You may have come across artist Ben Brown‘s work through our posts here on ArtAttack, where he also goes by the name of Aloysius Higgin-Bottom. If so, you are probably familiar with the bold tone of his satire, which somehow manages to access serious topics with both sombre reflection and playful regression. Brown, a second year at the Slade School of Fine Art, is currently exhibiting a solo show, ‘Free Beer’ at the Norman Rae Gallery of York University, where curator and gallery Vice-Director Catrin Podgorski is a student. Their team effort has resulted in the presentation of a remarkable and provocative collection of Brown’s work – which is, suffice to say, particularly impressive given they are both still at school.Before the private view, Podgorski expressed her excitement at the prospect of Brown emerging as a fresh face on the York art scene, where many past shows have, in her opinion, been rather limited in scope, lacking an element of accessibility to a wider audience in their self-referencing interiority. I would agree with her profession that in contrast, Brown’s work is part of a discourse that is culturally relevant on a further reaching scale, speaking to a public that is familiar with a life mediated through the violent lenses of media and surveillance – what Guy Debord dubbed the ‘Society of the Spectacle’ in the 1960s. Cardboard CCTV cameras in the corner of the gallery space, along with comic-book speech bubbles shouting ‘Bang! Boom!’ as recurring motifs, poke at these issues.They are childlike not in the sense of poor execution or lack of critical intelligence, but rather in their raw and frank collision with what should be an inherently pessimistic topic. The ‘Boom!’ pop-art style wallpaper in particular, along with the wooden bricks echoing the contents of a child’s bedroom, toy most successfully with concepts of boyhood (the phrase ‘play-fighting’ comes to mind) and growing up in a violent society (as overseen by the portrait of the father-figure, hung so we fondly look up to him – in fact, he is indeed the artist’s father). The photo-collages appropriating 19th century photographs intersect well with the presence of a mounted vintage gas mask, examples of how looking to the past can act as a valid form of negotiation with the seemingly inevitable trajectory of society towards terrible acts of self-destruction. Another nice touch were the limited-editions zines and the booklets of Brown’s poetry.
I am glad to say I did not leave the show with any sense of hopelessness, which many artists dealing with similar subject matter have been known to instill in me. Instead, and I think I can speak for a great majority of the viewers with me at the show’s opening, I was filled with delight and optimism about what art can do in order to come to terms with the great difficulties we are bound to experience as humans.
– Olivia Bladen
‘Free Beer’ is on show at the Norman Rae Gallery, York University until mid-February from 10am-5pm (Entry Free)