South West England

The British Art Show endeavours to provide the largest and most comprehensive survey of contemporaneous events in British art. It is an exhibition then with an ambitious tenor and avails itself to reflecting Britain’s part in the globalised art scene showing works variously concerned with geo-politics, ecology, environment and urbanism. Consequently, given such a remit and the fact that it has been funded without corporate benevolence, which can sometimes create curatorial obligation, one enters with expectations of an exhibition that goes beyond the generic showcase of fresh talent such as Beck Futures. Yet despite the level of curatorial independence and quixotic aims, the first encounter spanks of deja- vu. Chodzko’s piece aspires to a dubious profundity with the rather cliqued sentiment of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, as this is what the work literally invites you to do. Richard Hughes subsequent piece evokes Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie yet with a more three-dimensional delivery. The edges of the work have a distinctive sculptural quality and are punctuated with sporadically placed pirouetting globules of paint. This is reflective of an overall tendency within the exhibition for artists to splice and dice references to the 20TH Century avante gardes; a flattering self proclaimed parallel.

This to a large extent sets a precedent for the rest of the exhibition. Indeed, Tomma Abts work exist in a blandly formalist realm of contemporary art, purely aesthetic they are visually and intellectually undemanding. The most genuinely intriguing and politically salient work within the exhibition is Rosalind Nashashibi’s film representation of a Palestinian family going about a banal day-to-day routine. It is perhaps the only work that fulfils the exhibitions rather grandiose claims. It constitutes a sort of Saidian retort, demystifying a people and an area synonymous with upheaval, political unrest and of course terror. The work is powerfully resonant especially in light of Israel’s current war crimes against minimal resistance in both Lebanon and Palestine, it could easily be a family such as this, the father watching football the women preparing food, that is plunged into tragedy with a stray ‘smart weapon’. The work familiarises these people for our naturally prejudiced eyes and this is where its considerable strength exists. Beyond this, the work is enjoyable, the second floor is pleasantly fragranced by Roger Hiorns; undulating, effervescing and glistening foam piece. Also Kartscher illustrational style pieces are magical when judged on a purely formal and aesthetic level. Enigmatic and portrayed in a format reminiscent of Max Ernst’s decalcomania technique, and despite their overt figuration, they still hold a similar level of ambiguity to the work of the Surrealist artist.

Ostensibly within the closed ritualised arts world these works hold relevance and also contribute to the ongoing visual dialogue that is contemporary art. They also reveal how self referential it can be to its own dialects visual and theoretical and if the exhibition organisers sought to show works that went beyond providing private liminality this is not readily apparent. Issues concerning ethnicity, ecology and psycho-geographical preconceptions and their rectification are apparent but exist in a mute non-confrontational fashion. Nothing upsets in this exhibition.

Independent contemporary art critic, based in London. Contact: [email protected]