ARTicle written by Farren Fei, ARTiculation Ambassador (University of Oxford)
The 2020 Southern Final at The Ashmolean Museum truly encapsulated the spirit of the ARTiculation Prize, founded to encourage young people to talk about visual culture. Each speaker engaged with art in his or her own way. As adjudicator Andrea Rose commented, they brought their own experience into each work of art, from Medieval altarpiece to YouTube video art, the incredible diversity echoes the rich display at the Ashmolean from Egyptian sarcophagi to Cai Guoqiang’s gun-power paintings, both of which expand our vision of what art could be.
For some candidates, art spoke to them with an almost religious power. With great eloquence, Marianne Whiting opened up the afternoon with the captivating Wilton Diptych located in the National Gallery. Her language reactivated the sacred aura of the crowned saints, the Virgin and angels clothed in lavish ultramarine, and the gold leaf which retains its eternal shine. Through a perceptive visual comparison between Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night and Leonardo’s Last Supper, Lucy McMillan discussed the religious significance of the lit terrace, the elusive figures and the stars glowing in darkness. Manav Ponnekanti, overcome by Mark Rothko’s Black paintings in Tate, searched for the roots of art’s power in his own language of music. Drawing on scientific theories of optics and sound, he uncovered the shared configurations between music and art.
It was also through her own perspective that Freya Malhi entered into the psychological portrait of another subjectivity, that of the Harold Pinter painted by Justin Mortimer. Her personal engagement with the sitter’s work filled his contemplative gaze with rich meanings. That the power of art transcends temporal and spatial contexts is demonstrated by the resonance Jenna Hutchings felt in Paul Rego’s series of pastel: The Betrothal, Lessons and The Shipwreck. Through the lens of her grandmother, Jenna brought present-day relevance to episodes from mid-twentieth-century Portugal.
Indeed, through art, each speaker revisits his or her own experience and life story. This culminated in Macy Biss’ analysis of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, in which she addressed the question of identity through an intensely personal approach. Just like how she assumes another identity by dressing up, Biss charts how artists have historically constructed a ‘self’ through self-portrait. She ends by asking us: ‘Who am I?’ The fact that we could not find the answer precisely reiterates Biss’ message about the complexity of individual identity. Through Nan Goldin’s Misty and Jimmy Poulette in a Taxi, Olivia Sist showed us the fluidity of gender which is equally performative.
The art discussed was not constrained to personal questions, but addressed wider issues in life, the society and the world. Kerry Whelan’s empowering discussion of Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life — in which the streams of sensuous bodies triumphs over the figure of death — offers us a hopeful perspective onto the cycle of human life. However, Jack Stauber’s View which Finley Gilzene introduced, seems to deny such possibility in the twenty-first century. The stark and absurd imagery, combined with a simulated robotic voice which ran beneath, conjured up a disturbing vision of the world. This provocative piece, under Finley’s discussion, invited us to reflect upon the severe environmental concerns which occurred globally in the last year.
The diverse range of art discussed show that art could be different things to each individual, which made Andrea Rose’s task of selection a more challenging job.
The platform of ARTiculation is perhaps, in this sense, less about a competition than the exchange of personal visions. A fascinating day.