Now in its seventh consecutive year at the ICA, Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016 is currently showing in the Upper and Lower Galleries, showcasing 46 new and recent fine art graduates. Programme Manager of New Contemporaries Séamus McCormack discusses this year's artists and the common themes running through their work.
Formed in 1949 and nearing our 70th anniversary (much like the ICA), one of the aims of the New Contemporaries exhibition and its expanded programme is to capture the zeitgeist of an emerging generation of artists’ concerns. As can be expected, the themes and subject matter tackled are extremely varied: from the socio-political to the humorous, from institutional critique to cultural heritage.
Contemporary approaches to traditional forms and media are evident in the 2016 selection, and strong trends in medium and practical applications of processes emerge. Painting is very present this year, be it figurative, landscape, imaginative or abstract. Examples include Michael Cox’s realistic depictions of council estates and Zofia Schweger’s pastel-coloured portrayals of household interiors in her hometown of Sandorfalva, Hungary. Cultural heritage is also a strong recurrent theme in the paintings of Alicia Reyes McNamara and Alfie Kungu, whilst Sophie Mackfall brings her painted works into a more expanded installation format, with glass panels both on and off the gallery walls.
One of the aims of the exhibition... is to capture the zeitgeist of an emerging generation of artists’ concerns.
Contemporary and inventive use of ceramics also features frequently in the exhibition, albeit in an increased sculptural and assemblage form. This is visible in Byzanthia Harlow’s deconstructed market stall, Lisa Porter’s totemic forms on polished concrete and Victoria Adam’s ceramic and found object wall pieces. Sculptures that juxtapose the traditional techniques of carving and bronze casting with conflicting man-made materials are evident in works by both Harry Fletcher and Leah Carless, while Jamie Fitzpatrick’s riotous kinetic construction The King challenges the conceived permanence of commemorative historical figurative sculpture.
Moving image is also prevalent this year, from Janina Lange’s meditative video of a 360° circumnavigation of a cloud, to the poetic and political work of Maryam Tafakory, to the documentary Val’s Gym by Reece Straw. Self-examining works include Richie Moment’s hyperbolic commentary on ‘smashing the art-world’ and artist duo Leon Platt and Karolina Magnusson-Murray’s diaristic deconstruction of the very process of application to this year’s exhibition. Georgia Lucas-Going’s poignant yet humorous works explore both her racial heritage and deal with wider concerns relating to loss, as demonstrated in both her exhibited video work and in her live performance at the exhibition's opening.
New Contemporaries is aware of the challenges faced by emerging artists in the ever-competitive and financially difficult ecology that is the contemporary art scene.
This generation of New Contemporaries artists, like their peers, continue to explore immediate concerns relating to online technologies and the digital image in order to consider themes as wide reaching as ownership, distribution and authorship. This is exemplified in Jamie Green’s project where he invites the curators of the exhibition to select from an archive of digital photographs taken by David Shankbone, which the photographer has made available as free open- source content.
Materiality also features heavily, possibly due to Anya Gallacio’s input in the selection of this years cohort of artists. Lana Locke’s organic bodily sculptures, Sebastian Jefford’s large scale plasticine and mixed media works and Thomas Greig’s wrapped and ripped wall works that draw our attention to absence as well as to the actual all explore this theme. We are pointed towards the humanistic features of everyday objects in the paintings of plug sockets by Jack Bodimeade and the bronze cast of a McDonald’s coffee cup lid by Jemma Egan, and this anthropomorphic spirit continues in Saelia Aparicio Torinos’ sculptural work All the bubbles burst, where glass forms are animated with facial markings.
New Contemporaries as an organization is aware of the challenges faced by emerging artists in the ever-competitive and financially difficult ecology that is the contemporary art scene. In addition to the highly-visible platform of the exhibition, each of the artists are offered professional development opportunities including mentoring and studio bursaries. We are thankful to all at the ICA for their generosity and openness in what has become a fruitful collaboration, and we hope that the exhibition will offer visitors the chance to generate discussion and debate, and lead to further prospects for all of the exhibiting artists. ■
Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016 continues until 22 January.