Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the ICA

Filed in Reviews by on November 24, 2011

Bloomberg New Contemporaries


23 November 2011 to 15 January 2012


The ICA has always been a hub for the breaking trends in contemporary art and with its new exhibition of work from recent UK fine art graduates the gallery takes its investment in the future of modern art one-step further.  Bloomberg New Contemporaries: In the Presence showcases a variety of disciplines from photography to painting and video art to installations. The forty artists being exhibited were chosen by a panel that included the photographer Sarah Jones and the artists Pablo Bronstein and Michael Raedecker. Over 1,300 young artists submitted work and the pieces that made the final cut represent a roster of artists from the UK, Poland, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Cyprus, France, Denmark, South Korea, South Africa, Russia and the US.

The problem though with an exhibit as expansive and ambitious as In the Presence is that it is forced to create stark juxtapositions between disciplines which don’t always benefit the integrity of the work.  It seems a reactionary and pedantic complaint to make considering that the exhibit is ultimately in support of an extremely worthwhile cause in the promoting of work by young artists regardless of their stylistic, ethnic and aesthetic differences, but I couldn’t help thinking that the scale of some of the work – the video art especially – overwhelmed the more traditional art forms.  The exhibit strives to be both cohesive and universal but is ultimately forced to sacrifice the former for the latter.  This might not be such a problem if the gallery space itself was larger and in some rooms the juxtapositions between the works do serve to create an exuberance that drives the project of the exhibition, but all too often it falls flat and certain pieces pale in comparison to the scope and vibrancy inherent in the medium of their neighboring pieces.  You also get the sense that there isn’t even enough room to exhibit all the artists properly.  The deadpan wit of Noel Hensey’s “Death is Here” is completely wasted, affixed as it is outside the men’s toilet, whilst Ute Klein’s striking photographs of couples wrapped in near-grotesque embraces also struggles for attention as they’re hung above a flight of stairs that separates the two parts of the exhibition.

These technical and schematic problems aside though, In the Presence definitely shows that the future of photography and video art looks particularly bright from the possibly awkward vantage point of the exhibit.  Amongst the vast array of styles and mediums on display the selected photography provides a really interesting look at how young photographers are pushing the limits of the form.  Each photographer seems to be experimenting with their chosen discipline in ways that are individual to the artists which provides one of the more refreshing conclusions of the exhibition.

Georgina McNamara evokes both the black comedy of David Lynch and the formal experiments of the surrealists in “Scene” whilst Joshua Bilton uses a similarly eerie depiction of spaces and absence in a way that makes his diptych “Post” both unsettling and intelligent.  The vivid and detached use of lighting, perspective and geometry in David Ben White’s “Painting Pavilion Series” is also striking, but I thought it was the work of the collaborative Peles Empire that really stood out amongst the photography. Katharina Stoever and Barbara Wolff started working under the moniker Peles Empire in 2005 and their “Disco Series” presents us with six photos of images that have been distorted.  The series allow us to see what the world would look like through the malfunctioning, mechanical eyes of a robot stranded in a National Trust property.  The distorted images of suits of armor, chandeliers and huge, polished halls creates violent juxtapositions between the antiquity of the past and the velocity of the digital age.  The series seems capable of being serious, funny and prescient all at once.
The video art was also particularly good with Se-jin Kim’s striking video of young men and women on their dead-eyed marches through the cold landscapes of their mundane night jobs.  A woman in her bland uniform walks down a long hall of pale light towards the camera in what seems like slow-motion, the image gives way to stop-motion footage of a city’s skyline, the rush of the traffic, the sun rising and falling; it is sympathetic and strange, haunting and graceful.  Se-jin Kim presents her work in widescreen, High Definition and the lush, melancholy imagery dominated the room it was in which seemed unfair on a piece as understated and nuanced as Lisa Wilkens’ lithograph, “Prevented Portrait.”

Yelena Popova’s documentary, “Unnamed” also seems to dominate the exhibition in the same way that Se-jin Kim’s piece does.  Popova presents a mixture of bleached archive footage, panoramas of vacant urban landscapes and stop-motion origami under a coherent and traditional voice over that spoke poetically and poignantly of Russian life under the USSR, secret and disastrous trials of nuclear weapons and the struggle to parse stable, constructive meaning from the memory and horror of the Cold War.  The piece stands out for its technical brilliance, situating the viewer as it does between the complexity of its subject matter and the affecting sensitivity of its contrast between image and narrative, but it’s also Popova’s willingness to traverse the aesthetic minefield of politics that marks her as a genuinely serious and ambitious artist.

The interesting thing about Popova’s and Se-jin’s success is that it seems to come at the expense of the other artists on show, particularly – in my opinion – the paintings that seem dated, even naïve in contrast to their digital counterparts.  This though, in an exhibit as packed and as diverse as In the Presence certainly comes down to a matter of personal taste; without anything else to guide you, you will always be led by your own sensibilities.  The problem with In the Presence though is that you get the impression that it wants to be definitive rather than expansive and as I’ve stressed, this is jarring for both the viewer and the artist.  It is really the artist and their work that suffers though in these situations because every viewer, no matter what their interests are, will find something to be surprised by and marvel at, which definitely bodes well for the future of the UK’s exhibition calendar if not the country’s young artists, struggling to secure the careful and attentive support they need to develop from the arts industry as a whole.  But that’s nothing new I suppose.

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Cioran McGrath

About the Author ()

Cioran once read a book by John Berger (inadvertently) and now believes this has given him the ability to write about art, although no one has really explained to him that it’s near impossible to make a living this way. It’s unclear whether he will lose interest in the misadventure any time soon. Many hope he will. Along with being a prodigious waster of time (his as well as others’), he also writes infrequently about other things, more of which can be found at You can follow him at @CalleNine, but we’re not sure why anyone would want to.

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