The 2017 London Degree Shows: Five emerging fluid artists

The 2017 London Degree Shows: Five emerging fluid artists

In a world where politicians erect barriers, artists respond by creating liquid, free-flowing and flexible environments that defy category, class or rank. We visit the 2017 London Degree Shows and present to you five emerging artists who are truly embodying the art of fluidity.

Our freedom, human rights and culture are increasingly under threat by the rise of absolutist governments, but emerging artists respond by embracing the art of fluidity thus breaking down barriers between people, art, science, philosophy, technology and so on. This fluidity, evocative of Bauman’s Liquid Modernity, enables artists to transcend beyond mere aestheticism and enter an age of heightened consciousness between us and our environment.

How can we distinguish between real and fake, truth or falseness, relevancy or irrelevancy? Anna Ridler’s (MA Information Experience Design, Royal College of Art) project is based on an animation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher that, despite looking man-made, was created entirely by artificial intelligence. Ridler trained a neural net (pix2pix) to recreate her drawings made from the stills of the 1929 version of the film thus asking the viewer to question who the artist behind this piece really is: Anna Ridler or the machine?

Fall of the House of Usher (2017) Animation made with pix2pix

Fall of the House of Usher (2017) Animation made with pix2pix

Artists who have previously questioned this role of authenticity in art were Gustav Metzger and Jean Tinguely, both at the forefront of the Auto-Destructive art movement in the 1960’s. This movement came as the direct response to an age whereby all sets of moral standards and practices had ceased to make any sense; reason and truth having been wiped out by the brutalities of the Second World War. In the same way as Metzger and Tinguely challenged the current sociopolitical climate, Ridler invites the viewer to recalibrate our fields of perception and question what truth means in a day and age whereby all our data, information and knowledge are processed by machines.

Paul Manwaring (BA Graphic & Media Design, LCC) is another artist who is interested in blurring the lines between humans and machines. In his Robot Drawing Machine final project, Manwaring does so by creating a machine that collects data that would otherwise be unperceivable to the human body such as electromagnetic fields. This imperceptible data is then plotted in real time by the machine to create a piece of art that is both aesthetic and purposeful. Manwaring’s project highlights the limitations posed by the human body and investigates how art can help bridge the gap between the unknowns and uncertainties we still inhabit amongst.

By utilising data that would otherwise be invisible, Manwaring is inviting us to question our future and the way we interact with the world around us. This transhumanist approach aims at creating a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines, one where no post-apocalyptic Blade Runner style relationship between humans and A.I’s exists but rather one where we enhance our biological functions to evolve into augmented humanoids ourselves.

Art is now transient and representative of the shifting landscape in which we live in and Melmel Chen (MFA Fine Art, Goldsmiths) embodies this by creating a metaphorical landscape within the concrete of the exhibition space, whereby a garden of urban plants and weeds takes over an otherwise infertile ground.

Melmel Chen's "Right Place"

Melmel Chen's "Right Place"

By removing these twenty-five different species of plant from their original environment, Chen’s aptly-named project, Right Place, showcases the fragility of the human condition and highlights the volatile nature we have become accustomed to living amongst. A nature where culture, traditions, economies and policies are constantly shifting and growing new roots connecting seemingly different people together in what is representative of an increasingly globalised world. By re-creating a microcosm of the current socio-political world we inhabit, Chen encourages the viewer to explore the diversity and fluidity these plants represent and their willingness to adapt despite the harsh conditions.

This transcendence of environments opens the possibilities for artists and art alike to spread outside of the predestined canvases and spill onto worlds previously unexplored. Alejandro Escobar (MA Fine Art Digital, Camberwell) creates art that flows between the virtual and the real, the human and the mechanised, the static and the mobile. By combining sculpture, fine art and VR to create new paradigms, he invites the viewer into a matrix of heightened perceptions that make us question the limits of materiality.

Escobar’s work challenges Baudrillard’s post-structuralist theory Simulcra and Simulation by weaving both the real, the copy of the real (simulcra) and the virtual (simulation) in one piece. It then becomes the viewer’s task to detangle the webs that keep these three worlds together, and by doing so we are invited to deconstruct and therefore better understand Escobar’s work but also the increasingly hyperreal world around us.

Alejandro Escobar's work

Alejandro Escobar's work

We have now started a new aesthetic phase where we become conscious that art is not merely a representation of the world or an instrument for self-definition but rather a tool we can use to better understand the world around us. Timothy Morton argues that art has now entered an Asymmetric Phase brought forth by humanity’s heightened awareness of the impact we have had on the world combined with the vast scientific knowledge we have been able to gather and process. Art can now help us understand and decode the world in a figurative way thus making it readily understandable for everyone. Hannah Scott (MA Art and Science, CSM) is one of these artists that blends both aesthetics and function in her What Goes Around Comes Around project. Scott specifically focuses on climate change and the effect our use of plastic substances has had on our planet. Her artwork ranges from recycled high-density polyethylene casts shaped as candles (below) to temporary one-off installations she creates out of ice to represent the melting arctic ice caps (top main photo).

Hanna Scott's high-density polyethylene casts shaped as candles

Hanna Scott's high-density polyethylene casts shaped as candles

In this ever-shifting, unstable and unpredictable world we currently inhabit, emerging artists use their craft as a tool to encourage us to better understand our environment, ourselves and who knows, perhaps even the future.

Rebels with a cause

Rebels with a cause

I scream for sunscreen

I scream for sunscreen