Time Out - mid August 1997

Virtual unreality
Beck's New Contemporaries provides a series of confusing reflections

Sarah Kent

The graduates selected for this year's New Contemporaries 'have not been chosen', says the press release,'with the intention of exhibiting future stars'. Does this mean that these eighteen young aspirants are born losers,that no dealer in their right mind would touch them with a barge pole? No, the remark merely indicates that the work is 'not slickly finished and commercial'. Scruffiness, it would seem, equals purity. How quaint!

Yet 'slickly finished and commercial' aptly describes one of the best exhibits - Stephen Stephen's The Golden Smile'. A trio of monitors shows him hosting a chat show with suave aplomb. No information is available about the work, but I was told that his guests -which include a make-up artist, DIY expert, rock star, journalist, public school boy and globe trotter - are played by other exhibitor. The performances are impeccable; so are the music, clothes and set. All combine to create the unctuous cosiness of breakfast-time TV, but an almost imperceptible whiff of absurdity subtly undermines the plausibility. The journalist's account of being taken hostage In Bosnia is slightly farfetched; so is the make-up artist's parody of a clapper-girl look and the DIY buff's decor, which includes a glass coffee table with plastic boxes for legs -'very 70s, very now'. This is hyper-realism, in video rather than paint. Art copies ersatz.

Ana Genoves explores adjacent territory. It's impossible to tell whether the peak in her colour photograph, 'Landscape with Mountain', Is computer generated or made from crumpled paper. Her sculptures similarly embody archetypes and clichés.

Landscape elements are transformed into miniaturised ideals, as manageable as a bonsai. Her fibreglass sand dune, iceberg and puddle are no longer unruly, threatening, polluted or unattainable; they are reassuringly available - as domesticated as pets. Chris Gibbons's 'Nocturne'- a videoed landscape seen from above at twilight - could also be a model or a computer-generated image. It reminded me of the simulators used to train pilots or amuse punters at motor- way service stations; but an air of melancholy suggests a feeling of loss. Does Gibbons harbour dreams of real adventure and gritty experience') Brian Cyril Griftiths's daft, Blue Peter' model of a control panel and robot is made from cardboard with matches, plastic bottle tops and Ping- Pong balls as nobs, buttons and dials. His satellite dish - a white umbrella upturned on a rusty stand with a twirl string as the receptor - is another highlight of a show in which no one seems to know where reality is located or where they stand vis-a-vis the simulated versions. Pedro Gomes's picture is titled I'm afraid I'm not here at the moment, but you can leave a message after the beep.' Drawn on huge sheets of paper in swirls of ballpoint colour, the images suggest where he might be found - in the canteen, the lounge or the supermarket. But resembling faded photocopies, the drawings introduce uncertainty as to his where-abouts and his well-being. Jemima Brown's twin is an inflatable doll, dressed and made up as convincing facsimile. Photographed in cornfield, the couple remind one of the youthful Gilbert and George basking in the glorious outdoors. On video, the artist labours to keep her partner fully inflated. Given the seedy connotations of inflatable dolls, Brown's efforts to maintain this impoverished version of herself and to give her a good life generate considerable pathos.

On film Dryden Goodwin superimposes one car on another in rapid succession, so creating another rapid succession, so creating the impression of infinite replacibility, He does the same with people, filming them in public places - parks, the street, a building site - in black and white that creates a memorial sense of melancholy. Each face is visible just long enough to register, before being replaced by another; as though each person has been erased, yet the numbers never dwindle.

Whether by accident or intent clear currents run through this interesting show. A feeling of disorientation comes from the infinite regression of images that refer only to other images - facsimiles to copies and replicas to simulations. Reality seems to have been replaced by its virtual counterpart - either temporarily or for good.