Young People Today [2011 Edition]

Reviews Mar 16, 2012 1 Comment

Sharne Wolff pays a visit to Artexpress and wonders how students find time to make inspiring art with all the pressures of sleeping, eating and updating Facebook…

After eighteen months off being a twice-in-a-row Year 12 parent I can now almost say the acronym ‘HSC’ without feeling sick or like I should be the one applying for ‘Special Provisions’. The NSW Board of Studies insists on having their cake (three sets of exams) and eating every slice of it as well (assessment after gruelling assessment). It beats me how anyone can produce anything inspiring within the constraints of an HSC year but the 46 works in ArtExpress by the Class of 2011 – currently on display at the Art Gallery of NSW – have defied the odds.

Alexandra Gech, Evolution?, 2011.

As is often the case with ArtExpress, there’s a diverse array of works in this show but several common themes. In 2012 those that dominate include the natural environment, personal identity, place, time & memory and cross cultural issues. Some works sit lightly in the Gallery space while others proclaim their presence with a ‘look at me’ attitude. One of the quieter pieces is Alexandra Grech’s ‘Evolution’, comprising five small drawings on paper. Grech has paired diagrammatic pen drawings of sea creatures with a watercolour version of the resulting species and coined a Latin name for each ‘post -evolution’. The drawings look as though they could appear in the pages of a scientific text. Aesthetically beautiful the results are actually horrifying and include the Pisculus soya, a fish that has evolved with the lid of a soy sauce bottle as a mouth and the Hapalochlaena tentacapulus, an octopus whose circular suckers have been replaced with bottle caps. Katherine Stephens and Alexander Martinoli also ask us to consider global destruction of the natural environment with their respective works, ‘Flatpack revolution’ and ‘Environmental numerics’.

Joe Denyer-Simmons, Street Dreams, 2011.

Several artists contemplated ‘ordinary moments’ including Astrid Milne with ‘Route E68 day by boring day’ and Madison Mitchell Intertwined’ who examined different ideas inspired by their bus rides to school. Although Joe Denyer-Simmons has obviously relied in part on Shaun Gladwell’s ‘Storm Sequence’ video for the idea behind his ‘Street dreams’ video, his work presents a soft and thoughtful contemplation on the innocence of youth and country life in his hometown. Set to an acoustic version of ‘Mad World’, the historic buildings of Bathurst also play an important role in the video as Denyer-Simmons films his subjects as each is projected onto a building in street-art style and with the use of light and dark wonderfully captures a mood that leans more towards hope than despair.

Anna Zhong, Healthy Living, 2011.

The latter thought is more in my mind after viewing Anna Zhong’s deliciously seductive paintings with tempting treats covering each canvas in the ‘Healthy living’ series. Pancakes ooze with honey while pastries drown in cream and fruit glistens with sugar. Despite the initial attraction of the subject matter through the use of bright colours and gooey, textural layers of paint – this pleasing appearance disguises the artist’s underlying intention to make comment on a society riddled with diabetes, eating diseases and the threat of excessive consumption. Also contemplating the idea of consumption is Angela Zhang in ‘Are we sitting too comfortably?’. The title is wordplay for Zhang’s work, which via her painting on dinner plates and embroidery on table linen examines the unfair treatment of animals farmed for food.

The third in this ‘series’ of Z surnames, Jason Zhao has dared to comment on the state of art itself through his consideration of the crass side of the commercial art world. Zhao’s tacky landscape paintings are overlaid with perspex and advertising material including barcodes, ‘best before’ dates and lists of ingredients of the kind usually found on consumer goods. In this case the list includes red green blue white and black acrylic paint. But what, asks Zhao, is the colour of money?

McLaren Wall, Pressing Questions, 2011.

Did you get my email? Why should you be nice to your enemies? How many times to I have to tell you to clean your room? Not more questions…you say! Any parent with a two year old will appreciate ‘Pressing questions’ – a text-based work by Maclaren Wall made up of hundreds of questions in white on black Dymo tape which completely cover a large piece of board and are accompanied by a video work. Although many artists from Rosalie Gasgoine to Vernon Ah Kee and Tom Polo have used text in their work, the Dymo tape and the use of questions means Wall’s work novel. The tape provides both a vintage look and a shimmer effect. Using photographs of Barack Obama, Elton John and Mark Zuckerburg, Christopher Fiorini has also used text to effect in his piece ‘…a thousand words’.

Georgia McGlennon and Alyssa Flavell have also both been selected in this show for their photographic work. McGlennon’s work, for me reminiscent of the Russian artist collective AES+F, skilfully blends the classic form of the Renaissance with fashion, youth and contemporary culture while Flavell captures layers of movement to explore ‘the shifting state between dreams and reality’ with her ‘Cocoon’ series of photographs.

Although it’s impossible to mention every work in this space, each work in this exhibition provides a fresh perspective on our world through young minds and eyes and for that reason alone it has to be worth popping your head upstairs if you’re otherwise off to the Art Gallery of NSW to see Picasso or the Archibald Prize. You just never know if you might be viewing one of the first works from the Archibald Prize winner of 2020.

ArtExpress 2012
Art Gallery of NSW
Until 22 April.

Sharne Wolff

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