The recently opened British Art Show 7 boasts the best and the brightest of Britain’s contemporary artists from the past five years. The exhibition is loosely arranged by the motif of a ‘comet’, encouraging viewers to observe a sense of change, flux, and motion that resonates throughout the pieces.
At times, both the individual works and the collection as a whole can be overwhelming; an erratic, disorientating attack on the senses. A large solemn bell clangs overhead at long, unexplained intervals, and strobe lights flash to the penetrating, sawing rhythm of a scratching vinyl in Haroon Mirza’s multi-media installation, a tightly wound pop culture melee of Samuel Beckett and Joy Division.
Anja Kirschner and David Panos’s exploration of Brechtian theatre in The Empty Plan is similarly literary, presenting three different rehearsals of Brecht’s 1930 work The Mother. Their work questions the essence, method and meaning of artistic endeavor.
In Nathanial Mellor’s Ourhouse, a Kafkaesque satirical film saga plays out in conjunction with an uncanny animatronic head, ceaselessly spewing blue pulp. The work is both primal and corporeal in its ability to provoke feelings of sickness and bodily discomfort, but also self-consciously complex in its literary references.
Another film highlight, Elizabeth Price’s User Disco, is wry and kitsch. Household objects gyrate seductively to a bass-heavy remix of A-ha’s Take On Me, while fragments of
text from earnest corporate presentations complete this tongue-in-cheek homage to
The artists in the collection continually play with both the medium and the audience. Charles Avery and Olivia Plender’s separate works construct fantasy worlds and
subjects, be it by meticulously describing fictional islands, or by giving ‘found’ object
retrospectives of fictional ‘little known’ film-makers.
Throughout the show there is an element of trickery: to what extent are the artists reveling in the artifice of art, and its tendency to steal from other creations? How does this direct art’s role in society? The period of flux is apparent. Contemporary art is so much larger than its own medium. Complexly self-critical, the British Art Show 7 presents a symphony of sight and sound, in which doubt and comedy combine in a dissection of modern life.
British Art Show 7 runs at the Hayward Gallery until 17 April. Tickets are £8 (adults), £6 (concessions).
By Leah Cowan