This exhibition showcases the work of three international emerging artists whose work has been selected for the biennial prize. The panel of artist judges, consisting of Lubaina Himid, Michael Rakowitz and Haegue Yang have each chosen an artist whose work they deem deserving of this opportunity. New work has been commissioned from each participant to be shown at BALTIC for four months.
Ingrid Pollard, selected by Lubaina Himid, is a Guyanan artist based in London. She presents a collection entitled ‘Seventeen of Sixty Eight’ (2018/19), a title which refers to the number of pub signs and emblems still in existence in the UK which refer to or depict the ‘black figure’. Photographs of signs and statues serve to reveal this hidden element of British history, alongside enlarged book pages, where the majority of the text has been obliterated. Continuing this theme of exposing what is hidden, Pollard’s embossed prints require close inspection to reveal their secrets. The white sheets of paper have images pressed into the surface without the use of ink or colour of any kind. The images appear to be re-creations of the stereotyped and derogatory portrayals of black figures on signs and in book illustrations that were once prevalent and are now largely suppressed. Her process imparts a delicate beauty to these otherwise distasteful representations, creating a challenging tension.
Drawing on his experiences of life in the technologically advanced city of Seoul, Kang Junsuck (selected by Haegue Yang) has created a surreal and colourful installation called ‘GAME II: The adventures of A Human, A Self-Driving Car, and a Lilliputian’ (2019). Candy-coloured constructions or ‘props’ punctuate the space, guiding the viewer around a confusing, disorienting landscape as if in the virtual world of a video game. The artificial meets the natural in the artist’s use of materials which for one sculpture were listed as ‘Polystyrene, 3D-printed PLA, epoxy putty, honey wax, dirt and non-woven fabric’. This could be read as a comment on the increasing impact of human technology on nature, but could also be seen to be embracing advancements in science as positive progress.
A poignant and powerful gathering of music, poetry and prints has been assembled by artist Aaron Hughes, the selection of Michael Rakowitz. ‘Poetry Despite/ Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem)’ (2019) has been produced in collaboration with Karim Wasfi, cellist and former conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony. Hughes has produced nine large woodcut prints in black ink, each based on one of the poems by Wilfred Owen included in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. The bold, stark images depict scenes of war and destruction but with surreal or obscure elements that are difficult to decipher. Some speak of pain, terror and trauma while others offer glimpses of hope; ‘Sonnet on Seeing a Piece of our artillery brought into action’ (2018) shows an ambiguous scene with rows of weapons in the earth, either being grown or buried, while a flock of birds takes flight.
While largely a universal response to the atrocities of war, some of Hughes’ images seem to tackle more directly the conflicts in Iraq, including Persian architectural elements around depictions of death and destruction. A striking example is ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ (2018) where an ornate window frame holds a mound of discarded bones and musical instruments.
As an artist, activist, teacher and US veteran of the Iraqi war, Hughes seeks to create cross-cultural connections between people in shared experiences of trauma through poetry and music. As part of this project, Wilfred Owen’s poems have been re-imagined in a contemporary context by Hughes and his collaborators. These new poems were performed live and recorded at the exhibition opening and can now be heard playing in the gallery.
BALTIC Artists’ Award 2019, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, 15 February – 16 June 2019.
Sarah Davies is an artist and writer based in Newcastle upon Tyne.