Contemporary Visions IV presents nine international artists (selected from a pool of nearly 1500 applicants), who represent a host of disciplines and perspectives in contemporary art. The variety of the work is striking, yet even through their unique methods and mediums, the selected artists exhibit a desire to question traditional modes of artistic consumption. Here, notions of aesthetics and the politics of looking are always under scrutiny. Many of the works offer reinterpretations of art historical canon, simultaneously venerating and veering away from their antiquated source material. One senses a reverence for historical precedent, as well as a drive to reinvent contemporary ideas of artistic practice. Also of significance are the themes of fantasy and transformation. Through metamorphosis of the human figure (and the spaces it inhabits), these artists challenge preconceived notions of artistic authority, and pave the way for a new understanding of the impact of contemporary art.
For many of the selected artists, the act of paying homage to the past has become a significant artistic practice of its own. The work of Phil Woodward embarks on a conceptual exploration of the intrinsic role of the artist, acknowledging the issues of gender and class with which the topic is fraught. It is through reference to notions of artistic masculinity (with particular emphasis on the hyper- virility which predominated the era of Abstract Expressionism) that he draws a departure from the traditions of art history to craft his own identity. The text in Woodward’s paintings consists of words extracted from a child’s board game, a collection of fragmented phrases which create ambiguous juxtapositions and seemingly arbitrary correlations. The artist’s fascination with the structures of information transfer thereby becomes clearly visible. The fragments of text come to represent a reconstruction of knowledge in a time of constant informational overload.
Similar in methodology but unique in execution are the photographic works of Luke Turner. His large- scale images present space and form in abstraction, moving always towards what Turner describes as “an alchemy of the image.” The consequence of this alchemy could be considered to be an intimate understanding of the function and operation of art (and the artist). Turner’s choice to embrace digital technology in the creation of his images represents a further deviation from the romanticized vision of the labouring artist or the traditional chemical photographer. But in the end, the technique becomes secondary to Turner’s underlying desire to comprehend art as a language in and of itself. Of course, this approach is also prevalent in the works by Antoine Donzeaud, whose gestural characters beg to be examined through the lens of contemporaneity. For Donzeaud, the key to artistic practice seems to lie in the constant re- assessment of intention, culminating in a body of work that suggests a desire to formulate a new language for speaking about art.
An attachment to language prevails throughout the selected works, whether in the form of Woodward’s use of text or in a more abstract desire to utilize visual mediums as a substitute for the written word. In Carl White’s works one may find evidence of a sensibility rooted in poetry. Much in the same way that individual words may be carefully arranged to form a poem, White selectively incorporates elements into his paintings to offer a lyrical play between reality and abstraction. While alluding to the grand tradition of Romanticism, as well as Kantian notions of the sublime, White is simultaneously working towards a neoteric realization of beauty.
Inquiry into an ideal of beauty is also pursued by artist Catalin Geana, whose metallic sculptures traverse the traditional pathways of figural representation with renewed interest. From their execution in bronze to their distorted bodily features, these works reflect an aesthetic intentionally reminiscent of ancient civilization. Harkening back to the materiality and practice of the early origins of art, Geana nonetheless imbues them with an ideology that is distinctly modern. And here, once again, we find a yearning to simultaneously honour and re- evaluate the accepted standards of artistic understanding. Geana’s work in particular presents itself as a violation of tradition, a refusal to acquiesce to what has already been established.
Occupying the space between metaphor and authenticity, the work of Youngbin Choi is suggestive of an effort that is in line with Geana’s exploration of form and figure. Choi’s sweeping visualizations point the viewer towards consideration of the abstracted figure and its psychological implications. Striving to investigate the complexities of internalization, her paintings feel intimately personal yet also function through universality. Sharing this tendency towards introspection is the sculptural work of Vojtech Mica. His installations suggest the possibility of a realm outside of the dreaded tedium of everyday life, accessible through the use of art as an alternative to language. Both artists represent conflict and deviation through forms that are recognizably derived from life, and yet comprised of a visual language of shapes and signifiers.
The role of fantasy also inserts itself into the collection and takes on new significance in the context of contemporary art. With visual references to old masters such as Bosch and Bruegel, artist Hyunjeong Lim toys with the whimsy and caprice inherent in the human condition. A reliance on the historical traditions of painting informs her aesthetic, yet her conceptual framework is entrenched in the personal and modern. The same may be said of Elisabetta Falanga, whose altered rooms provide a metaphor for the fragility and inevitable metamorphosis of the inner mind. The transformation of space within Falanga’s work forms a statement on the impermanence of the body and the transience of life itself.
The function and relevance of the artist is a prevailing question that surrounds the work in this collection. Never forgetting their artistic predecessors, these nine artists seek to engage in a dialogue with the past, even if it is a dialogue fraught with dissent. While an understanding of art history is indubitably critical to the vernacular of contemporary art, the artists in this exhibition have recognized a need to go further. Rather than reading art history, they converse with it, engaging in playful and sometimes contentious disagreements that result in a view of art which is entirely unique to the present.