In the late 1980s, a group of graduates held the art world in thrall. Bored by the art establishment, they came together to take matters in their own ambitious hands, eschewing traditional galleries and organising their own exhibitions in disused factories and warehouses. Today, it’s no exaggeration to say that they created a movement with roots in multimedia that is as controversial as it is fearless. Over thirty years later, the many of the Young British Artists (or ‘YBAs’ as they came to be commonly known), while not quite so young, are still as creative and contentious as ever.
One such YBA is Gavin Turk. A former student of the Royal College of Art, he was failed by his professors, who objected to his final MA exhibition – a whitewashed studio containing just a single blue English Heritage plaque (usually found on buildings where a notable figure from history has lived or worked), bearing the words ‘Gavin Turk. Sculptor, Worked Here 1989-1991’. Unknowingly, his disgruntled professors had gifted Turk with a notoriety worth far more than a postgraduate degree and his work subsequently went on to be collected and exhibited all over the world. His portfolio, as you might imagine, is by turns amusing, irreverent and exploratory. He references art history and celebrity culture to investigate the role of the artist, their identity and value.
The humble egg has played a part in Turk’s work throughout his career, finding places in paintings and sculptures alike for their strength of symbolism at so many levels – life, mortality and fragility. And while he claims to have created over 600 artworks where the egg is present, he carefully presents the form in varying sizes, materials and contexts. In using these to address multiple aspects of the human condition and, indeed, human history, the observations can be drawn that Turk is using the egg as a means of investigating the source of life (‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’).
As a part of this year’s Photo London, Turk’s giant bronze egg cheekily entitled ‘Oeuvre (Verdigris)’, which currently resides on the River Terrace at Somerset House, has been given an added dimension. The artist has invited contributions of original photographs, inspired by an egg as a way of instigating a “mass creative act”. He explains, “Looking at art by photographing it has now become a dominant way of behaving. Art is being constantly exposed to the glare of the internet and social media; everyone has a camera and a new way of seeing.” In this way, Turk is inviting photographers to take a step back and in the same way think about how they look at such a familiar object, considering it with fresh eyes.
All photographs submitted will be projected using Canon XEED 4K laser projection technology, to form a huge multimedia exhibition in the Great Arch Hall at Somerset House during the event, to be held from 16th to 19th May. However, in an interesting twist, Turk has also enlisted the services of guest curators, who will select their favourite images from all submissions. Fellow YBA, Sarah Lucas; legendary photographer Martin Parr; respected curator, writer and editor, Francesca Gavin and, brilliantly, The Egg Gang, a creative team who hold the world record for the most liked picture on Instagram (@World_Record_Egg). The final curator on the list is the public, who have voted for their favourite egg images via the gallery on the Portrait of an Egg website.
Photo London was founded in 2015 and has already established itself as a world-class photography fair, bringing together the capital’s creative communities and organisations with the public to celebrate photography.