It is always hard to give an opinion about art, even more so when the art in question is ‘contemporary’. When contemporary art presents itself as virgin, raw and naked, ready to be seen and criticised, giving it the first shot is a burdensome task; what if something is missed, or misunderstood, what if it’s required to be looked at closer, or what if it is simply not about that at all?
Today’s art has not yet been catalogued or tagged. It is yet to belong to a historical art movement or be defined by a masterpiece. These pieces of paper, ceramic and fabric in Contemporary Visions V at Beers Contemporary have already been considered a work of art by someone and I have to believe and accept this in order to write about the collection of nineteen works.
The title Contemporary Visions V indicates that there have already been four other versions of this exhibition. But, has the term ‘contemporary’ and its meaning evolved over these five exhibitions? Was the art featured in the first exhibition no longer contemporary by the second Contemporary Visions? Is this exhibition as contemporary as the first? Are the artists that have exhibited throughout the years as contemporary as one another? Is there such a thing as ‘more contemporary’ or ‘non-contemporary’?
I entered the exhibition without any expectations, not for any reason but simply because I did not know what to expect; after all ‘contemporary’ is an ambiguous term. Even without knowing it, we can go into an exhibition with preconceived ideas about art. I have always had the idea that contemporary art equals modern media, often produced or exhibited in avant garde ways. See Sophie Calle’s exhibition Take Care of Yourself, which was made up of text and photographs, presented as both a film and an interactive performance for the audience. Or Abraham Cruzvillegas’s objects, parts of which he lets decompose or explode, to contrast with the process of sculpting. Both of these artists seem to be responding to what is happening right now, to something in the environment that I can identify with. The present is used as an inspiration, a concept, a media or process, and because of this it looks contemporary.
If the word contemporary isn’t clear in the title, ‘visions’ isn’t either. There appears to be no justification for the artists selected for Contemporary Visions V to be exhibited alongside each other. Putting on an exhibition should involve a curatorial exercise of selecting pieces that although completely different, have something in common, be coherent or tell a story. The fifth year of this exhibition lacks that story. With no clear logic or line to follow, the selection is confusing — the works are like tourists in a foreign gallery, isolated and too shy to speak to each other.
Restore to Factory Settings (2014) by Felicity Hammond — a striking, deep-blue photo collage of an industrialized city, with no traces of human beings except what they have left behind — was one of the most eye catching pieces of the exhibition. Hammond presents a portrait of East London in a chaotic and dehumanized way. However, without knowing the exact time or the place that’s represented, the landscape still feels familiar and not in a necessarily geographical sense. The criticism she makes of the human and urban chaos is something that I can relate to. Printed blue and on a massive scale, the artist isn’t shy with showing its results.
Besides Hammond, the rest of the works in the exhibition seem immature, muted and are easy to forget. They do not respond to the present, nor show a new way of producing or displaying art, or help me understand what’s happening in the art world. Produced with different media, belonging to different places and concerned with different things, with only the word ‘contemporary’ to join them together, this leaves me with no choice but to judge the works based on preconceived ideas.
If there is one question that pops into my head, it’s whether ‘contemporary’ is just an excuse to put works together without knowing what they’re about?
Contemporary Visions V is at Beers Contemporary from the 30 January until 7 March 2015.