exploring art and writing

The British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet.

In Exhibition, Fine Arts on December 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

It looks like I’m not the only one who’s had thoughts of time on the brain recently. The British Art Show 7 (BAS7) also seemed to be concerned with the ticking clock. In this instance, however, the artists and curators were not just observing the linear passage of time but were considering it from all angles. Hence why they borrowed H. G. Wells’ title In the Days of the Comet for the show’s subtitle, as one of the two curators, Lisa Le Feuvre, explains in her essay Present Tense:

“BAS7 uses the motif of the comet to locate artists’ responses to our own uncertain and inconclusive times. Due to their looping, recurrent nature, comets are simultaneously of the past, present and future.”*

So in the BAS7 we are faced with art that addresses the future and the past whilst simultaneously confronting and existing in the present. Yikes.

Mick Peter, 'Moldenke Fiddles On' 2008-2009 © Mick Peter, Courtesy the Artist and Galerie Crèvecoeur

BAS7 is the most enjoyable and thought-provoking exhibition that I’ve seen in a good while. I caught it on its final day in Plymouth, where it was pleasantly spread between five venues: The Slaughterhouse, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth Arts Centre, the Peninsula Arts Gallery and Plymouth College of Art. Consisting of 39 artists and artist groups, it has been held every five years since the first BAS in 1979, with each exhibition touring to various cities throughout the UK. The artists were all British or based in Britain, and the variety of work on display was vast; it consisted of sculpture, painting, film and video, sound, installation, performance and drawing, plus all the bits in-between.

Sarah Lucas, 'NUDS' © Sarah Lucas, Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles

There was a smattering of familiar names in BAS7. Charles Avery, Roger Hiorns, Sarah Lucas, Nathaniel Mellors and Wolfgang Tillmans to name but a few. I was unfamiliar with many of the artists (guilty as charged) but was particularly impressed by many of them. Elizabeth Price’s comically philosophical video overlaid with Ah-Ha’s Take On Me, Varda Caivano’s abstract paintings, David Nooman’s astonishing tapestry, Alasdair Gray’s bold drawings and Maaike Schoorel’s ghostly portaits; I could go on, and this isn’t even naming the artworks that really drew me in. I’m still contemplating those.

Alasdair Gray, 'Andrew Gray aged 7 and Inge's Patchwork Quilt' 2009 © Alasdair Gray, Courtesy the artist and Sorcha Dallas

BAS7 was certainly a lot to take in. I suppose that’s where the success of an exhibition such as this lies: in its variety. A show of this magnitude is going to contain art that causes you to recoil in horror, disgust or even worse, boredom and indifference. But there’ll also be work that entices and excites you, that hooks and reels you in. If you got the chance to experience the British Art Show 7, I hope it did both of these things. It’s way more fun if you see both sides of the coin.

Visit the British Art Show 7 website for more information and artist links.

*Page 21, British Art Show 7 Exhibition Catalogue, Hayward Publishing 2011

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