, are made aware to the viewer. “At a time of increasing convergence between the real and the virtual,” it is appropriate for the show to have a sense of responsibility and back up its insight by framing the exhibition through re-evaluated objects, things and materials “and view them in terms of their transformative potential,” which it does accurately, even if it is a little unmoving at times.
After walking through the gallery several times, passing the shell of a mini cooper, patchwork animal skins and poster lined walls, the show begins to display its real understanding of practice and concern in contemporary British art; the relationship between artist, curator and exhibition. Despite taking many forms throughout art history, the prominent rise and power of the curator in recent years has led an ever-increasing transitional situation for this trio to cohabit. In fact, the transformative potential of the object, stated in the catalogue, is only paralleled by that of the curator. Selecting the 42 artists like materials to convey a sense of the shifting, confusing state of 21st century sapiens, unknowing of their reliance on contemporary phenomena and broadening sense of materiality, both Colin and Yee’s choices give a successful general estimation of the ripples in current British Art.
However, this success is transmitted most prominently through the shows video work. Although other mediums in the show provide a sense of the curator’s focus, as I looked around the gallery, the visual seriousness of most seem to drown some viewers with blank expressions, but thankfully the shows intent isn’t to please everyone. The real star of the show, and most notable video work, is Rachel Maclean. Her stylised, multi-character theatrics exploring the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood and conversely the infiltration of infant behaviour in adulthood is inspired. It is rare to see an artist video screening as heaving as a cinema, and even rarer to witness viewer’s stay for the entire duration of the film, but this maybe an indication of the interest of ‘Feed Me,’ directing the consciences to very modern consumer desires and their ultimate consequences. Along with Maclean, an artist who has come to increased recognition in the past 5 years is Bedwyr Williams, whose video piece embodies everything good about his practice. ‘Century Egg’ speculates conclusions future archaeologists might deduct from an average drinks party. Twinned with this are clips of from the Cambridge Consortium of Museum, narrated in Williams’ unmistakable style, seeming to converse with how both seemingly banal and awe-inspiring artefacts are housed together in museums. With its humour and sense of relevance, Williams delivers yet another inventive works of recent times.
Representing the work and practices throughout British art from the last 5 years is more of an endless venture than a difficult one, having said this, Colin and Yee demonstrate an interesting, albeit vague, take on the conversations around materiality and mergence of the real and virtual world in contemporary British Art. It is an exhibition that takes several visits to appreciate fully, although the lack of visual stimulation throughout the show could make this tasking for some. Whether the art on display is truly representational is questionable, but the exhibition goes along way in developing new discussions in British art, which can only be positive.