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Bloomberg New Contemporaries

16 October 15 words: Mark Patterson
Nottingham? The UK's visual arts capital? Find out why we're being put on the map, thanks to a bunch of young, local artists
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photo: Bloomberg New Contemporaries

A young woman, naked and alone, dangling from a tree branch in the countryside, one foot caught in a knotted rope, calls out for help in increasing desperation and panic. A giant, twisted column of inflated camouflage sways in the breeze above the rooftops of Ilkeston Road. Three drunk South Koreans in a hotel room fling insults at Britons and the history of British colonialism in Asia. ‘’You drink tea which comes from China and then you use drugs to take over China,” says one to the camera. “Fucking cum dumpsters.”

All this and much more can be seen at the BNC art exhibition, spread across three independent galleries: Backlit, One Thoresby Street and Primary. An annual showcase for the work of young artists – and so offering an insight into current practices and concerns – BNC has been going since 1949 and has featured many artists who have since achieved high profiles. David Hockney was in the 1960 show, Anish Kapoor in 1977, Damien Hirst appeared in 1989 and Simon Starling was selected for the 1994 exhibition. And it is as a selector for this year’s show that Starling has returned to BNC, and to Nottingham.

Starling studied art at the old Trent Poly between 1987 and 1990 before going on to give the world one of the more memorable Turner Prize winners of the last twenty years. This was shedboatshed – a wooden shed which he took to bits and turned into a boat. Starling then sailed the boat down the Rhine before turning it back into a shed and it was in the latter incarnation that he exhibited the thing and won the Turner Prize in 2005. As a BNC selector, Starling and two colleagues, Jessie Flood-Paddock and Hurvin Anderson, have been tasked with selecting around forty artworks from 1,600 submissions, most of them by recent graduates of Britain’s art schools. The result is an exotic and intriguing mix of gender- and identity-based art, abstract painting, fine art photography, mad sculpture, literary adaptation and some items which are in a world of their own.

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The three galleries hosting the show – Backlit, One Thoresby Street and Primary, working together as the New Midland Group consortium – have risen to the occasion and were all freshly white-walled and generally spruced up for this month’s opening. But why, in 2015, has BNC finally decided to come to Nottingham? LeftLion asked Simon Starling that very question. “Due to an ongoing and largely grassroots development of infrastructure for the visual arts, culminating in the extraordinary recent success of Nottingham Contemporary, the city has established itself as provisional ‘capital’ for the visual arts in Britain,” he says. “It now has a long history as a place that nurtures young artists and as such, seems a very natural first venue for this year’s New Contemporaries.”

So there we are: Nottingham is now the UK’s visual arts capital. You heard it here first.

But what, we wondered, does the art in this year's BNC shows tell us about art and artists in Britain generally? What themes and trends can be discerned? “What you realise when you select the BNC is the incredible range of approaches that are taken by young graduates. And while there is a range of work among the selected few, it is of course a small slice of what’s out there. It doesn’t seem like there are any radically new trends on show, however it’s clear that emerging technologies are increasingly impacting on the way artists make work, particularly in the realm of moving image. Having said that, the more traditional modes of making remain popular among young artists.”

When was Starling last in Nottingham and what does he remember, good and bad, about art and making art in Nottingham? “I actually returned to Nottingham very recently to start work on a major solo exhibition that will open at Nottingham Contemporary in March next year. After winning the Turner Prize in 2005, I was invited back to the city to receive the Alumni of the Year award. That was also an occasion to reflect on the highs and lows of my education in Nottingham. At the award ceremony, I remember talking largely about the importance of my fellow students to my development as an artist. I still have a few friends and colleagues who I met in Nottingham 28 years ago, but I’m also just as marked by many I no longer see. The diversity of my fellow students was hugely important to me. Things started to open up for me in Nottingham.”

Matt Chesney, artistic director of Backlit, told LeftLion, “Hosting BNC is absolutely fantastic, not just for Nottingham to be the focus of national attention, but to join the roster of venues which have hosted New Contemporaries after 66 years. It feels right that Nottingham should have this; the time is right and we’ve got the right venues.”

By the way, even if you’ve already visited the three exhibitions, Backlit is offering a good reason to return. For the event’s closer artist Gillian Wearing, herself a past New Contemporaries exhibitor, will be at Backlit on Saturday 31 October at 6.30pm for an art-karaoke event called Shy Convention.

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Hanging in the Woods, Hilde Krohn Huse: a young woman, alone and naked, exercises using ropes strung from a tree branch. When it all goes wrong, we are witness to an excruciating, genuine display of discomfort and rising panic. Huse’s eleven-minute film is already the best-known item in this year’s show due to international press attention, but it remains a singular and unforgettable film.

Boulder Mountain etc, Tim Simmons: photographs of a small desert and rocky landscapes in north America, but so artfully lit they look artificial.

Man for a Day etc, Many Niewohner: gender issues are to the fore in two videos in which the female artist aspires to become ‘Gareth’ and attends a ‘Man for the Day’ event which includes having a beard.

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One Thoresby Street
Allie May Burroughs, wife of cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama, Julia Curtin: combining modern photographic techniques with an olde time icon of poverty – a simple dress – from the depression of the thirties.

Angry Hotel, Juntae TJ. Hwang: three South Koreans, all wearing camouflage in a hotel room, drink, smoke, swear and insult the west.

Excerpts from Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library, Scott Lyman: sensitive dramatisation of several scenes from the Booker Prize-shortlisted gay novel which makes you wonder if there is a completed film out there...

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Column, Andrei Costache: a tall column of camouflage fabric, tethered to the ground outside like a phallic barrage balloon straining at the leash. If there is such a thing.

You get me down etc, Conor Rogers: three small exquisite paintings of real life on a beer mat, fag packet and crumpled paper.

Umbrella Relief, Sophie Giller: bright umbrellas, compressed into bright 3D squares.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries runs until Saturday 31 October 2015.

Bloomberg New Contemporaries website

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