A Wonderful Travelling Show: British Art Show 8

The quinquennial British Art Show comes back for its eighth outing and this time the emphasis is on new technologies, media and the place of artist responses and craft in a newly interconnected present

Preview by Rosie Priest | 05 Feb 2016

Every five years, the British Art Show promises to provide a glimpse into contemporary art as it is made and exhibited in the UK and beyond. This mammoth exhibition will be hosted by Edinburgh this month, from 13 February. Finishing its run in Leeds Art Gallery, BAS8 will now take over three historic galleries in the capital from February: Inverleith House, The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Talbot Rice Gallery.

In the context of an increasingly complicated internationalisation, with technology changing as rapidly as connectivity grows, BAS8 in its programming makes a clear sign that it’s not afraid to engage with these contemporary and cross cultural themes. According to the curators, in the accompanying catalogue, their selection of new and old work, as well as a handful of special commissions, explores ideas on the object “at a time of increasing convergence between the real and the virtual”.

Much of the work takes as its focus these kinds of virtual realities, artificial intelligence and technological advancements. There is an appreciation and foregrounding of strategies to address the difficulty of artistically responding to subject matter that might demand a certain level of technical expertise. There is an emphasis on new realms of audio visual media while some artists in contrast revisit traditional craft-based skills or industrial techniques as a starting point.

As an example of some of the sublimely crafted works take for instance, Diagrams of Love: Marriage of Eyes. This gun-tufted wool rug was produced – in collaboration with Dovecot Studios – by Lancashire based multimedia artist Linder (aka Linder Sterling). Spiral-cut rug and decorated with imagery drawn from Linder’s photomontages of elements drawn from images of domestic objects, pornography and female forms, Linder describes this work as a shape-shifting ‘21st-century version of a magic carpet.’

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In the context of new media and contemporary ideas of an international connectedness, there is a welcome edging of BAS8 away from being an exhibition of British art, strictly defined. So it is that several UK-born artists who’ve moved abroad are represented, and are offset by 17 of the 42 artists hailing from outside the UK. Speaking of their selection, the curators explain, "We extended our invitation to artists who are neither British nor UK-based, but are meaningfully associated with the UK art scene and have contributed to its vitality."

For one, Ahmet Öğüt, born in Turkey, now lives across several European cities. Öğüt’s work on display is Day After Debt, a UK-centric version of a delicate and truly insightful ongoing project exhibiting a series of money boxes collecting for student debt. This can be understood alongside organiser Anna Colin’s co-founding of the London-based free art school Open School East.

Some of the 42 artists selected for this year’s BAS are already well established in their own right. Think of Ryan Gander, Hayley Tompkins and Ciara Phillips, as well as Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost, among the artists chosen to represent the best of British Art. The curators were obviously not scared to take a risk on several artists exhibiting this year though. For one, Rachel Maclean gives an audacious and provocative exploration of the commercialisation (and sexualisation) of childhood, and a corresponding infantilism in adult behaviour. This is Maclean’s most ambitious and aggressive project to date.

The sentiment of this year's BAS is delightfully mirrored by the work on show, notably of Turner Prize nominee Ciara Phillips, who asserts and encourages the collaborative value in making in all its forms by working with local groups in order to produce printed publications, which are available free at the galleries. This is a very tangible and giving example of the exhibiting principles taken up by the Edinburgh galleries. That’s to say, the importance of the interconnectedness of the arts and how to go about materialising these notions.

British Art Show opens 13 Feb and continues until 8 May in Modern One (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), Talbot Rice and Inverleith House