Aesthetica Art Prize 2015
“If we don’t value Contemporary Art, what do we have?”
…asks York St John’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Fiona Thompson, who was among many to support Aesthetica Magazine’s 2015 art exhibition and award ceremony. The exhibition, held inside St Mary’s Church in York, displayed the contemporary artwork of Aesthetica’s eight international finalists. The finalist’s work, exhibited inside the church through digital means as well as in more traditional forms, all touched on various themes: the effects of technology, social media and the place of it in our daily lives, human emotion, individualism, consumerism, globalisation and urban culture. As Cherie Federico, Aesthetica’s Editor, said in her speech, the art in the room aims to bring these “global debates to our attention”.
Aesthetica Magazine, founded in 2003 and based in York itself, is exported to twenty countries and most major art galleries around the world. They are an art and culture magazine, interested in photography, critical debate and stimulating visual features. They believe in celebrating contemporary artists in order to preserve their value. In light of this, among other festivals and events they host, they created the Aesthetica art exhibition and award ceremony to honour and award international artists. This year’s competition received three thousand entries from sixty counties, of which a hundred were shortlisted. The eight chosen finalists were given the chance to exhibit in York’s contemporary art space. There was one overall winner and one student winner, both whom were awarded editorial coverage in Aesthetica magazine, and a cash prize (£5000 and £1000 for the student).
The exhibition allowed for interaction with the eight finalists work before the winners were announced.
Some of the finalists were even seen spending time speaking to members of the public about their inspiration and competition experience.
The displayed artwork was hugely varied, thought-provoking, and was produced by people with a range of backgrounds. Even more so, there was an interesting range in mediums used, such as photography and digital imagery, three dimensional design and sculpture, painting, drawing, video installation and performance. When asked what the Lord Mayor of York thought of the event, he said it displayed a “wonderful diversity of artists’ work… Much thought had gone into the displays and the lighting…” Bruce Aitken, a former YSJ student, who was long-listed, commented on how the reason for entering the competition was the possibility to be exhibit in St Mary’s majestic space.
Aesthetica magazine has many ties with York St John University, who both aim to maintain contemporary art’s value within the community. Aesthetica’s very own editor is a former YSJ student, along with long-listed Bruce Aitken. Of YSJU’s influence on his artistic vision, Aitken said that the university allowed him the freedoms to explore his ideas outside of taught curricula, which fostered his creative independence.
There were four categories within the award each with two finalists.
Firstly, from the Video, Installation & Performance category was Vera Drebusch, whose work The Preservation and Chocolates, was one of the most abstract of the night. Drebusch’s work aimed to question political conflicts and international law through the display of jam jars and chocolates, touching on consumerism and geopolitics.
Matthew Parker with The Cloud is More Than Air and Water, in contrast to Drebusch’s installation, focused on the video installation aspect of the category to produce something completely different. His work touched upon the very modern subject of our digital selves. Through his investigation of relationship between sound and space, he aimed to examine our relationship with technology and ‘The Cloud’.
Using photography and digital art, Marcus Lyon’s Exodus depicted the resilience of humanity at the edge of existence. From visiting the slums of the developing world, Lyon tried to examine universal human behaviour within changing environments. Julian Day’s sculpture Requiem created a sensory drone field through audio and static rods, where ‘sound defines itself against the rigidity of architecture’.
Similarly, Owen Waterhouse also exhibited a sculpture titled Mobius 1.00, influenced by virtual environments and the exploration of pattern. Inspired by the interconnected universe of natural and man-made systems, Saliha Elhoussaini used thread and tracing paper to create a symbolic relationship between the front and reverse of her pieces. Her work, Interdependence, illuminates the relationship between simplicity and complexity.
(All of these pieces can be found on the Aesthetica website)
Suzanne Mooney, the student winner of the night, from the photography and digital category, aimed to comment on urban culture through her use of panoramic images of urban skylines. Mooney was “thrilled to win” and also surprised. She was unsure how the piece was going to be received out of context, since her artwork had not previously left Japan. However, it was arguably the most relatable art installation of the night. The piece is thought-provoking and engagingly interactive. Mooney explained the process of making one of her pieces; she printed the skyline onto opaque-like material, one side included her own silhouette and the other was left blank. She was overjoyed to see that people were trying to interact with the piece, by standing behind it in order to project themselves into the skyline. This demonstrated how successful her piece was in making art which is playful, engaging and thought provoking and typified the whole event.