Fascinating, disappointing, inspiring: prize winning art

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A winner: Airpoort by Damien O'Mara
A winner: Airpoort by Damien O’Mara
Ian ColeYork musician Ian J Cole mulls over the prizewinning artworks at a York exhibition


Before I start let me say that I hate award ceremonies…. I never watch the BAFTAs or Oscars; I record The Brits so I don’t have to listen to the inane rambling of the presenters (James Corden the last two years). In fact this year I managed to watch the whole of the two hours Brits awards show in 24 minutes and the only performance that I liked was Taylor Swift, but that’s another story.

A couple of weeks ago an e-mail arrived for me at YorkMix Towers inviting me to the opening evening of the Aesthetica Art Prize. I think I was invited because they liked what I’d written about the Aesthetica Film Festival last year. I went along with my wife whose job it was to keep me in check and stop me ranting about rubbish art.

On arrival the very friendly staff offered us drinks and there was an opportunity to mingle – something I’m not very good at and as I was there to look at the art that’s what I did… although I did get the feeling that some people were there just to be seen.

The first piece I looked at turned out to be the winner by Damien O’Mara which was two very staged photographs that I was unimpressed by (I clearly can’t pick winners). Now call me cynical but one of O’Mara’s photographs was the cover art for all of the exhibition’s guides and leaflets, so was the award decided before all the artwork went to print or is this just a coincidence?

As I wandered through the crowds trying to get a glimpse of the artworks, I stumbled across three TV’s with chairs and headphones, so I sat down and watched the last minute of a short film called Sutre by Madaleine Trigg which I found fascinating.

Madaleine Trigg is a performance artist and photographer and in Sutre we see her collaborating with costume designers Francisca Rios and Cristina Valls to create an improbable and visually astonishing melting dress, which for me should have won the main prize. Sadly it wasn’t even shortlisted as it was in the Longlisted Artists Film category (whatever that is).

Halfway through watching Sutre the speeches started, which were hampered by a poor quality PA system that rendered it almost impossible to hear what was being said. The speeches were too long for me and I soon went back to watching the Longlisted Artists Films until they were finished.

The student prize went to Poppy Whatmore’s The Family Meal which was described as a ‘subversive deconstruction’ of everyday objects, I quite liked it but felt it was a little derivative of some of the early work of one of my favourite artists Tony Cragg, particularly his piece Axehead.

Poppy Whatmore, The Nostalgic Act Of A Family Meal, 1982-2012
Poppy Whatmore, The Nostalgic Act Of A Family Meal, 1982-2012

Other pieces I particularly liked were by Koren artists Kyunghee Park (Untitled) and Hyung-Gyu Kim (Chromaphone II) both fine pieces of art.

After about an hour I’d had enough of the crowds and I vowed to come back when there were fewer people about. My wife and I were discussing the final piece of the evening Roma: Transylvania (2011). I felt the work reminded me of some fantastic photographs that I’d seen as part of Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union exhibition in the Saatchi Gallery last November 2012 only to find out that Mary Humphrey’s photos were included on the Saatchi gallery website and might have been include in that show.

One of Mary Humphrey's photographs for Roma: Transylvania
One of Mary Humphrey’s photographs for Roma: Transylvania

It was at this point that Mary Humphrey bounced up to us and asked us if we had any questions and what ensured was a lovely exchange about life-changing experiences and how we should all explore what we want to do. Mary described herself as a “grandmother who only started taking photographs ten years ago and was asked by her children why she doesn’t want to just take wedding photos”.

Mary’s response was that she wants to do “what she wants to do” and loves to build relationships with her subjects very quickly, often without the use of language. Her passion for her art shines through her work and my parting comment was for her to “keep doing what you’re doing”.

  • The shortlisted artworks are at York St Mary’s – York Art Gallery’s contemporary art space – until April 28 from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free
  • Organised by Aesthetica Magazine, an international art and culture publication, the art prize is a celebration of excellence in contemporary art from across the world
Ian J Cole
Ian J Cole is a composer, sound designer and producer who splits his time between writing experimental music and being the creative force behind the pop group Katie And The Questions

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