This edition of the Sunny Art Prize has seen incredible talent from all over the world gathered together in a series of exhibitions. This exhibition, in collaboration with the Field Art Centre, is meant to be an opportunity for new audiences to engage with a talented group of global artists. From the 30 artists selected for the Sunny Art Prize 2017, Jeongkeun Lee, Ziyun Zhang, Michèle Sennesael, Nina Baxter, Gillian Hyland, and Federico Odello, have been shortlisted to exhibit at the Field Art Centre.
Each of these artists will explore specific themes in their own idiosyncratic style, ranging from abstraction to digital photography. A common thread among these artists is their ability to engage with issues which, although perhaps related to specific places and situations, embody universal significance and speak to a global audience. Such issues range from migration and cultural rituals to the human subconscious in the age of digital communications.
The Sunny Art Prize was established with the aim of providing artists and communities with an international platform to exchange, express, and share culture. Additionally, it provides audiences with a space to engage with different media. It is also meant to be a collective experience, where audiences from all over the world join a selection of international artists in a democratic conversation about contemporary art and creative experiences.
Jeongkeun Lee’s work shares similar characteristics with religious rituals. Rituals are not based in reason and there is no scientific explanation for the effect they have on the human mind and emotive sphere; yet, irrefutably, rituals deliver belief and hope to those that perform and participate in them. In particular, the first finalist for the Sunny Art Prize aims to explore this inexplicable power surrounding rituals. Similar to the discourse instigated by renowned scholar Carol Duncan, Jeongkeun’s work analyses the ways in which art displayed in public institutions can be a potent catalyst for cultural values and beliefs. Social, political, and ethical viewpoints, such as those surrounding gender norms, can all be influenced by those vivid experiences constantly digested by the public in the form of this ritual within institutions.
Ziyun Zhang is a product of the digital age. She feels that her generation does not have heart-quaking life experiences like the ones encountered by previous generations during large-scale historical upheavals. According to her, our surroundings, from social contexts to the empirical experience of the world around us, seem to quickly change and evolve without notice. The world is developing faster and faster, making it exponentially harder to achieve a sense of individual existence among the myriad of interactions and relationships that characterise our present.
In this context, the individual is distorted or hidden within the deepest and most obscure sides of our subconscious. Ziyun Zhang has developed her work around the idea of a new individual. Similarly to theosophical theories and practices of the late 19th century (e.g. Annie Besant), her work is impregnated with the belief that the individual’s soul and essence is trapped and chained within the constraints of outer matter and imparted instructions. The barrier protecting our soul has solidified and hardened following the alienating effects of this new age of digital interconnectivity. Therefore, her work explores the effects that such alienation has on a subconscious level and its impact on human interactions in the 21st century.
Michèle Sennesael’s work is centred around the theme of migration. Throughout history, people have immigrated for a wide variety of reasons. At present, our attention has been caught by recent developments in the numerous trouble spots and war zones worldwide that are now causing mass spikes in migration. Our awareness of the causes, potential reactions, and also of our own position in these matters has led to a process of deep reflection.
'Reaching Through the Other Side' illustrates not the physical movement between our roots and elsewhere, but focuses on migration as a quest and an intellectual process. It is difficult to convey one's experience of migrating. The changes of identity are personal and can be profound. Existential moving can be understood as an act of exploring the world, but also as a critical exploration of our own, ever-changing position. Therefore, Michèle approaches the theme of migration as a collective experience, one that is known on a global scale, yet through the perspective of the individual. Consequently, her work challenges our perspectives on issues of nationalism and internationalism and makes important connections to themes of identity, belonging, and imagined communities.
Nina Baxter’s work is heavily influenced by her background in Art History. In particular, her practice focuses on clean lines, bold complimentary colours, and geometric shapes combined with an abstract aesthetic. Her work explores synaesthesia and challenges the viewer’s ability to perceive the artwork through multiple sensorial experiences. It attempts to fully involve and stimulate the senses of the audience, to allow them to taste colours and hear shapes.
Following the principles of Russian painter art theorist, Wassily Kandinsky: as music provides emotions without representation, so shall her art do. In fact, the constrains and conditions of representation are here abandoned favouring abstraction in order to allow for a universal, yet personal, engagement with the artworks.
Gillian Hyland creates supernatural staged images presented as film stills or dramatic moments. Hyland’s unsettling mise-en-scene are full of sex and desire, sadness and nostalgia. Like Richard Avedon and Guy Bourdin, the mix of fashion and art has challenged us to accept stylised new ideas of femininity and masculinity, innocence and sensuality. Hyland describes herself as an Image Maker and Story Teller. Her dramatic photographs are based on her own poems, and depict characters in human dramas and isolated emotional situations.
Frozen in time, solitary and vulnerable moments are presented in glorious technicolour and timeless sets. The imagery plays with our notions of nostalgia, and taps into society’s cultural understanding of feelings and beliefs. The photograph exhibited explores Hyland’s sense of self and society and aims to engage and trigger an emotional response from the viewer. Her work can therefore provide the opportunity to survey our understanding of relational sociology where, following Donati’s argument, society is relations rather than a container of them.
Federico Odello is a lover of black and white photo reportage and is greatly inspired by the work of Atget, Cartier-Bresson, and Doisneau. Federico does not impose his vision of the cities he visits, but rather walks through the streets, listening to whispers and background – the echo of life that runs an unconscious theatrical performance. This approach leads to a mute and contemporary testimony, with an unprecedented force of expression. During his one-week shooting sessions in different parts of the world, Federico tried to feel the “heartbeat” of the city and perpetuate it in his photos. His ultimate attempt is to allow his photos to capture the dramatic nature of the centuries-old collective experience of melancholy.