We inhabit a media culture defined by the constant creation, editing and instant sharing of images with a potentially global audience. Yet the three shortlisted artists who have been selected for the Photography & Digital Art section for this year’s Aesthetica Art Prize all demonstrate how, far from dulling the power of art to turn its lens upon contemporary society, today’s sophisticated understanding of image-making and manipulation has only added to its force. Here we see visual culture used to profoundly critique an era of post-truth, big data and globalisation and, significantly, to reassert the presence of the human individuals behind the numbers and the statistics.
David Birkin’s work Profiles reflects on the way war is depicted and the relationship between spectacle and loss, as well as themes of censorship, redaction and omission in official historical records. Specifically, it is concerned with the lack of images representing the civilian casualties of the Iraq War, and the artist collaborated with the NGO Iraq Body Count for the project. The work sees data visualisation meet real-world artefacts to make the lost present. Identification numbers of the dead from a database of casualties are translated into a chromatic “value” for each individual, which are exposed onto photographic transparencies and displayed on X-ray light boxes discarded by British and American hospitals.
Capturing the passage of time in a static image is an age-old challenge for the visual artist, one reconsidered here by Reginald Van de Velde. Memento Mori addresses the paradox of a society which focuses on constant innovation and renewal, yet where more information than ever before is preserved for posterity. The images feature dilapidated buildings and abandoned settings, where exact locations and dates are lost and the fragility of life and memory comes to the fore, capturing moments of perfect stillness in time.
Shauna Frischkorn enters into an ironic dialogue with art history in her series McWorkers, in which fast food chain employees in their anonymous branded uniforms are photographed in styles which echo the power and status of Renaissance portraiture, a mode designed to immortalise the wealthy. It both reasserts the individuals behind the uniforms and highlights the profound imbalance between the poorly-paid staff and the power of the corporations who employ them.
Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition 2018 is York Art Gallery until 30 September. For more information, click here.
1. Reginald Van de Velde, from the series Memento Mori.