6th December 2008 — 11th January 2009
This years Bloomberg New Contemporaries introduces the work of 57 arts graduates and final-year students from around the UK. The selectors, Ken Lum, Richard Billingham and Ceal Floyer (all artists themselves), had a possible 1400 submissions to chose from and with no context nor curatorial conceit or even original works to look at the first stage (only still image or text alone), this must have been some task; how to begin to decipher what should go in, to make sense of narrative video from a still? texture and colour from a photograph? The mind boggles. By definition then, this is a show that could always be other, a largely arbitrary snapshot, and it is in realising this, that you understand that as a viewer, you are subject to a whim, completely subjective and interested reflection of the submissions. About the process, the introductory interview with two of the selectors, Billingham and Lum, is illuminating. Billingham writes that "there was a lot of work that looked the same… It seems a lot of students were trying to find a style before they knew what… they were trying to say… we saw a lot of work that had potential but was not resolved."
So, what of the works that made it? The first thing you notice, is the amount of make-shift-craft. The best of these works combine this lop-sided, homemade aesthetic with a layer of satire or knowingness that belies their studentiness. Naomi St Clair-Clarke's 'The Unconscious Significance of Hair: Queen', is a sort of baroque, hairy, tentacular monster; it threatens to run after you in a nightmare; like an enormous wig chasing you, trying to force hairballs down your throat. Full of black comedy, it manages to be both disquieting and appealing at once.
Steve Bishop's 'Suspension of Disbelief' provides a certain cynical relief from some of the more obtuse or prosaic offerings. Bishop's sculpture takes a taxidermied fox and spears it through with a series of florescent tubes. At first glance, it is difficult to tell quite how the fox is suspended, from a distance it looks like he's pinned in place by some clever geometric cris-crossing, tubes simply trapped under his legs and neck, hidden by fur but, indeed the tubes do spear him in place, crucifying him; at once referring to him back to religious painting and minimalist sculpture. The act is violent and yet the animal was already dead, had already been stuffed, but the contrast between the serene expression of the fox, the cold light that pierces him and the visceral reality of the production makes it an unsettlingly silent yet present work.
In his interview, selector Lum describes much of the work he saw as "highly particularised yet common manifestations of the everyday... a lot of complacency… a wholesale giving up of a lot of difficult and complex topics in favour of a more spatially circumscribed topic". And certainly, some of this work has made it through to the selection and comes across as obtuse or it self-absorbed. But where it is successful, it asserts a humour into a navigation of the self through familiar objects or situations; as with Heather Phillipson's video 'Rebus', where a series of pictures spell out a Dear John letter; "Eye Yam Leaf Ink Ewe" (I am leaving you) or in Tyler Bright Hilton's 'Minmei Madelynne Pryor Went Into the Dryer', a graphic novel telling across twenty panels the story of a young woman disappearing into her dryer looking for a lost sock.
Elsewhere, the are one or two other pieces that really stand out, Anita Wernstrom's video 'Inside', Rinat Kotler's 'Babysitting' and Eva Kalpadaki's Empty Space series of paintings especially. Lum described his experience of being a juror as "a rather despairing one" and given that there a number of works in the show which seem to serve an idea of making work for the market or further dis-enfranchising art from the world it is easy to see why. However, a general rule of thumb seems to be, go slowly and quietly, ignore anything that flashes or dances, and you might just see something great.
Rochelle School & Club Row
London E2 7ES