Originating at Sheffield’s Mappin Art Gallery in 1979, the quinquennial British Art Show has now reached its eighth edition and is returning to Yorkshire for its launch. The first segment of the biggest touring show of contemporary art in the UK is being hosted in its entirety at Leeds Art Gallery.
British Art Show 8, which will go on to only a further three cities – Edinburgh, Norwich and Southampton – in 2016 is curated jointly by Lydia Yee of Whitechapel Art Gallery and freelance curator Anna Colin. With no set process and a fairly flexible brief, the outline of each British Art Show tends to be quite different.
“The first nine or 10 months were spent doing studio visits and meeting artists across the country,” explains Yee of the curatorial process she and Colin adopted. “We didn’t set out with any real preconceptions. We let what we saw in artists’ studios and the conversations we had with artists inform the process.”
Through this though, the curators did find common links between artists, works and contemporary practice.The changing role and status of the physical object in an increasingly digital age has become the exhibition’s principal concern.
“I think there were two very broad but ultimately related directions,” says Yee. “Many artists are very much influenced by the internet and they’re using that as part of the process or the outcome of their work. At the same time, some are interested in the object, the handmade, materiality, the process of production. You spend so much of your life online working digitally, I think there is a desire to find ways of working with the hands. But the internet is not just this dematerialised thing – it has real life consequences that impact our world. So, over time, the connections became more and more apparent.”
British Art Show 8 features more than 40 artists and a great deal of new work shown at each stop on the tour. “We’re making sure at least one or two new projects are specifically made for each city,” says Yee. “For example, in Leeds, Martino Gamper is going to be working with local artisans on a project where they’re going to be repairing pieces of furniture, textiles, clothing or shoes. So visitors to the show will have the opportunity to bring their old items and get them fixed with a little twist to the normal repair that they might get in a regular shop.”
One of the most important exhibitions of contemporary art in this country – in 1990 it showcased artists such as Rachel Whiteread and Cornelia Parker – British Art Show 8 has a strong international presence but also features regional talent. 2008 Liverpool Art Prize-winner Imogen Stidworthy explores the voice and the limits of language through her moving image and sound works. Also Liverpool-born but well-known for her role in the punk/post-punk arts and music scene in Manchester, Linder will present her striking collages and her performance works, exploring feminism, capitalism and sexuality. And Chester-born Ryan Gander, a disabled conceptual artist, will also present his work which investigates the processes of making art.
“Hopefully it will have an impact on young artists and art students,” says Yee of the long-term significance of the exhibition in Leeds. “A lot of artists have told me they remember seeing a British Art Show when they were a student or a young artist, so I certainly hope that this is the case this time.”
British Art Show 8 is at Leeds Art Gallery until Jan 2016 alongside a programme of related events including artist workshops and talks
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