5 Emerging Artists to Discover at London’s START Art Fair

The diverse practices of these up-and-comers tackle cultural and political histories boldly.

Start Art Fair. Photo Luke Walker.

The fourth edition of START Art Fair is opening to the public today at London’s Saatchi Gallery in an iteration that—despite the roster of 44 galleries from 25 countries—focuses primarily on Asian art, with a particular emphasis on Korean and Vietnamese artists.

Even with the variety of works exhibited across the booths and curated projects, strong themes of memory and history nevertheless continue to emerge, unifying the fair’s overall narrative and pointing to contemporary concerns within practices of artists today.

What follows is a round-up of five stand-out artists at START whose works explore the political and cultural histories of their native countries, and address the individual as well as collective identities that develop from those histories.


Korean Eye Section

Sangjin Kim, Air Purifier (2011). Courtesy of the artist, Mehta Bell Projects, and START Art Fair.

With Air Purifier (2011), the Korean-born, London-based artist Sangjin Kim has constructed a glass vitrine that houses an air purifier nestled within a bed of colorful flowers. Kim cites his heavy smoking habit and attempt to purify the cigarette-tainted air in his home as the original inspiration for the work, which ultimately references memory as well as the crippling consequences Kim finds evident in capitalism.

In its initial state, the installation emits the pleasant fragrance of fresh flowers—scent being the sense most closely tied to memory and the past—yet as the flowers inevitably die, the odor of their decay soon replaces the original aroma. Despite the air purifier, the flowers will nevertheless deteriorate. As such, the machine, which is a product of our factory-driven world, is merely a temporary solution and futile attempt to delay the unavoidable cycle of life.


Korean Eye Section

Meekyoung Shin, Translation (1996 – ongoing). Courtesy of the artist.

In her long-term series of sculptures, Translation (1996-), Shin employs soap as the primary material to produce imitations of 16th-century Chinese decorative objects and vases in an aim to comment on the manipulation of cultural histories and identities.

The message is fairly clear: just as the soap used is easily malleable, so too is the reinterpretation of the past. Further to this, the works on view take on the appearance of vases and other objects, tricking the viewer into believing that the sculptures are something they are not.


Korean Eye Section

Chan Hyo Bae, Existing in Costume Anne Boleyn (2012). Courtesy of the artist.

Chan Hyo Bae’s photographs are reinterpretations of the history of the Korean artist’s adopted country of the United Kingdom, exploring the preconceived notions that exist both in Korea as well as the UK.

In the vein of the ridiculous, the artist costumes himself in regal and aristocratic clothing worn in 16th and 17th century England, taking on roles of high-ranking figures at the time, including Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, Charles I, and Thomas Cranmer. The intent here is to accentuate the Korean perception of the Western world and its history, while simultaneously commenting on the West’s similarly distorted view of the East.


Totem Special Section

Kamolpan Chotvichai, Years of Pain.  Courtesy of the artist and Mehta Bell Projects.

The Bangkok-born artist is included in the START special project section titled “Totem: Sacred Beings and Spirit Objects,” which reimagines the art object as a religious or sacred item. In her work, Chotvichai addresses Buddhist teaches regarding identity and individualism by taking images of various parts of her body, remaining anonymous in the process by never including her face.

Chotvichai then cuts the photographs down or slices them into shreds—symbolically stripping away her personal identity. In the end, her oeuvre can be interpreted as a critique of traditional Buddhist teachings and its cultural and historical implications—especially in reference to gender—in her native Thailand.


Art Unified Gallery, Los Angeles

In a departure from the bevy of Asian-born artists, California-based Art Unified gallery is showing American artist Adam Greener, whose humorous work takes a child’s perspective to comment on current and historical political figures in the US.

The works take on the appearance of thoughts journaled in private notebooks or tests one might have taken during early education. In his artist statement, Greener describes his intentions: “By blowing up my private scribbles to a massive scale, and heightening the irony, I’m hoping to juxtapose childish naiveté with the very real, heightened emotion and drama that is as real and earth-shattering as anything we feel as grown-ups.”

START​ Art Fair ​2017 is open to the public from September 14 to 17 at London’s Saatchi Gallery.

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