RSA New Contemporaries: It's Always the Quiet Ones

Undaunted by life outside the institution, last year's art graduates are boldly tackling everything from state control and religious dogma to the secret lives of aubergines. We report back from the RSA's New Contemporaries

Feature by Kate Andrews | 01 May 2013

One could be forgiven for assuming that emerging into a turbulent artworld rife with under-employment and plummeting levels of governmental support might be somewhat demoralizing; however, a year down the line from degree shows, these artists seem fairly unscathed.

This year’s New Contemporaries sees the sinister sides to corporate life, the military, and religious dogma all carefully dissected with a skeptical wit and verve. Notions of shifting landscapes, cultural heritage and environmental design are explored with intelligence. The whole shebang is dutifully garnished with a healthy attitude to a crappy state of affairs.

Amid the clamouring of the sacred and the profane, three outstanding works of formal sculpture by Tim Sandys act as silent sentinels. The wall-mounted hulks of velveteen rust, sandwiched wood and cakey, smeared grease evince a rigorous understanding of medium and a lightness of touch which unsettles their mass.

In a nearby space, The Skinny Award winner Alexander Millar riffs on Neoclassical motifs borrowed from his backdrop, using a gallery bench as a prop, form and pattern echo throughout his quirky tableau. His pared-back use of material is reminiscent of Claire Barclay, but the shrivelled, pregnant forms of aubergines assert themselves as his own, articulating a certain faded-grandeur as hoops of colour bleed from their form like a failed chromatography experiment.

The moody printmaking of Amy Gear resonates with a soulful ‘Northern’ authenticity, reflecting on landscape and the weight of ancestral responsibility. Densely textured and stitched drawings support an enormous ‘eclipse’ of velvety-thick rubbed-paper created especially for – and successfully dominating – a high-walled room in the upper galleries.

Likewise striking and technically masterful are Ibraheem Adeyemi Adesina’s monochrome etching/linocuts, which ruminate on an ancient world colonised by the creeping shadows of intensive farming and energy-harvesting. Scottish wildstock mingle freely with those of the African plains in a stark culture-clash landscape peppered with oilrigs, turbines and solar panels, like Donald Trump’s feverish nightmares.

A pleasing exception to the relative scarcity of time-based media in this year’s show, Nick Thomas presents us with an impressively succinct installation, evoking the eerie half-seen presence of military technology with a Heath Robinson-esque charm. A whirling ‘wireless’ emitting the tinny drama of Classic FM underscores our placid acquiescence to surveillance and control.

In the ‘library’, Theresa Moerman Ib speaks softly of memory and redundance; the precarious balance between our material and personal lives. By her hand, obsolete audio tapes are spun into new strings for a sad old guitar and the artists’ own teardrops are preserved: a salty tribute of banal pathos.

It’s not all doleful downstairs: Sarah Louise Alexander gets all jazz-hands on us with a playful deliberation on the nature of entertainment, expectation and coercion: one leaves her spangly labyrinth feeling manipulated yet distracted by the Wonder Woman-esque gold ribbon which is yours to take away – hooray!

Glitter-magpies may be equally drawn to orifice-fond Laura Duncan’s reprise of Courbet’s erotic masterwork L'Origine du mondewomankind is vajazzled towards empowerment through unabashed human sexuality. Finally, we are invited to enter another space beyond the typical reach of sunshine in Liam McLaughlin’s Bucklemaker Court, a thoughtfully-constructed blackout chamber which houses a delicate meditation on ‘communal isolation’ within the decaying relics of social housing.

It is important to remember that this exhibition is not only a showcase but a barometer for the state of art, politics, and discourse in Scotland. If the pervasive mood of anxiety and cynicism are symptomatic of these difficult times, then New Contemporaries may also represent its antidote: a cohort of confident emergent artists, ready to tackle difficult subjects with a pithy wit and an often masterful handling of material.