‘FreshFaced + WildEyed’ — I knew I was heading to the right place as soon as I heard the name of this latest exhibition opening at The Photographer’s Gallery, the private view of which I was lucky enough to attend last night. As you know, here at ArtAttack we are all about making young artists visible from the get-go, in their early stages of ‘fresh faced’ development, with a view to support them as they are flung into a world that is in too many ways so very overwhelming. It seems TP Gallery has similar interests at heart, because #FFWE2015, like all its predecessors (it’s been running since 2008) features the work of graduates from across the UK, in a sparkling opportunity for deserving but underrepresented talents, who have most likely never been represented by a gallery before. They’re all just out of uni, having finished either a BA or MA in visual arts courses, but their youth shouldn’t hold them back. Because it became clear very quickly that this year’s bunch are full of potential. Sure, some works were better than others, much of it unmistakably student work, but there is something very refreshing in that fact. The best artists are never perfectly polished, really; instead they are those equipped with the tools to change and grow. This is what makes good art schools such fertile environments, because constant reassessment of individual practice will be encouraged in students, rather than them settling on a marketable formula that looks professional but doesn’t do much else.
That is not to say there was no sophistication in the show, however. There are very successful plays on that glossy market side of photography, as in the case of Rebecca Schienberg’s Tohu va Bohu (2011-2015), which borrows from the aesthetics of the commercial. If the formulaic is unavoidable, then perhaps there can be something made of it – Schienberg’s series is so polished it almost slips away entirely, leaving a place for a (somewhat crude, but still important) discussion of consumer culture. It brings to mind the postmodern project of the 80s and 90s by the likes of Richard Prince, with hints of Barbara Kruger’s feminist ‘I Shop Therefore I Am’ critique imbued in the mannequin-like ‘Red Nails’ (2014). The next wall along, but on the other end of the scale of female representation, is Francesca Jane Allen’s ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’ (2011-2015), documenting exactly that – girls, girls, girls, in all their diversity. They are different sizes, shapes and colours, but all Allen’s girls share something in common: both the burden and the pleasure of adolescence. She charts this complicated period of transition lovingly, rather than with a cold archival eye. But up to the next floor, we are with Joceyln Allen’s ‘Covering the Carpet’ (2014), where the camera takes a rather crueler position in forcing the female subject to contort into almost impossible positions of increasing absurdity in order to conceal her pubic hair. It chillingly reminds me of some kind of exorcism, or 19th-century neurologist Jean Martin-Charcot’s photographs of so-called ‘hysterical episodes’ in female patients.
The amount of works focusing on gender is not surprising, given these are graduating students, but it is not the only theme dealt with. It is just one issue highlighted in a greater discussion of freedom. Another example: are faith and religion about pure freedom, or, as in Dominic Hawgood‘s ‘Rise up if you are Free’ (2014), which looks at merchandising techniques used to sell faith, is there an element of the commercial even in this ideal?
But I found the most successful exploration of freedom was the work of Aida Silvestri, who even outside of this exhibition is already making waves in the art world with her ‘Even This Will Pass’ series, wherein she carefully charts the journeys and stories of Eritrean refugees to the UK. Her work balances the aesthetic and the political with incredible subtlety. The blurred effect that creates a romantic suggestion of longing in her subjects, by rendering them faceless, is also completely practical in protecting their identity. And the delicate threads, in the shape their journey takes when charted on a map, also resembles the most heartbreaking of battle-scars. But although they are faceless and scarred, these are still individuals with a voice, as their stories are printed on labels next to them. They read as poems, but are still unmistakably harsh truths.
I walked away from the private view blown away by Silvestri in particular, breathless in my excitement to chart the rest of her career, but the same goes for all these artists, fresh faced and wild eyed indeed. Here’s to their future.
– Olivia Bladen
‘FreshFaced + WildEyed‘ is on show at The Photographer’s Gallery from today, 16 June – 5 July 2015; 6-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW; Admission: FREE