Meet the 2021 Shortlist

The Aesthetica Art Prize is an annual exhibition that invites you to explore, discover and engage with new ideas. The works on display are unearthing the intricate layers of what it means to be alive today. Life was complicated before Covid-19, but the pandemic has placed a new set of strains and challenges on society. However, the artists’ works are covering themes such as the climate crisis, colonial histories, racism, new technologies and the impact it has on our lives. The pieces draw on both personal and universal narratives and in many ways that unique blend of the macro and the micro makes this exhibition immediate, compelling and highly relevant for the times in which we live. Hear from the artists, in their own words.

28 May – 5 September | York Art Gallery, UK
Free entry. Pre-booking required.  

Book Your Free Tickets

Artist Interviews

Arthur Kleinjan | Main Prize Winner

A narrator leads us into a magical-realist history that is bereft of fabrication. His story begins with an investigation into a plane crash in communist Czechoslovakia, which one woman survived after an unlikely fall from the air. This event becomes the point of entry to a dense, layered web of seemingly unrelated events that appear to be deeply entangled. Winner of the Main Aesthetica Art Prize.

Juliana Kasumu | Emerging Prize Winner

What Does The Water Taste Like? engages in interpersonal speculation regarding identity production and sentiments of “home.” The film examines entanglements of “foreign” identities and the cultural mobility of knowledge throughout history. Kasumu’s work presents new perspectives on the exchange of intimacy between kith and kin. Winner of the Emerging Aesthetica Art Prize.

Alice Duncan

Black Hole was created at Lake Mungo, Australia, on the traditional lands of the Barkandji / Paakantyi, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngiyampaa people. This site represents an important – yet often overlooked – natural landmark. Since the 1960s, Lake Mungo has been the location of an ongoing and often tense dialogue between Aboriginal people and descendants of settlers.

Andrew Leventis

Leventis considers vanitas in a modern-day circumstance, which really came to light when the pandemic hit in March 2020. The works reflect on the mass panic induced by the Covid-19 pandemic and how the idea of “stocking up” was so crucial and almost primal instinct, in a notion to survive. In the traditional sense, vanitas allude to themes of plague and desperation.

Carlos David

Personae II is an exploration of how the human spirit – as expressed through dreams, fantasy and imagination – can endure and transcend to provide perspectives on lived experiences. For this instalment, David collaborated with a diverse group of people connected through the overarching experiences of conflict and trauma, opening new dialogues.

Cathryn Shilling

Human interaction, interplay and movement are at the core of this work, which is derived from reality, performance and the infinite nuisances between them. Often, the face that we present to the world is a mask – but the language of the body is very difficult to control. Through this work, Shilling examines the relationship between glass and the human form.

Cesar & Louis Collective

Degenerative Cultures is an interactive artwork in which living organisms, social networks and AI corrupt the human impulse to master nature. Within a glowing dome, micro-organisms grow across a book about humanity’s disruption of nature. Next to this is a computer monitor, in which an intelligent digital fungus searches the internet and corrupts texts.

Chris Combs

Facial recognition features in Morale is Mandatory, which uses a camera to detect smiling faces. Referencing the rise of algorithmic surveillance, it incorporates Google’s “AIY Vision Kit”, which teaches children how to use facial recognition, with no mention of ethical responsibilities. It alludes to technology’s power for supporting state-sponsored emotional monitoring.

Christiane Zschommler

The images in The Will of the People are based on spectrograms of speeches by the British government, headlines in the media and the artist’s own writing where she reflects on the impact of the 2016 UK / EU referendum. Distorted facts and invented statistics – coupled with hate speech – make impossible promises to the nation, helping to create a climate of fear.

David Brandy

Brandy’s passion as an artist is to capture man-altered landscapes with the uncanny – the psychological experience of something strangely familiar. Familiar objects or places evoke a sense of being both beautiful and strange, reflecting a kind of splendour we seldom notice. Newer Topographics emphasises a strong sense of isolation whilst tapping into photographic history.

Dirk Hardy

With Vivarium, Dirk Hardy welcomes us to a multitude of worlds. This ongoing project started in 2018 and currently consists of seven dioramas, that Hardy calls Episodes. Each Episode deals with a different theme and acts as a portal, inviting the viewer to travel off to the depicted world. Through constructed tableaus, Hardy explores our zeitgeist.

Erwin Redl

Reflections V2 comprises over a decade of research into the nature of visual perception. The formal representation of the work is strongly tied to the aesthetic of Minimal Art. The tradition of colour field painting is combined with slow, seasonal changes found in nature. The custom software uses generative algorithms to create a stream of colour that continually shifts.

Gabriel Hensche

Gabriel Hensche’s performance, moving image, and installation pieces deal with the question of how the internet and digital technology affect the way we coexist. In Almost Heaven, we see the artist trying to dance to a song he doesn’t like. Watching him move through this situation asks the question: what it means to engage in a time in which we curate our digital echo chambers?

James Tapscott

The representation of a familiar material – something taken for granted and even considered “ugly” – allows us to re-examine the everyday. The transformation of the material with light (and the display) renders it objectively beautiful. The mere possibility of this transformation enables all aspects of life to be transformed too – the power of light is a phenomenon.

Kitoko Diva

The Black Man in The Cosmos is a poetic and experimental art film created as a part of a video installation mixing new form of Afrofuturism, cyberspace imagery and poetry. Aiming to be both social and political by addressing the contemporary identity crisis issue amongst European Afro-descendants, this short film is revisiting 1974’s Space Is the Place.

Monica Alcazar-Duarte

Alcazar-Duarte’s images are part of an ongoing project considering how algorithms are used – through search engine technology – to support and maintain biased social thinking. Second Nature is an amalgamation of stories on the subject of discrimination gathered through algorithmic search results over one year, referencing invisible structures of power.

Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard

During the first Coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, Lyhne Løkkegaard created a series of works using hand sanitiser on thermal paper. The paper – familiar to all in the form of receipts – has a chemical-covered surface that reacts with hand sanitiser. This chemical reaction was surprising and unnerving to the artist – rendering the invisible, visible.

Seb Agnew

Syncope (the medical term for “fainting” or “passing out”) deals with the feeling of “being disoriented.” Time and again we lose track of what is happening around us. This metaphorical temporary loss of consciousness has become a daily companion for many people in our fast- paced society. This series deals with the phenomenon of disconnect, which is growing in our digital world.

Shan Wu

Wild Grass tells an unusual love story that is deceptive yet revealing. A woman’s struggle with her inner self plays out as she runs over and over again in an imaginary landscape. The dialogue in the film is communicated through subtitles, which is reflective of Shan Wu’s experiences with North American films as a child in Taiwan, before she spoke English fluently.

Discover the Longlist

The 2021 longlisted works are a call to action. Collectively, these works cover the biggest themes of our times. Selected from an open call, these pieces draw on both personal and universal narratives. Through a union of the ordinary and the extraordinary, we are reminded of the one thing that binds us together: our humanity. Watch our round-up of all 125 artists.