The Substation Contemporary Art Prize 2013

I was excited to attend the opening of the Substation Contemporary Art Prize last month because my friend David Thomson was one of 50 finalists in the exhibition.

Overall I was disappointed with the exhibition. The three prizes awarded were all for video works. There were about 13 videos in the show. The SCAP is intended to ‘recognise and encourage innovation in contemporary art practice’.

A video work has to grab my attention or entertain me in the first minute or I turn off. We are so bombarded by video, TV, advertising,  movies, music clips, youtube, that video art has to be really clever or beautiful to stand out (and preferably short!) I dislike work with an obscure conceptual artist statement full of big words that I can’t understand, that I suspect is actually meaningless art wank.

You shouldn’t have to study art theory or have specialist knowledge to appreciate an artwork. I love art, and have studied it for four years, so if I can’t understand the concept behind an artwork, how is the average viewer supposed to understand it?

In the project, by Eric Bridgeman, was a video diary filmed during a artist residency in Canada in 2011. Bridgeman dressed up as a golliwog character and cavorted around his studio in front of a camera. I thought it was self-indulgent narcissism, and I couldn’t believe it when it won first prize and the judge described it as a ‘layered work’ about being an outsider. I don’t understand how this work has any more artistic merit than, say, reality TV footage or an amateur video diary on Youtube. I couldn’t watch the whole thing, I found it repetitive and boring.

Still from In the project, Eric Bridgeman, video/DVD, 2012

I think that in 100 years time, video art may be seen as a fad in modern art from the 1960s until now, especially popular since the 1990s. After several decades, the medium is hardly ‘innovative’. The art world is cyclical. It depends on what the art schools are encouraging students to do, and critics and curators are promoting, and it seems they are still pushing video and multi-media work rather than traditional painting, drawing and printmaking.

Last year Ash Keating won the Prize with a video work, A new lifelong landscape, which combined footage of a stretch of road in Gippsland where his mother lost her life, and the artist planting a native shrub at the site. I liked this piece because I found the concept moving and the images quite beautiful and meditative.

I found Simon Pericich’s video installation work, Nothing Compares 2 U, incomprehensible, disturbing and derivative. A bed ‘den’ with a screen on the ceiling which showed a vaguely ‘space’ themed video, I didn’t want to enter the claustrophobic dark space, or stay long enough to watch the video. The jarring bass vibrations of the soundtrack added to my feeling of distaste.

Matthew Greaves’ work Untitled (Secrets of the female mind), a video of an interview with Susan Hindmarsh about the ‘fraught agitprop of the men’s rights movement to debunk anti-feminist arguments’, saying things like a women ‘cannot understand the feminine’ and needs a husband and children as props because she has a lesser consciousness than men. I assume he was doing this in a pro-feminist way, but I only listened to a couple of minutes before I got bored with it.

One of my favourite works was Georgie Roxby Smith’s video animation Lara Croft, Domestic Goddess, on a screen on top of a dryer. I also liked Sally-Ann Rowland’s sculptural work made of pencils that represented the number of precious weekends during a working career.

It was unusual that each label included a biography of the artist, as well as a statement about the work. I suppose when showing emerging artists, their bios may be relevant, but it seemed like most of them were included because they had already won prizes, or artist residencies, or had honours degrees. In the contemporary art world, recognition seems to be all about the artist and their ‘track record’, not the art. I agree with David Walsh in opposing this convention.

The show runs until November 17, and there’s still the People’s Choice Award to be announced – I wonder what the verdict of the general public will be.

Author: Keryn


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