Ben Yau, The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free, 2019 Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi-gloss photo paper, acetate, vinyl, book, video Dimensions variable
Ben Yau, The Spectre of A World Which Could Be Free (II), 2019 Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi-gloss photo paper, acetate 53 x 43 cm
The Spectre of A World Which Could Be Free (I), 2019 Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi- gloss photo paper, acetate 63 x 83 cm
Ben Yau, The Spectre of A World Which Could Be Free (III), 2019 Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi-gloss photo paper, ink 63 x 83 cm
Ben Yau, The Spectre of A World Which Could Be Free (IV), 2019 Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi-gloss photo paper, ink 63 x 83 cm

Ben Yau

with Inês Costa

‘My interest in this event was initiated by research into the foundations of neoliberalism. What set in motion the shift towards austerity, privatisation, deregulation, and the dismantlement of workers’ rights in Britain and the US?’

My name is Ben. I’m a visual artist working with materials collected from my research on neoliberalism. These are collaged or montaged into works on paper and moving image. I’m interested in engaging the viewer in a register that synthesises the artistic with the analytical. I do this by employing visual cues inspired by diagrammatic, schematic, archival, and investigative compositions.

Over the past few years my research has negotiated certain historical moments that I think are critical in understanding our present political climate. Events such as the CIA-backed Chilean coup in 1973 which was the focus of my multimedia project The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free (2019), or the unrelenting, iron grip of Thatcherism in Britain which was a starting point for my video essay Proximate Currents (2020). Recently, I have been fascinated by extending the possibilities of time and space towards the speculative, by experimenting with world-building and fictioning.

What are you showing inThe London Open 2022?

I am showing works on paper from my project The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free.

 This work focuses on a particular historical moment as a starting point: the overthrowing of Salvador Allende in 1973, backed by the CIA. Could you please tell us why you felt this moment was of particular significance in this context?

 My interest in this event was initiated by research into the foundations of neoliberalism. What set in motion the shift towards austerity, privatisation, deregulation, and the dismantlement of workers’ rights in Britain and the USA? This question led me to the dramatic downfall of ‘Chile’s Road to Socialism’ in the wake of the military coup in 1973 that ushered in the cold-blooded Pinochet dictatorship. Besides being devastating to the national population in Chile, this did two important things on the world stage. First – as the extent of CIA’s involvement in this coup not known at the time – democratic socialism was endlessly paraded to the world as a failure, collapsing radical political imagination for generations. Mark Fisher described this moment as the ‘founding event’ of capitalist realism, or the fatalist notion that there is no alternative to capitalism. Secondly, the dictatorship imported the Chicago school of economics, an ideology that claims to centre on free markets, but in practice often involves state collusion in siphoning public wealth to the top. This proto-neoliberalism was seen as an example to Reagan and Thatcher in the following years, the reverberations of which still largely dominates the political landscape today.

The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free is an attempt to recuperate this history from the prevailing narrative that democratic socialism had collapsed organically in Chile. Using government documents that have since been declassified, the project explores the scale and scope of secret CIA operations in Chile in the 1970s, the extent of which exceeds the stuff of conspiracy theories. Key declassified CIA documents are presented alongside press images and articles, weaving together the often opposing narratives of covert intelligence and public knowledge. I use several printing methods in their reproduction, mostly sympathetic to the diverse materials and archives I collect from. I use different depths or ‘planes’ within the frames by alternating flat and raised elements, or even attaching them to the glass of the frame. This suggests parallel narratives existing on different levels of knowledge.
 

Works in the exhibition:
The Spectre of A World Which Could Be Free (I), 2019
Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi- gloss photo paper, acetate, check dims

The Spectre of A World Which Could Be Free (I), 2019
Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi- gloss photo paper, acetate
63 x 83 cm

The Spectre of A World Which Could Be Free (III), 2019
Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi-gloss photo paper, ink
63 x 83 cm

The Spectre of A World Which Could Be Free (IV), 2019
Photocopy paper, newsprint, semi-gloss photo paper, ink
63 x 83 cm
 

Ben Yau (1992, Glasgow, UK)
2023 MA Photography & Society, Royal Academy of Art, The Hague
2019 BA Fine Art Photography, Camberwell College of Art, University of the Arts, London

Selected exhibitions: Countercurrents, The Waterfront, The Hague (2022); Source Materials, Nadir Project Space, Brighton (2020); Extractive Model Study, Bloc Projects, Sheffield (solo) (2020); Proximate Currents: When Everything Fuses Together, Iniva, London (solo) (2020); Bloomberg New Contemporaries, South London Gallery, London and Leeds Art Gallery (2019); We Breathe in the Space Between, MIR project Space, London (2019); On Power, Central Saint Martins, London (2019); Meanwhile, Four Corners Gallery, London (2019)

What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?

This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.

Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.

The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.

The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.

The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.

 


 

Gallery 1, Downstairs

The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko’s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge’s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.

Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara’s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
 

Gallery 9, Upstairs

This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free  2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.

Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.

Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
 

Gallery 8, Upstairs

The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.

Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.

On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja’s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.

The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.

Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard’s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
 

See the full list of works here.

An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.

Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.