London’s ICA plays host again to the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition, following its original showing at Bluecoat as part of Liverpool Biennial earlier this year. The exhibition acts as a platform for promising students and recent graduates, and the quality of work would suggest that many of these young artists are destined for great things.
Indeed, the New Contemporaries scheme counts the likes of Mona Hatoum, Damien Hirst and Laure Prouvost among its alumni, and besides, one hardly expects a roster picked by Anya Gallaccio, Alan Kane and Haroon Mirza to be anything but intriguing, if not stellar.
This is certainly true for Jamie Fitzpatrick’s The King which stands as something of a centrepiece in the upstairs gallery. The figure is a mess, reclining flamboyantly on his block in gaudy solitude like some inebriated French aristocrat, grinning ghoulishly at those who can pick out his twisted facial features from the almighty phaillic crown perched atop his head. Yet, despite the toothy grin, there is something lugubrious about him, made up of cheap, fragile materials with bright colours bleeding all over one another. The King is so alive he may as well be breathing, but he seems to reflect the utter lack of meaning in such a life. Fitzpatrick’s desire to “explore acts of violence, authority [and] patriarchy through sculptures that reference public statues and other expressions of power” is truly fulfilled.
The ridicule of power in The King is, in some ways, matched in Zarina Muhammad’s equally mad Digjihad. In the video piece the artist dances around in a leotard with several others, superimposed onto videos of Islamic fundamentalism in action. Some look like leaked Da’esh propaganda clips, others more like the chilling CCTV footage of bombings in semi-domestic settings that we are used to seeing on news outlets. The visuals are accompanied by intense, comical music, and around the already busy scenes memes and GIFs pop up.
Owing to its very nature, the BNC show is a miscellany of different ideas, mediums and stimuli, but the kind of domesticity which is shattered by the bombings in Zarina Muhammad’s work stands out as a running motif. Ideas of the home and inside space are well covered, as paintings of bricks, plug sockets and living rooms are plenty. Meanwhile, the tale of Val’s Gym — a short documentary film by Reece Straw which follows an ex-prisoner (Val) who seems to have turned it around and started a successful gym, inspiring many to take up fitness and exercise and get into shape — is a warming one.
It is hard to pinpoint one aspect of the show which is in any way constant throughout, but that is part of the charm of the New Contemporaries. A now almost obligatory nod to Donald Trump sits next to feminist slogan posters, while Saelia Aparicio Torinos’s small phallic glasswork lies adjacent to Oriele Steiner’s blurred, pastel images of witch-like women. Instead of following a series of paintings or sculptures in a linear fashion, the viewer is forced to analyse each piece individually. With 46 young artists on display this can be both a feast and a chore, but with the gems already mentioned as well as many others (Underneath it all by Alicia Reyes McNamara is also brilliant), the young artists on show will keep us coming back for more.
‘Bloomberg New Contemporaries’ runs until 22 January 2017 at ICA, London