Alumna reviews New Art Centre Heat

By Enid Zhang

On 11 March, the ARTiculation Southern Regional Final was hosted by New Art Centre on Zoom Webinar. Eight talented individuals delivered a variety of insightful and informative talks. The heat’s adjudicator was Alice Workman, Senior Director, Cultural Centres Europe, Hauser & Wirth.

Our first speaker, Anan, brought us his presentation about Beijing Daxing Airport designed by starchitect Zaha Hadid and her team. Anan began by exploring the form of the building and recounting the childhood experience that made airports significant for him. He then discussed the comparison of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and Hadid’s Daxing Airport, which was utterly fascinating to hear. Anan also related the airport to traditional Chinese buildings, highlighting the ingenious fusion of contemporary architectural doctrines and cultural references. For example, the starfish-shaped layout of this futuristic airport draws inspiration from vernacular quadrangles.

The pandemic and related tragic loss of lives make many consider mortality more than we might have previously. Alice talked about Arnold Böcklin’s Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle (1872), a painting skillfully manipulated to juxtapose death and life. She said that the grinning and menacing skull is the personification of death whereas the artist clothed in the fashions of his day shows us his flesh and blood. Another contrast is in the artist’s hands: he, in one hand, is holding a brush with green paint that implies energy and vitality; in the other, he uses a rag to wipe the paint as if death wipes all life away.

Next up was Jonny, who spoke with natural confidence about the intimacy of form. He delved into the connections between multifarious artworks including Titian’s Danaë (1553) and Venus of Urbino (1534), Manet’s Olympia (1863), Egon Schiele’s Seated Woman with Bent Knee (1917), Lucian Freud’s Ria, Naked Portrait (2006-07) and Andrew Wyeth’s Day Dream (1980). We saw the evolution of intimacy depicted in paintings, changing from powerful erotic charges disguised as mythologies to pronounced sensuality because of sexual liberation. Jonny also showed us his artwork in response to his topic.

The fourth speaker of the morning, Tom, gave a personal and thought-provoking discussion about The Image as Burden (1993) by Marlene Dumas. The artwork shows a dark male figure carrying a female dressed in a white smock. He discussed colours and disfigured forms and then went on to explore their deeper meanings. By sourcing three primary references of Dumas’s work, Tom showed us that being patient and engaging in subtle features is genuinely satisfying.

After a short interval, Sofia took us into American dancer Loie Fuller’s world through her revolutionary work titled Serpentine Dance (1896). Sofia explained that it is a multimedia performance. During the dance, the costume was illuminated by coloured lights, evoking images like flames and butterflies. We also learned that in the hope of receiving serious recognition, Fuller left for Europe. In Paris, her work attracted the respect and friendship of many artists and scientists. These people helped Fuller further develop her style. Sofia then finished her talk by showing us examples of the modern legacy of Serpentine Dance. We were all aware of how pioneering and formidable Loie Fuller is in her approach to art despite many difficulties.

Our next speaker, Freya, spoke passionately about A Trip to the Moon (1902) by French director Georges Méliès. This film is regarded as one of the most influential films in cinematic history. We were reminded of the iconic moment in which the capsule lands in the Moon’s eye and its enduring pictorial resonance. Méliès’s innovative special effects techniques, such as the disappearance of a man in puffs of smoke, were widely imitated. Freya then explored Méliès’s turbulent life behind the screen. Many of his films were once melted down and burned by the French military and himself. His works were largely forgotten in history and went unseen for years before being rediscovered by film devotees. Through Freya’s engaging talk, we were all moved by Méliès and this profoundly influential film.

Calla then took us on an investigative journey to Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942–43). Bouncing against each other, tiny blocks of colour on the painting create a pulsating rhythm, which visually elaborates the boogie-woogie’s unexpected syncopation of rhythm. Calla then precisely explained Mondrian’s journey to this artwork. We saw how Mondrian sourced inspirations from jazz music, Van Gogh’s vibrant colours, the essence of cubism, the study of anthroposophy (the emphasis on harmony among conflicting things), Dutch seascapes, the urban life and bustling traffic on the streets of New York, and finally the idea of utopia.

Last by not least, Kira, the heat’s winner, spoke to us about Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2010) by Yinka Shonibare MBE. Kira studied the work with precision, showing that it is a celebration of immense ethnic syncretism. After a brief introduction of the artist and the artwork, Kira considered the significance of the location. Commissioned for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, she explained that setting the monument in such an esteemed political public space indicates British multiculturalism and its constructive historical legacy. We were then drawn to the choice of media. The incorporation of multimedia signifies diversity, and the richly patterned sails convey how art can be appropriated and adopted.

Congratulations to the eight speakers – you all provided exceptionally thoughtful and provoking discussions. Thank you to ARTiculation for offering young people a platform to interact with art and empower their confidence in public speaking.

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