World renowned hip-hop artist Ice Cube once said, ‘our art is a reflection of our reality’.
While he may have been talking about his music, the sentiment rings true. Art in any form is always going to reflect the wider trends of the world.
The last few years have seen a lot of change and unrest in the world and that environment is the perfect breeding ground for some brilliant new contemporary art movements. We’ve had one of the most shocking presidential elections in recent history, along with a whole host of other political and social changes.
The issues that have taken center stage in our discussions over the past few months and years have been just as prevalent in the world of art. These pieces are very on trend at the moment so anybody that is considering investing should look for these themes.
Personal surveillance and handling of data have been issues of growing concern since the advent of the internet but over the last couple of years it has been a particularly hot topic. Questions about security are on everybody’s mind in the face of a rising terror threat, we are in the middle of a constant debate about whether mass surveillance should take precedence over basic civil liberties. This is all tied in with concerns about censorship which is something that is especially worrying in the art world.
These themes have been the subject of a number of art installations these past few years. ‘Nest’ by Jakub Geltner is a wonderful example, making use of surveillance equipment and placing them in unlikely places.
Simon Norfolk has been using his photography exhibitions as a way of highlighting the sheer power and scope of government surveillance by taking photographs of cameras and other equipment that is usually hidden from public view.
The Radical Right
In the last decade, our political system has been turned on its head and that all came to breaking point last year when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. The world was in shock but it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Ideas have been polarized and radical right wing ideals have been growing in popularity. This has been a cause of massive friction in the world and those grand emotions have spilled over into the art world.
In the wake of this swing towards the right, artists Oliver Chanarin and Adam Broomberg started a collective and a movement called ‘Hands Off Our Revolution.’ The movement is designed to create art paintings and sculptures in reaction to the new Trump administration, and it has been gaining momentum rapidly.
This transition is not just happening in the States, it is a trend that exists across the western world and all over Europe, artists are using their work as a way of expressing their opposition to this new politics.
The Corporate World
Part of the reason that these radical political ideas have been gaining such traction is that people are becoming disenfranchised with the stale political systems that we have in place. They wanted a change and so they voted for somebody that would give it, regardless of what it was. This apathy towards politicians has extended into other aspects of our lives, especially a move away from our trust of the corporate world. Younger generations especially are starting to demand more. This tension has become the focus of lots of different exhibitions over the past few years or so.
Cally Spooner’s ‘On False Tears And Outsourcing’ is perhaps one of the most interesting installations dealing with this topic. It examines the conflict between corporate logic and human values through a dance act. The dancers are tasked with doing individual routines while all being strapped to one another.
In 2014, an installation called ‘The Real Thing’ by Martien Würdemann highlighted the fact that consumer products are more widely available than clean drinking water by creating a machine that turned a bottle of Coca-Cola back into plain water.
In the wake of the beginnings of a move away from modern consumerism, trends have started looking backward. Neo-Shamanism is a revival of the old ideals of Shamanism, particularly the spiritual elements of it. Traditional ideas of shamanism probably bring to mind old aboriginal art but that’s not really what it’s about. People that subscribe to Neo-Shamanism believe in the power of spiritualism to heal illness and connect to the earth. A shaman is not somebody with magical powers, they can be anybody that is in touch with themselves and nature.
Donna Huanca uses shaman decoration in her exhibition, ‘Scar Cymbals.’ It is an exploration of our reaction to one another’s bodies, using models and dancers painted in shamanic body paint.
Gentrification raises a lot of concerns about certain groups being priced out of areas that they typically lived and worked in. For the art world, there are very practical concerns about the effects of gentrification. In the past, there were plenty of places to find cheap studio space but artists are being increasingly priced out of these areas and it’s getting harder and harder to find an affordable place to work.
Artists started out by putting together exhibitions based on their own issues with gentrification but they have since widened their scope to include any communities or groups that are being pushed out by rising prices.
The Istanbul Biennial this year was focused around the concept of a ‘Good Neighbour,’ and what our relationship to one another should look like. The event began with a question and answer event in which audience members were asked what they thought was meant by a Good Neighbour.
An art collective in Liverpool, England took a stand against gentrification by renovating two houses and selling them on. The sale documents included a specific anti-gentrification clause that said the houses could only be sold for below market value.
A lot of these themes and questions continue to be unresolved, and as long as they are, the art world will respond in kind with its take on them.
This is a contributed article written for WhimMagazine.com