Magazine article Art Monthly

New Contemporaries 2011

Magazine article Art Monthly

New Contemporaries 2011

Article excerpt

Site Gallery & S1 Artspace Sheffield 23 September to 5 November

In his 2009 essay 'What Is the Contemporary?', Giorgio Agamben wrestles with the abstract notion of 'the contemporary' by personifying it as 'one who, dividing and interpolating time, is capable of transforming it and putting it in relation with other times. He is able to read history in unforeseen ways, to "cite it" according to a necessity that does not arise in any way from his will, but from an exigency to which he cannot not respond.' This idea--that contemporaneity is, above all else, an inescapable, compulsive need to re-examine the past--is much in evidence at this year's 'New Contemporaries'. Hyewon Kwon's video Untitled #1 (from the series Eight Men Lived in the Room), 2010, combines eight different news stories featuring the same workers' boarding house in South Korea, spanning its 38-year history. Each individual narrative is recounted with the type of stentorian voice-over and melodramatic soundtrack that you would expect from government-approved newsreels, but the only visual evidence to back the veracity of the eight episodes is a single loop of grainy black-and-white footage that is repeated throughout. It is now a long-standing truism of media studies that news organisations seamlessly gloss subjective interpretations until they have the sheen of objective reporting, but this doesn't prevent Kwon's nimble demonstration of this fact being satisfying to behold.

Like Kwon's Untitled #1, Ian Marshall's Berkeley Blooms, 2011, shows that context is king. Using footage of violence sourced from both news reporting and cinema, Marshall isolates individual explosions and artfully choreographs them into pleasingly symmetric salvoes. The result is an uncomfortable beauty, a hellish cacophony of destruction that is misleadingly presented as devoid of consequence. Yelena Popova's UNNAMED, 2011, on the other hand, reveals the legacy of past conflicts in a ten-minute video centred on a secretive Russian town for nuclear research created in the Soviet era. Being segregated from the rest of society by a military force that patrolled its borders, Popova recounts how a devastating radioactive explosion was effectively hidden from the wider world for almost a generation (although it isn't explicitly stated, Popova is presumably referring to the town of Ozyorsk and the Kyshtym disaster of 1957). Combining old cine-camera footage, vintage newsreels and recently recorded video of the town, Popova muses on the degree to which history informs an individual's sense of self, even when that history has been suppressed and denied for so long.

Given that 'New Contemporaries' is selected from artists who have recently graduated, or who will soon graduate, from UK art schools, anyone who has visited a university degree show won't be too surprised to hear that humour is very much in evidence. Jessica Sarah Rinland's Nulepsy, 2010, is a wry, beautifully shot 16mm film in which an elderly man recalls a lifetime spent suffering from a--presumably, hopefully!--fictitious affliction that impels him to intermittently lose consciousness and franticly strip off all his clothing (summarised in the neologistic title as a combination of nudism and narcolepsy). The narrator is shown as a young man disrobing in a greenhouse, the family garden and a stream, while also revealing that one of his past girlfriends used his condition as an excuse to indulge her own fantasy of naked exhibitionism. …

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