REVIEW: The Blake Prize 2013

62nd blake prize

Now in its 62nd year, The Blake Prize presents work exploring the religious and the spiritual through art. This years exhibition, hung in the new Galleries UNSW, displays work representing a variety of disciplines as well as a full spectrum of artists at different  stages of their career.

While the overarching theme determining entry into the prize is religion and spiritual, there has been a gradual broadening of such a concept within the context of this prize. Religion may be at the core of all the works exhibited, but given that this is something deeply personalised and unique to each individual, the work created as a product can look vastly different artist to artist. Yet, what is obvious when engaging with The Blake Prize is the rhizomatic nature of the identification with religion and spirituality in contemporary art practices.

Case in point:

Shit Frame (2 Boys Jerking) by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

‘Shit Frame (2 Boys Jerking)’ by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran

While potentially the most extreme example, ‘Shit Frame (2 Boys Jerking)’, by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, is a piece that appears to work as a conversation with the way traditional religious concepts impact on those that feel outside of their beliefs, and also constructs a sense of otherness for those not living within specific belief systems. It has probably become a bit of a cliche for The Blake Prize to have a token overtly anti-religion work, however, it is still a selection that should be commended as it allows for a broader conversation on such immeasurably large topic.

Beyond the openly confrontational works, there are also a continuation of an embrace of traditional-style religious and spiritual works, such as Michael Strum‘s ‘Jerusalem above, the temple within’ (a digital print in high impact colours, but subject-matter-wise, still relatively conservative), Gregory Hodge and Clare Thackway‘s baptism, ‘Introduction’ and the John Coburn award for emerging artists recipient ‘Year of Jubilee’ by David Capra. These are the kind of works that embrace the togetherness, and the connectivity offered through spirituality. While they may be what you expect to see and experience from the prize, they still are beautifully rendered works that have a conversation, of sorts, with the subject matter.

'Garden of Eden' by Barry Tate

‘Garden of Eden’ by Barry Tate

Amongst all of this confrontation and the loving retellings of spirituality there are also an overwhelming representation of nature and its encompassing beauty. This an area that materialised through such works as; the magnanimously beautiful aerial image ‘Garden of Eden’ by Barry TateMerilyn Fairskye‘s digital video work ‘Long Life (1)’, the inordinately subtly mirror box work ‘Infinitely Contained’ by Giles Alexander and Baden PailthorpeSherna Teperson‘s ‘Sunrise (The throwing of the bones)’ and one of the most absurd and humorous works, John A Douglas‘ ‘Body Fluid – Levitation’.

'Body Fluid - Levitation' by John A Douglas

‘Body Fluid – Levitation’ by John A Douglas

The works exhibited represent an enormous range of attitudes toward the subject matter, which is only good when the topic is something as contentious and varied as religion and spirituality. However, in saying that, it must be noted that given the sheer number of works it becomes dangerously easy to miss many pieces. This is both a product of the number of works, but also the architecture of the Galleries UNSW. The curators have packed work everywhere, in rooms up and down stairs, on the staircase, high on the ceiling, on the floor; every unconventional curatorial placement has been employed, and unfortunately it is only to the detriment of the work. Obviously, this is a product of many art prizes, and the freshness of the Galleries UNSW must also be playing a part, yet it is unfortunately far too noticeable.

Overall, the works present strong points of view, varied works and many that simply must be experience in the flesh to even begin to gauge their strength.

The Blake Prize is on display at Galleries UNSW from October 18 to November 16. For more information (and dates for a slew of artist talks) CLICK HERE.

Words by Luke Letourneau