|Sheela Gowda, of all people, installation view at Rivington Place, Iniva, 2011|
Artes Mundi is an international art prize - it is the UK's biggest art prize, but receives notably less media attention than the Turner Prize which has opened in the same week (see below).
The exhibition presents the work of 7 artists who explore social themes, telling stories of lived experience. The artists are: Miriam Bäckström (Sweden), Tania Bruguera (Cuba), Phil Collins (England), Sheela Gowda (India), Teresa Margolles (Mexico), Darius Mikšys (Lithuania) and Apolonija Šušteršič (Slovenia). Examples of their work appear below with brief biographies and descriptions of work taken from the National Museum website. The winner will be announced on 29 November. Read article by Mark Brown.
Miriam Bäckström (Sweden)
Miriam Bäckström (born 1967) emerged as a conceptual photographer in the 1990’s, and is best known for her images of empty interiors which tell a story in the absence of the individual. Bäckström’s ongoing interests explore how history is told, and processes of creating and recreating memory using photography, text, theatre and video.
Many of Bäckström’s more recent works explore the documentary and the fictional, interweaving narratives that create new and uncertain realities and identities. She recently worked on a yearlong project with one of her students who assumed the role of the character ‘Miriam Bäckström’. This character performed public duties on behalf of the artist, selected the work for a retrospective of Bäckström’s work, all the while being the subject of a documentary made by the artist. In 2005 she represented Sweden at the Venice Biennale and collaborated with artist Carsten Höller.
Bäckström has increasingly turned to the moving image, theatre, and performance, working with actor-collaborators to script and shoot videos that expose the often confounding symbioses of fact and fiction, subjectivity and assumed persona.
(See article by Ronald Jones in Frieze)
Tania Bruguera (Cuba)
Since the late 1990’s Tania Bruguera’s artistic practice has often reflected back on the social, cultural and economic experience of being Cuban. Through an interdisciplinary practice spanning installation, social intervention and most prominently performance, Bruguera explores the role art can play in daily political life, bringing light to the individual’s understanding of self as part of a collective historical and contemporary social memory. Bruguera’s actions encourage viewers to rethink and question notions of fear, vulnerability, empowerment, self-determination and freedom, as well as submission and obedience as social survival strategies.
At the core of Bruguera’s practice is a collaborative impulse that opens up the possibilities made available to her to be shared by others. In 2003 she founded the alternative art school Cátedra Arte de Conducta (Art of Behaviour) in Havana to channel technological and intellectual resources unavailable in Cuba to emerging Cuban artists. This has been crucial in the development of a generation of Cuban artists now starting to show internationally. From 2010-15 Bruguera is focusing on her long-term project Immigrant Movement International, based in Queens, NY, which seeks to redefine the immigrant as a global citizen and stimulate artists to create work that can be actively implemented into social, political, and scientific issues. Bruguera recently presented Immigrant Movement International in The Tanks, Tate Modern, 30th July – 15th August 2012.
Phil Collins (England)
Informed by the visual traditions of cinema and television, Phil Collins’ diverse practice is based on close engagement with place and community. A comparison to documentary is recurrently made in regard to Collins’ work, which is instructive more in terms of discrepancies rather than analogies. In counterbalance to the documentary’s claim to ‘objectivity’ and ‘truth’, in Collins’ hands the camera itself acquires a form of subjectivity. It acts as an agent both of emancipation and exploitation, desire and betrayal. Ranging from a disco-dance marathon and a soap-influenced melodrama, to castings, karaoke sessions and press conferences, Collins’ works often provide a platform for the disregarded and the overlooked. Dissecting the political and aesthetic implications of popular visual formats, they indicate that the meaning of a picture-be it still or moving-resides neither in its form nor its subject-matter, but in the transferences it establishes between the producer, the subject and the viewer.
Collins was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2006.
Sheela Gowda (India)
For Sheela Gowda the social and cultural reality of India has formed the basis of her practice. Initially trained as a painter, since the 1990’s she has increasingly developed a sculptural and installation practice that explores how materials can make specific reference to the social and cultural context of India.
Gowda’s use of unconventional materials is a highly evocative element of her practice, where the tactile qualities of thread, hair, traditional dyes, pattern and weaving, bring the viewer’s attention to a meaning that transposes these elements into social objects and practices located within a network of production and distribution, framed in relation to India’s socio-political legacy.
Her work is both sensual and unsettling, conjuring some of the darkest aspects of human experience, where poetically invested materials evoke what the artist refers to as “the insidious nature of violence, overt and inside us in our psychic makeup”. Gowda’s ongoing inquiry into the political and social intricacies of India, traditions of labour, inequity and oppression, creates a richness of meaning woven into a fabric of strength and reclaimed identity.
(See article by Zehra Jumbahoy in Frieze and profile by Skye Sherwin)
Teresa Margolles (Mexico)
Teresa Margolles’ work focuses on the collective turmoil of the Northern Mexican social experience where drug-related organized crime has resulted in widespread violence and murder. Anonymous traces of past lives, burial and memory are drawn together in her practice. Since graduating with a diploma in forensic medicine in the late 1990’s, Margolles has examined the economy of death, whereby the morgue and dissecting room bear witness to social unrest.
For Margolles, sculptural installations and performance bring the physical reality, and materiality, of death to the fore. Typically activating the blind spots of our imagination, Margolles collapses the distinction between art and reality, as in her work for the Venice Biennale in 2009 where the floor of the exhibition space was mopped continuously with water from a morgue in Mexico. By means of artistic intervention, Margolles brings attention uncharacteristically close to our understanding and relationship with death.
(See article by Amanda Coulson in Frieze)
Darius Mikšys (Lithuania)
For Darius Mikšys the recontextualization of events, experiences, and histories into unstable narratives has taken a central role since the late 1990’s. For Mikšys, installations provide the opportunity to experiment, conceptualise, and re-imagine processes of making, displaying and engaging with art.
Social networks take on new forms within the framework of Mikšys’ curatorial interventions; as founder of the first Lithuanian cricket club Mikšys has built a reputation for introducing social networks, and through various Artists Parents Meetings he has approached and interacted with a wider community of parents of artists in a hybrid form of performance, therapy, and collective experience.
For the 54th Venice Biennale, Mikšys invited all Lithuanian artists who had received European grants to submit a work to his project Behind the White Curtain, 2011. Visitors were able to select from these works, enabling them to create their own displays of Lithuanian art, resulting in a continuously changing narrative of collective identity. Within the context of previous works we can understand Mikšys’ practice as one of re-inventing notions of representation, in terms of the deconstruction of concrete narratives.
Apolonija Šušteršič (Slovenia)
Artist and architect Apolonija Šušteršič has focused on the social aspects of living environments manifested in art as well as architectural contexts since the 1990’s. Her cross-disciplinary approach to creating works within urban environments leads to a socially engaged practice that brings together artists and architects, critics and curators that goes beyond art and architecture, and takes the form of everyday life.
Typically, Šušteršič’s broad ranging interest starts with a phenomenological study of space and continues its investigation into the social and political nature of our living environment. Her critical analysis of space usually focuses on the processes and relationships between institutions, cultural politics, urban planning and architecture. Situated somewhere between art and public services, Šušteršič’s practice creates and integrates communities of users who develop scenarios of alternatives and spaces for hope.