Why the Aesthetica Art Prize now has a global reach

The Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition returns to York, showcasing emerging talent from around the world. Yvette Huddleston spoke to director Cherie Federico.

Fruits of knowledge: Jukhee Kwon, Babel Library (2014).
Fruits of knowledge: Jukhee Kwon, Babel Library (2014).

Next week sees the opening of the Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition at York Art Gallery. And this year’s show, the sixth edition, looks set to be another outstanding showcase for emerging artistic talent from across the globe.

“I think this year’s exhibition and prize is the strongest one we have had to date,” says Art Prize director Cherie Federico who is also the founder and editor of York-based Aesthetica magazine and director of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival. “The topics we are covering are very contemporary. It is artwork with cultural critique attached.”

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Featured subjects include such pressing and timely issues as the way in which our modern world is being shaped by surveillance, over-consumption and 24-hour global communication, and the resulting emotional disconnection. This year the Art Prize attracted 4,500 submissions from which Federico and her fellow judges had to create a shortlist of 12 artists, no mean feat.

Electra Lyhne-Gold Lost in Translation, 2017.

“We receive more entries every year and I think that is because the prize is being recognised as a hotbed for new talent,” says Federico. “The fact that here in York we are helping artists from across the UK and internationally to launch their careers is great and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously.” What the judges are looking out for, says Federico, is originality and innovation. “First and foremost it’s about finding things you haven’t seen before. We are looking for people who are breaking new ground.”

The shortlisted artists are tackling themes that are at the very forefront of our collective consciousness, addressing current preoccupations such as political instability, data collection and divisive issues like Brexit and Trump. “It is so inspiring to look through the artworks and see how they are addressing the contemporary global situation,” says Federico. “It is exciting because they are holding up a mirror to society.” The artworks engage the viewer with these urgent issues in a subtle, and potentially more profound, way that is outside the news agenda.”These pieces invite us to re-engage with these topics on a very different level,” says Federico. “They are offering a perspective to encourage us to question and think about things.”

The works include Lost in Translation by British artist Electra Lyhne-Gold which interrogates the whole concept of advertising, by creating a series of characters on film, miming adverts; Memento Mori by Belgian photographer Reginald Van de Velde is a series of photographs of abandoned buildings which invite the viewer to reflect on the passage of time and American artist Shauna Frischkorn’s McWorkers are images shot in the style of Renaissance portraits, traditionally paintings of the wealthy, and inverts that by capturing low-paid fast-food workers whose global employers contribute to various ills of modern society – including the obesity crisis and waste surplus.

To coincide with the show’s opening, Federico and her team have programmed a two-day symposium. “The events are designed to stimulate discussion and generate new ideas in repsonse to the current trends taking place in the art world.”

At York Art Gallery, May 18-September 30. The Future Now: Art Prize Symposium, May 17&18, York St John University. aestheticamagazine.com/future-nowsymposium-2018