Can Contemporary Art Really Liberate Young People?: A Critique of the National Galleries of Scotland’s Outreach Project and Exhibition, the Untitled: Bad Entertainment (2014 - 2016)

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Robin BAILLIE, National Galleries of Scotland, United Kingdom
‘Only if we learn to aestheticize the lack of gifts as well as the presence of gifts, and thus not differentiate between victory and failure, do we escape the theoretical blockage that endangers contemporary art activism.’ Groys (2014)

Faced with (post)-crisis personal, social and economic uncertainty, young people in Scotland participating in The UNTITLED, were offered the chance to describe the reality of their lives by creating their own ‘contemporary art’. This paper will assess the meaning and impact of the art they created; on the young ‘artists’ themselves, on their peers and on the wider audience who visited their exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. What kind of testimony did they deliver about the challenges that faced them, springing from societal conditions that they hadn’t created? The participants were drawn from social work centres, employability courses, mainstream and special schools, in an attempt to engage those excluded from cultural representation. Would anyone take notice of their artistic statements, and would anything change as a result?

An assessment of the inequalities surrounding the much-promoted panacea of ‘creativity’, and an examination of the unequal distribution of the entitling designation of ‘artist’, in relation to young people, forms the core of this paper. Contemporary art in Scotland, as promoted by the government funded arts agency, is seen as a ‘place-making’ success story, whose ‘effect’ it seeks to spread throughout society. In this context, could the participants transcend the instrumental nature of their collaboration with the gallery, and could they utilise the supposedly ‘rule-breaking premise’ of contemporary art methodology, to actually alter their own life chances and affect the perceptions of a public audience? The paper concludes by assessing whether The UNTITLED challenged the current distribution of the power of representation and if so, by what (evidenced) means it did so.