Materials vs Us – review of New Art West Midlands 2018

The New Art West Midlands competition and exhibition is now an annual event. It showcases a selection of up-and-coming pieces from emerging artists in the area. This is the third time I’ve been to at least one of the exhibitions (the works are shown in a number of locations around the area) and each time I find much to inspire me.

The phrase that kept coming to my mind as I walked around the artworks selected for this year’s New Art West Midlands on display at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was ‘human-material interaction’.

There is great variety in the artworks on show in Birmingham this year (and elsewhere, alas I have yet to visit the other venues) encompassing video, digital, painting, sculpture, installation, photography, print and material.

Each piece in Birmingham appeared very different from each other, yet there was a clear commonality and relationship between them. That is that we impact on materials and materials impact on us.

As artists, we have a vast array of material and media available to us in the 21st century. In fact, I’d even say that more-or-less anything goes. We are able to pick a material and mould it into something of our choosing in order to convey an idea or imbue it with a meaning for the viewer to take on board or an ‘essence’ for the viewer to feel. 

I do this with my creative endeavors. My art practice is concept-driven and I pick the material I think best suits the concept, rather than putting myself in a situation where the material brings forth a concept, or something that suits, or is chosen by, that material. I suspect that many artists today operate in the same way. This means that as artists we have to be multi-talented, or, at least very brave in experimentation. 

The artists in this exhibition display both bravery with their use of materials and originality of concept. They embrace with open arms the varied material world of the current age. This is admirable. Not only that, they cross the boarders between the various materials. They blend – sound mixed with sculpture, painting mixed with digital effects, projection and objects. 

There is much to see and feel essence from in this exhibition, but the work that resonated the most for me was Jessica Eburne’s TR project. Her project is inspired by repetitive and ritualistic trends found in our relationship with current technology. T stands for technology and R stands for religion. They may seem vastly different, but they are not. Technology has become a new religion for us. For this project she created an interactive shrine to the social media world. The shrine is combined with a stream of a Alexa- or Siri-style conversation which is in text format and audible format.

The shrine. 

Also looking at social media and how it impinges on our ‘real’ or ‘material’ lives is Bryony Loveridge’s piece ‘A Self Reflection’. This consisted of a wall of mirrors adorned with decorations of various styles and types. The effect is similar to the one you get on screen when looking at Instagram or Pinterest. Looking at the mirrors is like looking at a wall of attractive, beautified selfies at the same time as looking at ‘pretty’ but deliberately chosen decorations or ideas. I felt slightly disembodied, yet curious. I felt like Alice.

Looking at me looking at me.

And of course I have to mention the work of my old tutor, Simon Harris. His paintings evoke a contemporary sublime reaction for me, if that makes sense. I feel the sublime yet I feel I am in a world between the real and unreal. I find the slightly ‘digital’ feel to his paintings, which are clearly not digital, fascinating. Ironically, it is impossible to get that same effect viewing his paintings online. Here is yet another example of a blending of the material with the immaterial, the notions of real and virtual or digital. This painting isn’t digital, yet it appears to have a digital element or effect.

A painting that does not work online

Despite the links with the digital, virtual worlds in all of the artworks on display, or at least, in many of them, overall they appeared to be unexpectedly very tactile, interactive, and visually exciting. I like that irony.


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