Visitors to this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition are greeted by an enormous, screen-printed text piece, the work of recent graduate Alice Hartley. ‘WE’RE ALL VERY DISAPPOINTED’ it lambasts, a statement that feels both timely and forceful. It’s a reflection, says the artist, of an internal, negative voice – but equally, it seems to offer a polite snapshot of a generation’s mindset.
Firmly established as an anticipated part of the UK arts calendar, Bloomberg New Contemporaries has been supporting emergent art practice from British art schools since 1949. This year marks, incredibly, its 65th anniversary, and for the last decade or so it has also become an important part of the Liverpool Biennial events programme. For the 2014 edition, it takes place in the grand Victorian surrounds of the Liverpool’s World Museum.
Apart from the bizarre navigation through the host venue’s natural sciences departments in order to get to it, what strikes you first with this year’s show is a clear sense of what a generation of artists are feeling and thinking. If New Contemporaries is, as director Kirsty Ogg describes, “a snapshot of work being made in UK art schools at a particular point in time”, then what impression do we get? What are the concerns of new art practice now and do we understand or even like it?
Alice Hartley’s giant screen prints are just the first impression, but they do seem to sum up the attitude on show. Selected anonymously by a judging panel of former New Contemporaries participants – Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Enrico David and Goshka Macuga – the 55 shortlisted artists use media that is cheap to work with and reproduce, such as video (a massive 24 works in total), photocopying and collage. This is counterbalanced with more traditional (and expensive) craft mediums, including etching, textiles, sculpture and painting.
Conceptually, themes of body image, gender and current culture abound. You could say these artists are angry – about their financial situation, about love, about the way their bodies are represented. Several works address commodification. There’s an overall impression of distance, apathy and hopelessness.
Adam Wallace’s obese figures are a case in point. They are repulsive; nipples protrude from the surface of Transfat, as does a glossy image of a meat-grinder, torn out of a magazine. Mother depicts a kneeling body with teats and a mechanical face. Even the surface is throwaway and skin deep: roughly-applied paint on torn cardboard. Racheal Crowther’s How 2 Dress includes a porn-pink banner of a bare chested and tattooed man, displayed with suspended grapes dipped in body latex. Next to it, Tajinder Dhami’s video Electric Dream: Will Synthetic Intelligences Dream Of Electric Sheep? showcases endlessly rotating digital nipples that are strangely mesmerizing.
Young and desperate
Charles Richardson’s male portraits in HD video are sad and damaged; using 3D scanning techniques to manipulate the sitter, we can view their incredible detail through 360 degrees, including their hollowed-out interiors. Henry Hussey’s materiality couldn’t be more different yet feels just as modern; in The Guardian, newspaper headlines and portraits are carefully rendered in damask, yarn and velvet.
More tongue-in-cheek is Marie Jacotey-Voyatzis’ series of tiny paintings, Be Young, Be Wild, Be Desperate – it’s as if a collection of fashion magazines has been deconstructed, redrawn and regurgitated in a teenager’s diary.
It may be an obvious point, but it’s impossible not to consider ‘Generation Y’ in the presence of this exhibition. The majority of these artists belong to an age group that feels rejected – the ‘lost generation’. Over the past five years, forms of protest have manifested themselves in a refusal to participate. The biggest student protests ever seen were ignored and fees increased, regardless. Occupy led to nothing. If the establishment ignores you, then what’s the point?
And so to Matt Copson. Taking on the persona of a foul-mouthed fox named Reynard (whose blog can be seen on the New Contemporaries site), he rants and raves about politicians, teachers, ‘queers’, gimmicks, the filthy-rich, aristocrats, hipsters, and babies. No one escapes his wrath. He is, in turn, offensive, politically incorrect, full of cliché, apologetic and forgetful: a concentrated version of an entire culture.
As Reynard observes, “the days are getting darker, aren’t they?” This may be true of our national outlook, but it cannot be said in regards to the talent that is being nurtured in our British art schools. Far from being disappointing, this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition is an exciting, thoughtful and angry display.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries continues at the World Museum, Liverpool until 26 October 2014. It then travels to the ICA, London from 26 November 2014 – 25 January 2015. www.newcontemporaries.org.uk
More on a-n.co.uk:
MA/MFA degree shows, festivals and graduate exhibitions – The latest news from a-n’s Richard Taylor
New Contemporaries 2013: a show of contrasts – David Trigg reports from Spike Island, Bristol