British Art Show 9 has been at Aberdeen Art Gallery for over a month now. Many of you will have been to visit, while many others have not. Some will love it, others may not. One thing is for sure, though. It’s undeniable. It’s asking pretty big questions of its audience on its themes of healing, care and reparative history, and it’s not afraid what we might say in reply.

So let’s have a look at the show. I really wanted to find out what BAS9 tells us about modern Britain.

Heads up here. I’m going to use the word ‘works’ here a lot when speaking about the art generally. It’s not a perfect word, but in a show that contains paintings, photographs, sculpture, video, soundscapes and many more besides, it’s as good a capture-all word for the art as any other.


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The first visit

I was lucky enough to visit on opening night, but I have to admit I was left feeling a little disappointed. I felt that what I was seeing was a cut and paste. Pre made work dropped into a space that was seemingly not expecting it. I wondered if the artists hearts were really in this post Brexit, mid pandemic exhibition. What story are the artists and curators were telling me, either in individual works or the show as a whole? I left Aberdeen Art Gallery feeling a little flat.

But I saw it. I saw it with a small crowd, faces covered apart from their eyes and I realised this isn’t how I enjoy art.

Finding the right time

Like many in Aberdeen, I think my big art event every year has become Nuart Aberdeen. In normal years, when it visits the city, huge crowds fill the streets. I love those crowds. The delight on people’s faces as they look at vast murals is intoxicating. I get out there with my camera and photograph their faces. Our city at its very best. But I actually see very little of the artwork on those big days. I save that for later. When everyone goes home I go back out to the empty streets and take in the work in my own time and headspace.

So I went back on my own at a quiet time of the day and was able to give it my full attention. Let’s have a look at the work that stood out for me.

Patrick Goddard – Animal Antics

Created for British Art Show 9, Patrick Goddard’s Animal Antics is a short film featuring a woman and her talking dog. As they talk and walk round a zoo it becomes apparent that the small smug white dog has a pretty oppressive view of the world.

It’s beautifully shot, but awkward to watch as the dog’s often detestable rants are played in part for comedy. The film feels a bit reminiscent of a ’70s sitcom but without the laughter track. However, as time rolls on, we start to see the uncomfortable link between the dog’s bigotry and the way we as a society treat animals.

At just under 40 minutes, it’s a long viewing time for an art exhibit, but well worth watching from start to finish.

Margaret Salmon – I You Me We Us | Photo by Chris Sansbury

Margaret Salmon – I You Me We Us

Glasgow based artist Margaret Salmon’s contribution to BAS9 is a 16 minute silent film shown on two stacked monitors which ‘talk’ to each other. We’re exploring affection here, and the small intimate touches and sounds we share with the people we love. It’s very tender and gentle to watch. You can find yourself

The space on this work is perfect. The monitors stand in a corner but they capture people’s attention as they move from one space to the next. It’s great fun to watch couples walk past, then turn back to watch longer, to see more of the affectionate moments that Margaret Salmon has shared.

Hardeep Pandhal | Photo by Chris Sansbury

Hardeep Pandhal

Glasgow based Hardeep Pandhal’s installation grabbed me on my first visit and kept me coming back for more. He works with his mum on amazing knitted works, but his illustrations are what captured my attention, with the feel Robert Crumb of fantastical ’60s stoner comics. 2Pac makes an appearance, and we take a look at how we have come to misuse the word ‘thug’.

Each time I visit I find something new about this to enjoy. Something that amuses or maybe I peel back another layer. Not only does it look great, but it really does reward you for repeated visits and taking a little time to look into Pandhal’s influences and previous works.

Marianna Simnett
The Needle and the Larynx (still), 2016
© the artist. Courtesy the artist and Serpentine Galleries, London

Marianna Simnett – The Needle and the Larynx

Another video production, Marianna Simnett films herself going through a medical procedure to lower the pitch of her voice. For the sake of art. The practice is sometimes used help young men who’s voice doesn’t settle after puberty.

We don’t normally see medical procedures like this, and Simnett uses slow motion and artistic editing to ensure that as an audience, we never flinch from seeing the disquieting procedure from start to finish. Matched with its hypnotic soundtrack, it’s an uncomfortable watch, but you can’t tear your eyes away. Of all the works at British Art Show 9, this was the one that stuck with me for days after.

It’s worth noting that The Needle and the Larynx might not be for you if you are particularly squeamish.

Aberdeen Art Gallery’s exterior view
Photo by Chris Sansbury

No wrong opinions

Fellow visitors to British Art Show 9 might notice that most of my favourite works use video as their medium. That, of course, is entirely down to my personal taste, and possibly where I am able to see beyond the surface. I can offer a little more than “that’s pretty” or “I don’t like that”.

There are maybe a handful of works on display at BAS9 for you too. Ones that you’ll be particularly taken by. Hopefully to even draw you back for repeated visits. Those works could well be different from the ones that excited me.

So what does BAS9 tell us about Modern Britain?

I think curators Irene Aristizábal and Hammad Nasar have taken a deliberately hands-off approach to an overall show message. There is no message. We aren’t supposed to walk away thinking our views on this strange island we all live on have been confirmed, adjusted or derided. There’s definitely a conversation to be had as to whether that was a good option.

We’re supposed to walk away having maybe been moved by some exciting modern art. Beyond that, we can argue which ones we like best, and why, but British Art Show 9 is not answering questions on its themes of healing, care and reparative history; it’s asking them. How do YOU feel about these things? Where do YOU stand? What do YOU care about?

What do you need to know?

British Art Show 9 runs in Aberdeen until 10th October, before it moves on to Wolverhampton. As with almost everything at Aberdeen Art Gallery, its free but depending on current Covid19 restrictions, you may need to book a visit. My advice is take your time with the works on show. My first visit was 3 hours long and that was probably rushing it.

Where: Aberdeen Art Gallery
When: July 10 – October 10 2021
Opening Hours: Monday 10am-5pm, Tuesday closed, Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-4pm 
Cost: Free

Let us know what you think of the show. As with all art, there are NO WRONG ANSWERS here.