Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Centre, Athens | Xippas Gallery, Athens | Breeder, Athens | British Council, Athens
03.04. — 29.05.04
Participating artists: Faisal Abdu’ Allah (Born 1969, London, Uk), Shahin Afrassiabi (Born 1969, Tehran, Iran), Artlab, Black Audio Film Collective, Matt Bryans (Born 1977, London, Uk), Ergin Cavusoglu (Born 1968, Tirgoviste, Bulgaria), Jeremy Deller (Born 1966, London, Uk), Nick Evans (Born 1976, Mufulira, Zambia), Julie Henry (Born 1959, Cambridge, Uk), Sophie Von Hellerman (Born 1975, Munich, Germany), Marine Hugonnier (Born 1969, Paris, France), Runa Islam (Born 1970, Dhaka, Bangladesh), Mark Leckey (Born 1964, London, Uk), Camilla Low (Born 1976, Oslo, Norway), Hayley Newman (Born 1969, Guildford, Uk), Rosalind Nashashibi (Born 1973, Croydon, Uk), Toby Paterson (Born 1974, Glasgow, Uk), John Riddy (Born 1959, Northampton, Uk), Zineb Sedira (Born 1963, Paris, France), George Shaw (Born 1966, Coventry, Uk), David Shrigley (Born 1968, Macclesfield, Uk), Dj Simpson (Born 1966, Lancaster, Uk), Tim Stoner (Born 1970, London, Uk), Mark Titchner (Born 1973, Luton, Uk), Nobuko Tsuchiya (Born 1972, Yokohama, Japan), Vision Machine, Richard Wathen (Born 1971, London, Uk), Gary Webb (Born 1973, Bascombe, Uk), Shizuka Yokomizo (Born 1966, Tokyo, Japan)
Britannia Works, is one of the largest and most significant productions of the British Council, in Greece, in the field of the visual arts. The exhibition took place in three exhibition venues in Athens: the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Centre, Xippas Gallery, and the Breeder, as well as at the British Council auditorium, which hosted a film programme.
Britannia Works took place at a time when the British art star system and its homogenising, publicity-driven tendencies had come under increasing criticism. The exhibition presented a wide cross-section of art, by artists of different ethnic origins, in the so-called post-’yBa’ era. It was not governed by any overarching curatorial concept, but instead looked at the individual contributions of artists, who may not necessarily be of British nationality, but have chosen to make Britain their home and place of work. Britannia Works aimed to give an idea of the range of art currently being made, and articulate a sense of the increasing openness that characterises the British art scene now, a reason why so many non-British artists are drawn to the UK. In that sense, the exhibition tried to steer clear of generalizing notions of “Britishness” or homogenising definitions of “British art” and instead drew attention to the multi-faceted, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic perspectives that are an integral part of post-colonial UK.
The exhibition included primarily young and emerging artists, as well as a handful of slightly older artists who were never assimilated into the ‘yBa’ hype and have consistently been producing work of distinction. The artists in the exhibition – the majority of whom were exhibiting in Greece for the first time – presented work in different media and diverse visual languages. Britannia Works aimed to generate an open-ended forum of discussion on art being made in Britain today, but also hoped to be able to pinpoint certain areas of interest that currently preoccupy artists. These areas range from a renewed concern with the possibilities of painting and sculpture and the legacy of modernism, to a continuing preoccupation with contemporary culture, socially engaged art practice, or art that examines different facets of the everyday. Rather than trying to “package” artists under one oversimplifying rubric, Britannia Works aimed to celebrate individual artistic visions and present a variety of artistic viewpoints, positions and languages. In contrast to much of the work made in the ’90s, which tended to be extroverted, to have high production values and to appropriate ready-made materials, the work of many of the artists in Britannia Works tends to be more low-key, subtle and modest, often reflecting private, idiosyncratic concerns. Much of it may be handcrafted and labour-intensive, using cheap, lo-tech materials. Most of them have consciously distanced themselves from the attention-grabbing shock tactics of their predecessors to make work that defies categorisation and does not obey any rules. Even old-fashioned, traditional genres such as landscape or portraiture are being re-visited and re-negotiated. These artists are aware of the trappings of the ironic one-liner and the conceptual joke and aim to create art that is multi-dimensional, contemplative, and less deliberately confrontational or concerned with making definitive statements.
What is happening in the British art scene now? How has it developed and changed over the last years? How do artists who come from a different culture but choose to make Britain their home, respond to their environment? What are the issues that seem to predominate among younger artists? These are just some of the questions that Britannia Works hopes to address.
A bilingual (English/Greek) colour catalogue was published on the occasion of the exhibition.
PRODUCED AND ORGANISED BY: The British Council
CURATOR: Katerina Gregos
SPONSORS: HELLAS JET, HILTON HOTEL, ATHENS, CARLSON WAGONLIT