Bloomberg New Contemporaries, The Bluecoat, until 16th October, free
What is the point of art?
This is a question which I’ve been asked several times since I started this blog. When those with power and influence are asked, they usually say the right things about art as a “social good”. But to many people, what that means is not always obvious, especially in an age of austerity. Some people may use the “art for art’s sake” line but again, this is far from universal. To get people to invest their time into art, they want to feel that somehow – philosophically, educationally, maybe even financially – they are getting a return. And the problem is, we come from a tradition of art being about aesthetics. Contemporary art challenges and often defies these expectations. People don’t always feel like they’re getting their return.
This is of course nothing new, but feels like a relevant place to start discussing the Bloomberg: New Contemporaries show – an exhbition to showcase graduate artists and to present the potential future of art. I first went to see this about a month ago with two friends – people who are not philistines, but who were both left dissatisfied by the show. One summed up their perception of the show as “meh”, another used that phrase “I feel like I could do this”. Having a flick through the guest book they are not alone with these views, indeed there was about a 50/50 split between praise and criticism.
The show is very mixed in terms of style and content, but after two visits I think there’s something here that everyone will like, or at least respond to. For my part, I don’t feel that I can do anything other than give a my personal thoughts on the artworks.
The first piece to make an impression on me was Roxman Gatt’s Girls (above), which I think is a great reflection on social perceptions of women. It’s nicely hung by Anna Bunting-Branch’s W.I.T.C.H series to stimulate feminist thought. I much preferred these to Margreta Stolen’s Omega (Purr), which by its size is the work which initially captures your attention in the room.
Gallery 2b struck me as the most fun, with lots appealing to the eye. Richie Moment’s video works, in particular, draw you in. The colour, movement, sound and egotism all fit in perfectly with the 21st century’s interests. It looks like great fun, but is there anything beneath the surface? I’d be intrigued to see more of his work. On my second visit I also found myself fascinated by George Ridgway’s It Torrents. Initially you think it’s obvious, but with more though – what torrents? I could think of multiple interpretations, and enjoyed this ambiguity.
In my last post on a Bluecoat show I said I disagreed with their hanging choices for Gallery 3, the only room visible to passers-by and therefore the way potential visitors may make a judgement about going to the show. This time I think the works are much more appealing, with Jamie Fitzpatrick’s The King being the standout. It reminded me of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes with its bathos dragging the sublime into the ridiculous. When visiting with my friends, however, eyebrows were raised at Thomas Greig’s DA G Chair – or a stick covered in tape by another name. Maybe I’m missing some context.
Upstairs Gallery 4 is the most thematically linked, with many pieces about the home. I once again wasn’t that impressed by the most attention-grabbing piece, Byzantia Harlow’s central What you know about Fresh!. But I did like Michael Cox’s paintings of council estates. Even writing that it feels like an unusual sentence but his colour palette and the sense of form elevate these ordinary scenes into something attractive, more akin to the original intentions for high-rise living.
One of the strongest pieces in the whole show is also here, Zarina Muhammad’s Digihad. Women in morph suits dance around the screen looking like they’re having the time of their lives. It’s easy to not notice the bombs exploding in the background, or the guns they occasionally wave like pom-poms. It’s quite the comment on attitudes to the Middle East.
Let’s return to the opening question: what is the point of art? For me, it’s to stimulate your mind. It should make you think about and feel things which you may not usually. Art should take you on a journey away from the ordinary and into a different world. And you never know the form this journey make take until you see it. So even though it’s challenging at points, I would strongly encourage you all to go and see this show, take your time, and find what takes you on this journey. Because something will.