Is a National Identity Necessary in the Contemporary Art Market?

The construction of artistic identity in works bound for an international art platform is fraught with complexity, made even more intricate with the introduction of the art market. Is it important for a potential buyer to know the identity of the artist? Their age, ethnicity, gender? Some may take the essentialist view that the artworks belay these details themselves but this denies the agency of the artist.

This being said, the antagonism between the assimilation of external, often global, influence and the building of an identity that may be considered national, goes some way in explaining the sheer diversity of the works presented and the difficulty in their categorisation and comparison. For Song jinyoung and GwangMo Ku (MOKU) to share a platform with Nam, Jonghyun and Kim Jung-hoon, the former reflecting influences of twentieth century European abstraction and the latter presenting the use of digital technologies in a highly modernised society, suggests the freedom of artists to work diversely, more than any form of national aesthetic. To search for a “Korean aesthetic” in these works is futile.

The construction of artistic identity in works bound for an international art platform is fraught with complexity, made even more intricate with the introduction of the art market. Is it important for a potential buyer to know the identity of the artist? Their age, ethnicity, gender? Some may take the essentialist view that the artworks belay these details themselves but this denies the agency of the artist.

This being said, the antagonism between the assimilation of external, often global, influence and the building of an identity that may be considered national, goes some way in explaining the sheer diversity of the works presented and the difficulty in their categorisation and comparison. For Song jinyoung and GwangMo Ku (MOKU) to share a platform with Nam, Jonghyun and Kim Jung-hoon, the former reflecting influences of twentieth century European abstraction and the latter presenting the use of digital technologies in a highly modernised society, suggests the freedom of artists to work diversely, more than any form of national aesthetic. To search for a “Korean aesthetic” in these works is futile.

To talk of a national style is just a projection of the critics or dealers who are shining a light on a particular group of artists at a particular time for their own gains, be they theoretic, political or monetary. These damaging oversights were no more prevalent than in the pitting against of abstract expressionism and social(ist) realism in post-war art criticism.

Today, artists are faced with a different predicament but perhaps a similar battle in the carving out of an artistic identity. The proliferation of images online and their instantaneous exchange place more pressure on a work to reflect an authentic artistic identity. Yet the impossibility of true authenticity in an epoch most accurately described as postmodern makes this an unrealistic task. Is the solution then to announce one’s ethnic identity, race or gender that comes with a perceived reputation and expectations, in order to compete in a global market?

Perhaps then, there is no truly “global” citizen. The freedoms associated with globalism don’t always reflect the reality of the boundaries being drawn geographically. It would be totalitarian itself to expect an erasure of such identities as ethnicity and race in the pursuit of a global sameness. When stability is threatened we often want to demarcate ourselves all the more stridently. The freedom to sell art in a global market is undoubtedly positive but does it risk a return to racial essentialism in its reception?

This commentary is not about the content of the artworks themselves but the situation that has produced the platform on which they can be shared and exchanged. To take a moment to talk of content will exemplify the intricacies of searching for a national aesthetic or grouping based on national identity. For example, the dreamy scapes of Inkyoung Lee, the elaborate scrawls of Inayun and the mountainous regions of Yi Jeong-Sik have the imaging of place, be it real or imaginary, as a common thread but to explain this in regard to their Korean nationality is both naïve and reductive. Each artist has a different expression of their experiences and the way they choose to make images, these are not devoid of influence but neither can they be described as aesthetically Korean. To categorise in this way reduces artworks to mere objects of exchange. A situation perhaps necessary for a global market but not one that is appropriate for the apprehension of the artworks themselves.

Curator Beth Troakes

ARTISTS

JIM SANDERS
‘Art isn’t an aesthetic operation, it’s a form of magic designed to be a mediator between this strange, hostile world and as a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires.’
(Picasso)
Sanders’ work has a great affinity with Primitive, Outsider, or non Western Art, sharing their common concern with universal experiences of birth, love, sex, reproduction and death.
By employing contemporary art methodologies,referencing a vast range of visual languages, and anthropological connections, he pulls the past into the present.
Sanders makes  comparisons between disparate social interactions across time in order to find and frame the essential questions of existence.
He uses basic natural materials, discarded objects, a plethora of kitsch reliquaries and transforms them, restoring them to a strangely potent state of being. The resulting articulated sculptural objects are monumental, often taking the form of an altar or shrine. His work is often ritualistic, but at the same time, anarchic, non-conformist, disputing the religious readings of his iconic contents.
Sanders’ work achieves a unified whole, but allows every element to retain its unique identity. With his distinct perceptive and practical skills, he liberates objects from their consignment to being reliquaries and through installations, sculpture, drawing, painting and collage, reconstructs them to give a powerful significance. Then, he hands them over to the viewer to invest with new meanings.
Sanders has exhibited extensively throughout Europe and North America.

BILLIE LAIDLAW
Billie Laidlaw is a painter, film maker and performance artist. Her practice is concerned with social identity, feminism and materiality and is focussed on how contemporary women engage with societal structures and the materials they use to support or subvert these structures.
Her work makes use of donated, female-centric materials (make-up, tights, accessories), that are freely given by strangers, friends and family and are usually generated by online campaigns.
Through these materials she explores her relationship with the previous owners and how this affects it’s use in her work. She examines the ways materials are employed to signal social status and life stage, and maintains that they are not only imbued with a sense of the previous woman, but with society’s view of femininity.
Her method of working with the canvas is performative. She approaches the canvas in the same way that women often ritualistically and repetitively apply their daily routine of ‘feminising’ themselves, following a strict order of application, much as the application of make-up is prescribed. Filming these daily rituals and capturing the repeating patterns of gender-specific behaviour, she makes this into work that ’ feminises’ inanimate objects and re-makes women.
Her film and performances pieces explore ‘inappropriate’ use of female-centric materials. Physical masks and body extensions make ‘real’ social expectations, female roles and hidden mechanisms in matriarchal hierarchies.
The work invites the onlooker to question their views on what they think a woman should be, and to reflect on what is it to be a woman.

HELEN MCGHIE
The artist’s practice investigates interiority and the photographic gaze through the still and moving image. It considers how identity might be represented in relation to the notion of the Gothic, where ‘haunted spaces’ are affected by a past that disrupts the present. Images of the female protagonist, skin, dust, abandoned rooms and remote places, establish fictitious documentaries. Grouping of images suggest a sense of fearful enchantment where flashlight illuminates darkness, and darkened rooms promise security. Work from the series Fissures (2015) interrogates a domestic ‘in-between’, where photographs of ‘lived space’ capture a sense of both fascination and unease.

PIERRE YVES BREST
Brest’s practice includes photography, video and photo-based installation. His work is frequently constructed from a series of images, each dedicated to the study of a particular situation or location. Through a strategy of invisibility, absence and silence, Brest invites us to reflect on our relationship to time, to history & to changes in our world.
Brest lives in Lille and works at La Malterie. Since 2001 he has been a lecturer at École supérieure d’art de Cambrai and as of 2018, teaches at École Nationale supérieure d’architecture et de paysage / Lille.
Brest works in both his studio and outside. for him, context is important, whether topographic or historical. He often works in the abstract while still having a link with reality. In his images, nothing is given at the first sight, but everything is discovered in the time of discovery.

YOLANDA CRISP
Yolanda Crisp is a London based photographer. Her work often invokes the lives of people through marking their absence with traces of what they leave behind. She examines the physical and the psychological effects both people & the past have had on landscapes & terrain by uncovering & photographing the pervasive atmosphere of the surrounding environment.
He uses a mixture of digital and analogue formats and processes.
The main criteria for what formats and processes to use is primarily driven by what he feels is best and most suited to the project he is working on at the time.