Aesthetica Art Prize 2019

Covering a range of themes from technology, urbanisation and digitisation to population growth and ecological destruction and climate change, the artworks presented in the 2019 edition of the Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition (8 March – 14 July, York Art Gallery) draw on both personal and universal narratives. In the age of globalisation, culture is becoming homogenised and identity is fluid. What does this mean for the individual?

Rebecca Reeve, from the series Through Looking.

The shortlisted artists include: Alec Von Bargen (Italy); Nicolas Bernier (Canada); Ludivine Large-Bessette (France); Mark Bloomfield (UK); Sebastian Kite (UK); Yunhan Liu (China); Daniel Mullen (UK); Jenn Nkiru (UK); May Parlar (USA); María Molina Peiró (Netherlands); Rebecca Reeve (USA); Giulio Di Sturco (UK); Noriyuki Suzuki (Germany); Maryam Tafakory (UK); Jane and Louise Wilson (UK); Teppei Yamada (Japan); Sim Chi Yin (Singapore); Christiane Zschlommer (Germany).

Giulio Di Sturco, from the series Aerotropolis, The Way We Will Live Next .

Many of the works focus on individuality in today’s expanding world. Teppei Yamada’s installation Apart and/or Together consists of 10 different heartbeats, which are reminders of the real human lives rendered invisible in discussions around national identity, citizenship, multiculturalism and migration. Giulio Di Sturco’s photographic series Aerotropolis, The Way We Will Live Next considers how landscapes centred around airports shape urban development in the 21st century as much as highways did in the 20thcentury, railroads in the 19th century and seaports in the 18t hcentury.

Personal and collective histories are also central. Christiane Zschlommer’s Beyond Orwell Series focuses on familial experiences under totalitarianism, photographing objects using found secret government statistics. Meanwhile, Alec Von Bargen’s Under The Blue Skies of Agok images capture profoundly intimate moments of displaced peoples in South Sudan. Ludivine Large-Bessette’s video installation Drop Out Bodies questions the fatality of the human body, using the codes of contemporary dance and cinema to reinterpret a macabre dance from the Middle Ages. 

Teppei Yamada, Apart and/or Together. Installation view.

Maryam Tafakory’s I Have Sinned a Rapturous Sinmeanwhile, brings together fragments of Forugh Farrokhzad’s poem Sin, as well as images of a male carder preparing cotton for a mattress. The film is set against religious clerics instructing women to suppress their sexual desires. Jenn Nkiru’s Rebirth is Necessary is a dreamlike film centred on the magic of Blackness in a realm where time and space are altered. Past, present and future are re-ordered, offering something that is both visceral and soulful. 

Diverse geographies also come into focus through an artists’ film piece from Turner-Prize nominees Jane and Louise Wilson. Suspended Island depicts the relationship between the Houses of Parliament, Trinity House in Newcastle, and the abandoned coastal fortifications on Governors Island, ManhattanThe work discusses the perception of an island at this time, during Brexit negotiations. Similarly, Sim Chi Yin’s video installation Most People Were Silent pairs two landscapes. From the north peak of Mount Paektu – an active volcanic mountain dividing North Korea and China – audiences look into North Korea, which has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006. 

Christiane Zschommler, Beyond Orwell Series.

Noriyuki Suzuki’s installation Oh My ( ) is one of the pieces expanding upon changing modes of communication and personalised languages. The work monitors the Twitter feed in real time, sounding out the phrase “oh my (god)” in one of 48 languages every time the word “god” is tweeted. The artwork considers the complexities and intangibility of religion in the digitised world. Daniel Mullen’s painting 37-67 is a representation of synaesthesia; each colour is attached to a certain numerical symbol.

New developments in technology are intrinsic to many of the shortlisted pieces. Sebastian Kite’s Horizons investigates light, kinetics and performance, considering perceptions of time, sound and colour through the formation of white light. Mark Bloomfield’s, Conform 1-4 draw inspiration from textiles and engineering as a sculpture that changes shape with each new interaction, encouraging play, observation and feedback. Nicolas Bernier’sSStructures Infinies () refers to the finite physical structure that is encapsulating the infinite possibilities of intellectual structures created by humankind. 

Noriyuki Suzuki, Oh My ( ).

María Molina Peiró’s One Year Life Strata is a visual metaphor for the act of forgetting. The project mines data and invites viewers to investigate one year of the artist’s life through an AI vision system that favours patterns and numbers rather than personal memories. Yunhan Liu utilises reconstructed forms of nature to evoke sensory experiences and a greater spiritual awareness. By manipulating organic phenomena, her work, Horizon, encourages viewers to question their relationship with the digital age, using the sun as a model through which to explore the immediate sublime experience. 

Dialogues between nature and the human condition come to the fore in the works of Rebecca Reeve and May ParlarReeve’s Through Looking series introduce blinds as an almost democratic character, marking scenery through equal units of space and shrouding the viewer with a limited view. Parlar’s Collective Solitudeis a series of self-portraits created with this innovative visual language, experimenting with the contrasting and uncanny elements of inclusion and exclusion, real and unreal, settled and nomadic. 

Find out more about the 2019 shortlist here. | Find out about the 2019 longlist here.

The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition is on display 8 March – 14 July at York Art Gallery. For more information, click here.

1. Lead image: Alec Von Bargen,
Under The Blue Skies of Agok.