BALTIC Artists’ Award started in 2017 and was the first worldwide competition judged only by artists. This year, three critically acclaimed creators each picked one upcoming artist. There is no specific requirements or theme, besides supporting new talent. I really appreciate the BALTIC’s straightforward approach, as it highlighted art that feels personal and relevant, contributing an important perspective on current issues.
The second edition of the competition continues to follow an intersectional approach to art. Both in terms of the recipients: their nationalities, techniques and media, as well as the judges, whose picks nicely correspond to their own work. First, Zanzibar-born Lubaina Himid chose Ingrid Pollard, an artist and photographer from Gujana. Himis is a Turner Prize-winning contemporary painter and cultural activist. She’s known for her BALTIC exhibition ‘Our Kisses are Petals’. Her work generally explores issues around African culture and race. Similarly, Pollard in ‘Seventeen of Sixty Eight’ combines photographs, prints and videos to explore signs of UK’s prevailing racism that are hidden in plain sight. It is a great addition to the current debate that takes place mainly in the US. Her artwork aims to point our attention at standard elements of British public space, such as pub names and signs that still contain racially charged language and imagery.
In modern art, context is everything, because of that most of the [Yang] pieces seemed overwhelming and too bizarre to comprehend, forcing the audiences here to explore more than the familiar, Western reality
Another winner was selected by a South Korean artist Haegue Yang, known for her reinterpretations of household objects. She picked incredibly multidimensional South Korean artist Kang Jungsuck. His winning exhibition ‘GAME II: The Adventures of A Human, A Self-driving Car, and A Lilliputian’ combines filmmaking, sculpture, art installation and even video game design. His main inspiration was everyday living in technologically advanced Seoul. In modern art, context is everything, because of that most of the pieces seemed overwhelming and too bizarre to comprehend, forcing the audiences here to explore more than the familiar, Western reality. With his level of visual skill, he delivered the most impressive and diverse selection of art pieces.
A crowd favourite seemed to be the work discovered by Michael Rakowitz - an Iraqi American artist best known for his conceptual art, displayed in public places. Interestingly, he picked Aaron Hughes, an American Iraqi veteran, anti-war activist, teacher and artist, who has a more traditional approach. His ‘Poetry Despite/Music Despite (Eternal War Requiem)’ combines classical music with woodblock printing, an old technique originated in Asia, to produce large, black and white prints. His style reminds me of Art Spiegelman – thick, black lines, reminiscent of classic comics, used to present gruesome scenes. He also explores his own as well as shared, inherited trauma, by reflecting on World War I and current ‘Global war on terror’. What's different is the more pronounced surrealist influence, which makes his work more expressive and moving. Another addition is the Persian motifs and symbols, which are incredibly beautiful and intricate.
In all, the three-part exhibition provides a very interesting and diverse art selection. I highly recommend going, even just to experience Hughes work.