Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2019

Copyright Cyrus Hung. Still from single channel video Why Not Study in the UK? (2019) courtesy of the artist

Talent spotting at the New Contemporaries show at South London Gallery this year was frustrating. “The germ of a rewarding artwork that needs some tweaking” was my most common response. As discussed in my last post, the most engaging work was Roland Carline’s outward facing film. The popularity of this approach is growing but most of the Bloomberg selected artists this year seem to be looking inward for inspiration.

One exception to this was Cyrus Hung who is making a name for himself by taking the text from PR releases and documentaries of established artists such as Anthony Gormley and setting them to his own rap compositions. In George Baselitz A Focus on the 1980’s MV, 2019 we get to see much of his painting but ambiguity is laced through it: is it a tribute or is he gently mocking the pomposity of artists and critics? Hennessy Youngman’s satirical videos of the art establishment are an earlier example of rap culture used to hilarious effect. Another of Hungs’s videos on his website is a comic take on a UK universities recruitment fair in Hong Kong using rewritten lyrics to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. This is both cutting and funny suggesting a more profitable direction he might take.

Copyright Umi Ishihara. Still from film UMMMI’s Lonely Girl, 2016 courtesy of the artist

Umi Ishihara’s UMMMI’s Lonely Girl, 2016 exploits the photogenic features of Japan’s night-time streets. The cliches of such films are largely avoided by giving prominence to the roadwork lights and cones and to the more scuzzier locations. A woman initially comes across a semi conscious girl alone on a nightclub doorway. Over 20 long minutes we follow her heaving and sometimes giving a piggyback to a listless girl though the streets. It is the kind of art film where your mind is struggling to fill the gaps to give the narrative some meaning. The payoff for your patience is an ending that reveals the forlorn girl left abandoned on a pavement as she was found at the start of the night.

I also related to the desperate teeth grinding of the cartoon grotesque in Taylor Jack Smith’s Dentin which reminded me of Philip Guston and the Soviet-era statues of national political heroes that featured in the nightmarish digital animation YONAK by Bulgarian based George Stamenov.

The rest of the moving image art was rather underwhelming : humour falling flat, meditative work crushed by weighty seriousness and a scene remake from the feature film, Crash. The last Bloomberg New Contemporaries show I saw at the ICA in 2016 seemed to have more innovative artists. They included Zarina Muhammad who then went on to launch her own art review website The White Pube with Gabrielle de la Puente which I have enjoyed seeing make quite a splash even though it has been set up to counter the ubiquity of “old white men” like myself!

Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016

Christopher D.A. Gray- still from Becoming Boxers, 2015 courtesy of the artist

Young talent fizzing with fresh ideas abounds at the ICA’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition where diverse moving image artworks engage with contentious issues including the downsides of social media, the complexities of gender roles and the marketisation of art.

Christopher D.A. Gray’s Becoming Boxers (2015) was the standout work for me because it conveyed the dismal truth about the vanity and desperation of male aggression as seen in the evolution of physical violence from the fist fight to the ritual of the boxing ring. Using his unadorned hands as a powerfully articulate “actors” they become realistic, expressive puppets parrying and striking blows accompanied by smacking wince-inducing sound effects. As the bout progresses the fighters transform from bare knuckle linen swaddled sluggers to boxers in full professional regalia with cunningly crafted heads and gloves. The simulated fury is uncanny and unsettling. Douglas Gordon has also portrayed his hands as sinister performers but Gray takes this specialised subgenre of performance art to a new level .

Still from  Zarina Muhammad video The English Beat courtesy of the artist

“Ultimately images are subject to the same fanaticism as bodies are” is a telling quote from Zarina Muhammad’s lively and revealing website.  Dancing with uninhibited larkiness to a translated version of the Punjabi rap megahit, The English Beat by Yo Yo Honey Singh slowed down to spooky growl, she draws attention to its rather creepy macho lyrics. Against a green screen background of internet clips of warfare and violence some of which are reminiscent of ISIS videos, she points to the close alliance between religious fundamentalism and  misogynistic sexual anxiety. This interplay is examined further in her amusingly flamboyant video, Digjihad, and I look forward to more of her MI works in this exciting vein.

Maryam Tafakor’s Iranian heritage as a Muslim women investigates similar issues in a different context. Absent wound is an engrossing lyrical film which contrasts the rituals of Persian warrior training with the recitations of a young girl coming to terms with her impending womanhood. This exploration of gender segregation is thoughtful and compelling.

Richie Moment’s three punchy, satirical films Green Scream, Up and Coming and PhoneCall are  90 seconds long  but each use a concentrated overload of colour saturated imagery and angry commentary to give cathartic relief to the artist’s frustration in attempting to launch his career in a shark infested art market.

Ruth Spencer Jolly’s We Can Work It Out is a clever, zeitgeisty and charming video installation displayed on two computer screens about the difficulties of forming harmonious bonds across the miasma of the internet. She and a male counterpart sing a close harmony version of the Beatles song with witty updated lyrics that show how far we have come since the simpler days of face to face mediation of relationships in the 1960’s.

Karolina Magnusson Murray and  Leon Platt are showing  three of their co-produced  films The Names, The Work and The Application which would suck up 90 minutes of your time if you could withstand the torture of watching the convoluted bickering of these two artists as they attempt to cooperate on the creation of an artwork. The artwork just happens to be the film you are watching. This reflexive mode is like looking for the two sides of a Möbius strip  or watching a snake consume its own tail.  I guess these uncomfortable and irritating films say something about collaboration being a painfully fraught business where jealousy lurks just under the surface threatening to sabotage the whole project.

Janina Lange-still from Shooting Clouds #2 courtesy of the artist

Janina Lange’s  Shooting Clouds #2 is such a peaceful and meditative work. Shot from an open helicopter  it slowly circumnavigates a  puffball cloud  drifting stately like a galleon over the landscape below. Its sculptural form is reinforced by the bronze replica she presents with it, created from 2D image capture and 3D printing, reminding us of the fragile boundaries between gas, liquid and solid. Although on first viewing this was primarily an aesthetic experience, it later brought the perils of melting icecaps to mind.

This is only a selection of the many promising and original ideas that are inspiring the artists at  this important annual ICA exhibition which runs until 22 January.