Bloomberg New Contemporaries
South London Gallery
5 December 2018 – 24 February 2019
Established in 1949, the annual ‘ Bloomberg New Contemporaries’ exhibition continues to be an influential platform for emerging voices in the contemporary art world. Including 57 artists—all recent graduates from British art programmes— participants are chosen by a panel of influential artists and art world figures (Benedict Drew, Katy Moran and Keith Piper), speaking to a broad range of cultural concerns.
Split over two buildings, this year’s host – South London Gallery (SLG) – showcases both the cinematic and intimate potential of contemporary art. This is reinforced through the stark contrast between the two exhibition spaces: the grandiose high ceilings of SLG’s main gallery space, as well as the comparatively smaller, more ‘hidden’ venue of the recently acquired old Peckham Fire Station. Wandering these spaces, it is often difficult to process the immense volume of work on display. This is amplified by the staggering amount of video art. Everywhere you look, there is the opportunity to gauge the manifold conversations that are inspiring and stimulating a new generation of artists.
Along the way, there were many surprises. As well as the incredible come back of painting and print media, it was refreshing to see so many works responding critically to Britain. This was clear in Heidi Maribut’s mock-museum exhibit, drawing attention to the West’s tacky, albeit entangled, relationship with other cultures, accelerated through the process of global consumption; think our kitschified adoption of lucky Chinese cats, or the deep history of our oh-so-British infatuation with tea. Faye Claridge’s warped image of Prince Harry, ‘dancing with locals’ during the African leg of a royal tour, proves memorable in its simplicity. Squashed across a wooden notice board, Claridge’s blown-up depiction of the young prince, humorously shines a light on the pseudo-event of British diplomacy abroad.
Elsewhere, artists responded to the buried histories of overlooked communities internationally. In particular, Marianne Keating’s video ‘Landlessness’ directs our attention to the largely unaddressed history of the Irish diaspora within Jamaica. In this way, she invites us to retrain our vision to the complex and multifarious legacies of colonialism. A similar curiosity for the overlooked and undocumented underwrites Alcaeus Spyrou’s film ‘Anina,’ delving into the global maritime community and the private lives of seafarers. On top of this, Holly Mclean’s film, ‘This is My Sister,’ eludes to our collective failure to properly address the problem of stalking, while raising troubling questions around obsession and the nature of intimacy. For Jack Pell, however, another crucially forgotten voice is the voice of pigeons. Through surreal humour and psychedelic imagery, Pell’s video ‘Columbidae,’ presents an anthropomorphic pigeon as an unlikely mascot for renewable energy. During the video, the pigeon comes into contact with its genetically identical but more ‘reputable’ partner, the dove, resulting in a conversation that at once entertains while also poking fun at our often arbitrary identification of lower vs. upper class.
Inevitably, the question of identity—whether cultural, ethnic or gendered—arose as a major theme of the ‘New Contemporaries’ exhibit. Christian Noelle Charles’ film ‘Do What You Feel Like’ offers a playful commentary on our confinement to ‘expectation.’ This problem is exacerbated, she suggests, via her status as a BAME woman, instead, pointing to the irresistible lure of doing nothing – the impulse to do what you ‘feeeel like.’ In her work—along with many other pieces represented in the exhibition—there seems to be a deeper existential hopelessness lying underneath what at first glance may appear as a light-hearted or mundane surface. This is also perceptible in the ongoing ‘Nothing Really Mattress’ performance by Panicattack Duo or FC Isaac’s ‘failed’ Queer installation piece.
High and low converge in Anna Reading’s ‘Economy Class’ sculpture made of foam, cardboard and painted grey to resemble a ruined architectural form. If it is clear that identity continues to serve as a fulcrum upon which other questions are hung, then it is, nevertheless, through the pressing notion of the future that many of our most innovative young artists find themselves. Yanghwa’s painting ‘A Bright Future’ exemplifies this, depicting a dream-like window view of turquoise sky and a crane looming in the distance. Furthermore, Jessica Jordan-Wrench’s immersive installation, marries a nostalgic night-club setting with the more sinister omni-presence of radios, interrogating both the literal and figurative static of our lives. In each case, it appears that we are imaginatively drawn into speculative futures. Given the turbulence of our current political climate, one expects these questions to continue inspiring contemporary artists moving forward into 2019.
New Geographies Assistant