It’s better not to think of the British Art Show 9 as an exhibition… it’s more of an experience, and an absolutely immersive one at that.
Spread across three floors of Aberdeen Art Gallery, there is something to delight, surprise and even unnerve at almost every turn in this snapshot of some of the best contemporary artists working in the country today.
BAS9 makes its presence felt even as you walk through the doors of the gallery… the familiar pieces in the sculpture court are gone, replaced with new works. Attention is immediately drawn to the back wall with its flashing, neon reworking of a Rodin sculpture, by Simeon Barclay.
That sets the tone of the show, expect the unexpected.
BAS9 is a heady mix of bold room-filling pieces, such as Tai Shani’s Neon Hieroglyph. It’s a gothic funhouse that demands a “wow” when you walk into the room, then leaves you smiling at the trippiness of the piece. The huge vampire hand emerging from a crypt evokes hokey Hammer House of Horror, but without any sense of dread.
Something truly unnerving
If you want something truly unnerving, then take in Joey Holder’s Semelparous. In a dimly lit room, that feels like a subterranean chamber, with uncanny twisted roots, a screen above a random fireplace shows footage of slithering eels, against a dark sonic soundscape.
Then there are the works which demand you take your time to look at them, noticing more and more detail as you do. Florence Peake’s Crude Care is a case in point. Commissioned for Aberdeen Art Gallery as part of BAS9, it’s like a fleshy, organic shrine with a sense of something having exploded from it.
When you learn it was created by the artist and others immersing themselves in clay before being pulled out, you start to see details like a footprint or the impression of a hand.
The piece reflects the theme of British Art Show in its Aberdeen setting, including healing the earth, knowledge and spirituality, and finding non-exploitative ways of living in the world around us.
It’s a theme which crops up time and time again… Elaine Mitchener’s poignant (NAMES II) is a roll-call of the 2,000 enslaved African people owned by an 18th century Jamaican sugar planter, whose family came from Aberdeenshire. He inventoried these people along with his possessions and livestock, replacing their own names with English ones.
Show’s setting in Aberdeen Art Gallery is outstanding
With 33 artists involved, in mediums ranging from film to photography, painting to sculpture, sound to performance, BAS9 is a brilliant grab bag of today’s artists. Some of it is simply stunning, other pieces more challenging, some are quirky, some are just weird. Others are thought-provoking…. you might be put off farmed salmon for life after discovering what Cooking Sections salmon fan actually is.
What is undeniably outstanding is the show’s setting in Aberdeen Art Gallery itself. It’s not squirrelled away on one floor, or contained in a corner. It spreads, organically, through the whole building. A BAS9 room leads into an established gallery – and vice versa – giving the show a sense of belonging to the whole building.
It is also an ingenious way of breaking down those barriers that contemporary art is elitist or incomprehensible and something for other people. It isn’t. It’s for everyone and British Art Show 9 proves that point over and over.
This is a show that you can go back to over and over again and discover something on every visit. And since it’s here for 13 weeks, we in Aberdeen are lucky enough to be able to do that time and time again as the show makes its UK debut here.
For more information visit britishartshow9.co.uk