Are You Alright?

Are You Alright? New Art from Britain
February 1 – March 24, 2013
MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY CANADIAN ART

James Unsworth, I Think of Demons, 2009.  Image courtesy the artist.

Are You Alright? presents a new generation of British artists questioning Brit pop culture and engages the viewers with familiar icons in unfamiliar contexts to further emphasise the themes of disillusionment and rejection. First encountering James Unsworth’s I Think of Demons, the viewer is immediately introduced to the disgusted yet largely confused sentiment regarding contemporary British society that the artists share and are trying to generate.

Graham Dolphin, Wall (Walk in Silence) (detail), 2012. Courtesy Seventeen, London. David Risley Gallery, Copenhagen.

As the exhibition continues into the next room, the sprawling layout offers the viewer a multitude of sights. From a graffiti inspired wall work Wall (Walk in Silence) to Laura Oldfried Ford’s Transmission from a Discarded Future, ubiquitous media is mixed with abstract imagery and sets the context for the show. Set in a British context already, the large scale nature of the two works also effectively displaces you for a while, making you believe that you’re in Chelsea and not in Toronto.

Laura Oldfield Ford, Heygate Estate 1974/1981/2011/2013 from the series ‘Transmissions From a Discarded Future,’2011 Photocopy on paper, 236 x 168 cm

Another prevailing theme of the show seems to be a rejection of authority and conventions. By questioning contemporary society, the collective pushes the boundaries by using mundane objects such as mops in Harry Burden’s Dirty Fucking Hippies. Burden goes one step further questioning the role of museums in Dirt Painting where he creates an abstract minimalist work on a wall using only the dirt and dust collected from the floor of the MOCCA. This theme is hardly new and instead was quite popular during the prevalence of conceptual art in the 1960s. Furthermore, Michael Snow too referred to this in this recent exhibition Objects of Vision at the AGO where he presented protruding sculptural pieces intruding into the viewers’ space.

Installation view with Harry Burden, Dirty Fucking Hippies, (in front) 2012. Photo: Alice Tallman

One of the works that really stands out to me and encapsulates the entire theme would be Graham Dolphin’s 1500 Images of Kate Moss in 60 Seconds which effectively disillusions the viewer by flashing iconic images of the quintessential symbol of British fashion. The manner in which the viewer tries to grapple with the multitude of images being thrown at their direction is similar to the way in which today’s sensationalist society is constantly evolving and replacing itself. Hence, Dolphin is successful in mirroring the discomfort he feels with the society he lives within.

 Jonathan Baldock, Pierrot, Peregrine Program, Chicago (Installation view), 2011.

Curators Elizabeth Eamer and Derek Mainella also succeed in providing a wide variety of work on display, creating a holistic feel to the exhibition as well as pleasing a wide range of tastes. The different mediums utilised range from cloth work and embroidery seen in Jonathan Baldock’s Pierrot  to bondage inspired assemblages by Caroline Achaintre to the transcendental minimalist inspired oil painting by Boo Saville, who probably possesses a neutral indifferent response to current British society. The entirety of the exhibition comes across intimidating at times and draws you in at other times, further succeeding in presenting and even generating a feeling of ambivalence towards the rest of society. The artist collective invites us into the club, and we’re honoured to join.

Aliya Bhatia

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