British Art Show 8: an arty extravaganza

Leeds Art Gallery has metamorphosed into a new cultural venue, temporarily emptying its galleries to host the British Art Show 8. It is a showcase – held every five years – for contemporary art in Britain; this year exhibiting works from forty-two artists deemed to have contributed significantly to the contemporary art scene in the UK. This year, the central theme of the exhibition is that of the relationship between objects – whose purposes are constantly evolving – and both the real and virtual worlds.

Curators Anna Colin and Lydia Yee are behind the choices for this year’s spectacle of modern art. Throughout the gallery there are installations, paintings, films and sculptures: some subtle, some quirky and others utterly bizarre. Last Saturday, the day after the exhibition opened, I ventured into the (relative) unknown and explored the whole exhibition, idiosyncratic installations and all.

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Northern Dancer, Charlotte Prodger

First up: an audio-visual installation, entitled Northern Dancer, by Charlotte Prodger. At first glance, it’s a few old televisions with random words flashing across the screens accompanied by an audio feature; in fact, the words are names of racehorses and the voice-over a narration explaining Gertrude Stein’s decision to remove the word ‘may’ from one of her manuscripts. Admittedly, I never quite grasped what the two seemingly unconnected elements had in common, but it was an interesting installation nevertheless.

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Todo Custo, Caroline Achaintre

A few rooms later, I came face-to-face with Caroline Achaintre’s wall-based textiles, which turned out to be a personal highlight: her abstract mask-like creations are influenced by tribal culture and carnivals. The organisation of yarns in Todo Custo results in the creation of a somewhat disfigured face, a fusion between reality and figurative, imagined representations of the human form.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s contribution, A Convention of Tiny Movements, made for a thought-provoking installation. In it, Abu Hamdan explores the potential for mundane, everyday objects to be used as listening devices, due to the way sound reverberates off the packaging. Somewhat worryingly, his work is by no means a fantasy: it is based on research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and could one day become a reality. Tissue boxes, kitchen foil and many more products besides may prove to have more uses than they were initially invented for . . .

This quinquennial showcase has everything from the incomprehensible (to the uninitiated art viewer, at least) to the impressive and from the playful to the puzzling (and everything in between.) It is an extravaganza of different creative mediums, ingenuity and craftsmanship. No two pieces can be viewed in the same way; equally, no two people will leave with the same impression of the exhibition. Did I mention it’s free?

The British Art Show 8 will be at Leeds Art Gallery until 10 January 2016. It will then tour the country, being shown in Edinburgh, Norwich and Southampton throughout 2016/17. 

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