Aesthetica Art Prize: the shortlist

Some of the hopefuls for the prestigious York-based prize talk to Matthew Neal

The internationally acclaimed Aesthetica Art Prize, now in its eighth year, has just announced its shortlist. With over 3,500 entries from over 60 countries worldwide only the best eight have been chosen. Both acclaimed and emerging artists have been shortlisted, showing that the Aesthetica Art Prize really has brought the best of international contemporary art to York.

The collection of painting, photography, sound installation, film and three-dimensional design covers a diverse range of topics. “Each piece comments on issues relevant in today’s society, and offers a momentary pause from everyday life to reflect on both our universal and individual experiences,” says Cherie Federico, director and curator of the Aesthetica Art Prize.

The winner will receive £5,000, courtesy of insurance company sponsor Hiscox, with other prizes ranging from art books to art supplies. Visitors will also be able to vote for their favourite piece for the People’s Choice Award (visitors who vote will be entered in a draw to win a night out for two in York).

Last year the exhibition received over 20,000 people and is expected to do so again. The exhibition will be held in the medieval church turned contemporary art venue York St Mary’s, in partnership with the York Museums Trust. All the shortlisted pieces will be on display from 26 March to 31 May (free admission).

We got chatting to some of the shortlisted artists to talk about their art, the prize and their futures.

Julian Day is an Australian artist whose site-responsive piece Requiem consists of two vintage instruments being pinned to the walls with metal rods, producing a flood of sound.

What inspired you to incorporate both visual and aural elements as well as a unique, site-specific architectural aspect?
Sound has always been important to me. My father was a rock singer and our house was filled with discarded electric guitars, keyboards and microphones. I later trained as a composer and I continue to write for classical musicians. Long ago, however, I realised I wanted to think beyond the stage, the concert hall and the audio recording and focus on what lies beyond the sound source. Works like Requiem draw attention not only to musical objects but the spaces and social situations their sound occupies. By filling the air with sound, in this case the rich resonance of a church, Requiem highlights the invisible space we move through and our connection to the people we share this with.

How important do you think the space that art is displayed in is, and should artists be conscious of this during the creative process?
For me space is crucial. I’m not the kind of artist who spends months perfecting artwork in the studio and then looks for somewhere to display it. I always start by thinking about the context in which my work will be perceived. I see art as an action, a way of seeing the world around us in different ways, and my role is to actively respond to my environment. Therefore space is really important, whether it’s a church, a gallery, a laneway or a park.


What would winning the Aesthetica Art prize mean to you?
Winning would be a dream! Aesthetica is such a prestigious and widely regarded award. However, simply exhibiting at York St Mary’s has been prize enough. I really want to share more of my work in England so being shortlisted has already been a major win.

Where will you take your art next?
I’m working on several performances and exhibitions in Australia, the UK, Europe and USA. Among other things I’m creating a new work for a dozen historic pianos for the Royal Academy of Music’s piano festival in June and my amplified string quartet Quartz will feature at the upcoming Bang On A Can Marathon in New York. Also this year my project Super Critical Mass, which brings together volunteers to flood locations with identical sound, will appear in the Prague Quadrennial and at the Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane.

Matt Parker’s installation, The Cloud is More than Air and Water, focuses on the infrastructure of the internet, capturing the sight, feel and sound of a data centre.

Aesthetica Art Prize
The Cloud is More than Air and Water

With the internet being so vast and varied, why did you want to focus on the physical, auditory and visual environments in which the internet lives?
For me the internet is both a liberating portal into the world’s knowledge and a multi-billion pound commercial industry. If we focus on the virtual content of the internet, the apps, websites, cloud, email etc, we are only considering the digital aspects: the ones and zeroes. My work focuses on the physical – the infrastructure, the objects and mechanics of the internet – as for me it’s the only way I can reduce it down to constituent parts and start to understand what makes the internet what it is.

Why did you choose to use installation as your medium?
My experiences of visiting data centres always makes me feel like I’m having a sensory overload. I think people tend to think that the bright screens and interfaces around us cause a sensory overload yet imagine the internet in itself as precise, networked, clean, logical, efficient and most probably silent. Working with installations provides the opportunity to immerse people in the organised chaos and noise that you might find inside a data centre, bringing this secretive world into the public domain.

What would winning the Aesthetica Art prize mean to you?
It would be a huge honour to win the Aesthetica Art Prize. I feel that the prize would offer a validation and recognition to my work that would hopefully lead on to more successful opportunities for me as an artist.

Where will you take your art next?
I am currently artist in residence at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. The residency, which is supported by Grants for the Arts funding from the Arts Council England, is allowing me the opportunity to develop a historical background to my computer obsession. The museum holds examples of some of the world’s first ever computers and I have been working on creating an audiovisual archive that will complement my ongoing work with unveiling the physical nature of the internet.

Owen Waterhouse’s Möbius 1.00 (2014) marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of stainless steel in Sheffield by Harry Brearley. The assemblage echoes a never-ending circle that emphasises the recyclable nature of this metal.

What made you want to mark the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of stainless steel?
My hometown Sheffield is often known as the Steel City. Metalworking is an important part of the city’s history. This heritage and expertise is something that as a maker, I feel very proud of. I wanted to create a piece that honoured this legacy. Galvanize Sheffield, an organisation who promote Sheffield metalworking, and a large Sheffield-based stainless steel producer, Outokumpu, commissioned this piece to celebrate this important discovery.

Mobius 100
Mobius 100

What was the balance between you shaping the steel to suit your needs and the steel resistance shaping what you ended up producing?
The piece is created from 100 unique water jet-cut pieces cut from 8mm 316L stainless steel. The beauty of this process is in the precision and consistency with which a shape can be cut. This gave me the ability to produce a piece which was exactly as I had envisaged.

What would winning the Aesthetica Art prize mean to you?
Winning the Aesthetica Art Prize would be phenomenal. It would mean that I could create a series of smaller scale works that explore similar production techniques and a shared aesthetic. It would help me to develop my artwork further.

Where will you take your art next?
I’m hoping to show my work more widely and create new pieces for exhibition. I’m also working on a number of larger scale public art projects in collaboration with a number of different artists that explore very site-specific factors.

Two works by Suzanne Mooney were chosen for exhibition, Come away O… (2013) and Tokyo Summit A (2012) –photographic images of near-identical window frames looking out over Tokyo

How important do you think it is to engage and invite the audience to participate in art, and should that be in an active or more passive way?
The role of the audience and their participation is always an important consideration in my work. The two artworks selected for the Aesthetica Art prize exhibition require the physical presence of the audience to really complete the work. In Come Away, O’…, there is a visible figure in the left frame, but the right frame only has a figure when the audience walk behind the translucent print. Tokyo Summit A plays with our expectations of how a panorama functions. The audience has to walk around the curve of the circular light box to see the panoramic image. The light box then backlights the viewer, creating a silhouetted viewer, just like that of a Friedrich painting. I think it’s important for the work not to require conscious decision-making on the part of the audience to interact. It should occur naturally through their movement through the exhibition space. While it is impossible to anticipate every variation in perception, there are commonalities in how we, as human beings, engage with art. As an artist, being able to understand and anticipate the way audiences interact with art becomes another tool for communication and expression.

What made you choose to have a “character” that observes the city for people to observe, instead of just the city?
The rückenfigur – a person seen from the back – is perhaps the most instantly recognisable motif of Romanticism. The figure is usually in silhouette and engaged in the act of viewing. This silhouette, as seen in Come Away, O’…, acts as an avatar for the audience. However, it does more than that. It reminds us that it is through the act of viewing that the land becomes a landscape. The city-view observatories in Tokyo take the people who live there up out of the city they experience in daily life, to see it as landscape. When looking out over a city from a high-rise building, the movement of traffic, the changes in light, and the knowledge that the landscape below is teeming with life, add energy to the view. When translated into images, the landscape can become static, and more difficult to engage with. With many of the landscapes I choose, scale is difficult to discern. Including a figure, or “character”, is intended as a reminder that this work is as much about our relationship with the city as it is about the city itself.

What would winning the Aesthetica Art prize mean to you?
To make a career in the arts is not a decision to be made lightly. For most working artists, to communicate, to express thoughts and ideas, is not a choice but a necessity. Opportunities like the Aesthetica Art prize not only give artists a fantastic opportunity to reach a wide international audience, but the monetary award provides a great opportunity to focus on the production of new works, easing the financial strain of finding the time, space and materials required to produce art. The number of such art awards that can support an artist to afford the resources it takes to experiment and develop new, original artworks from concept to exhibition, are very few indeed.

Come Away O...
Come Away O…

Where will you take your art next?
From April this year, I will move in to a new studio as an artist-in-residence in Koganecho in Yokohama, Japan. This is a unique art community located under the Keikyu train line tracks. The arches under the rail lines and many of the adjacent small buildings have been re-purposed as studios for Japanese and international artists. I will also have a solo exhibition at The Container in Tokyo from July to October, exhibiting a site-specific work related to the idea of constructed underground space in Tokyo – under rail lines, highways and other similar spaces.

Main image: Exodus IV, Hong Kong, China by Marcus Lyon. All images courtesy of the Aesthetica Art Prize

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