Sholto Blissett, Feral, 2023 © Sholto Blissett. Courtesy the artist and Hannah Barry Gallery, London. Photo: Damian Griffiths

Exhibition Learning Notes: ‘Present Tense’

This resource has been produced to accompany the exhibition ‘Present Tense’ at Hauser & Wirth Somerset from 27 January – 28 April 2024.

Click here to download a PDF of this resource.

About ‘Present Tense’
‘Present Tense’ spotlights the next generation of artists living and working in the UK, from emerging to mid-career, celebrating a breadth of creative talent and socially engaged practices. The multifaceted group presentation consists of 23 contemporary artists outside of the Hauser & Wirth roster, testing the boundaries of their mediums to address and confront notions of identity, consciousness, humanity and representation. Through their individual lens, each artist is responding to the cultural climate of the UK right now, depicting a range of lived experiences that co-exist and connect within the rich fabric of the same location.

Who Are the Artists in ‘Present Tense’?
Lydia Blakeley’s (b.1983) subject matter is the world around her, or rather the world translated through the screen of her camera phone or her laptop. She constantly records and screenshots what interests her in the flux of visual imagery that she is surrounded by. She then uses this digital source material to make paintings and installations with viewpoints that superficially might resemble her original source material, but on closer inspection, interrogates questions around aspiration, commercialism and the artificiality of social media.

Sholto Blissett (b.1996) is known for his fictional landscape paintings depicting architectural follies set in rugged landscapes. Blissett uses these uninhabited vistas to explore how human societies conceive and mythicize their place in the natural world. Through an observational practice and varied brushwork, he critically engages with romanticism and the sublime, which have contributed to the construction of dualisms such as man and nature, culture and wilderness, and history and biology.

Victoria Cantons (b.1969) works across multiple disciplines, connecting and disconnecting psychological boundaries in the relationships we have with ourselves and others. Her practice is autobiographical, exploring issues around divergent identities and the social constraints and exclusions that are regularly imposed on the rights of a person to self-identify as they would wish.

Emanuel de Carvalho’s practice reflects on moral and societal codes and how these relate to psychophysical perceptive responses. Drawing from an academic background in visual processing studies and the phenomenological interpretation of imagery and sound, De Carvalho uses painting, sculpture, installation, and sound to examine our ways of seeing and perceiving in t he current zeitgeist.

Shawanda Corbett (b.1989) is a visual and performance artist whose practice spans ceramics, photography, painting, performance and film. Her work explores the question of what is a ‘complete body,’ by interrogating cycles of a human’s life through cyborg theory and using her perspective as a differently abled black woman to root theory into reality.

Vanessa Garwood’s (b.1982) early work focused on portraiture, developing a language of oil painting with themes ranging from narrative storytelling, male nudes and dance, often with performance collaborations with choreographers. In 2020, her practice shifted to include acrylics and ceramics, working with these new mediums to build a world where more personal themes could be explored. These paintings depict fragments of the artist’s memories and imagination, lost between good and bad, light and dark, part nightmare, part satire.

Ania Hobson’s (b.1990) narrative portraits start with sketches which are used as the base for the work. Her paintings stem from her imagination which is just part of her subconscious, experiences, sights, sounds and smells. Through the work, Hobson creates atmospheres connected to her own anxieties and emotions.

Clementine Keith-Roach’s (b.1984) work centers around the process of plaster-casting. Casts taken from her body and other objects are melded with antique terracotta vessels and using trompe l’oeil, painted to create a continuous surface that blurs the boundary between body and object, skin and clay. Her works are reminiscent of archaeological artefacts, but they also propose new and speculative worlds to come.

Sang Woo Kim (b.1993) builds up and breaks down material boundaries to create a visual ‘skin’ composed of nostalgia and recollections, working with media ranging from painting to installation. His work suggests that the gaze comes from within and is tied to one’s identity: until one can cultivate it, one will always view oneself and the world self-consciously.

Christina Kimeze’s (b.1986) unusual surface materials form an important part of her painting practice, which she uses to explore how texture and luminosity help to investigate themes of interiority, oneness and belonging. Frequently working on suede mat board, Kimeze combines dry chalks, oil pastel and wet paints, applying, crushing and crunching them on the surfaces.

Francesca Mollett (b.1991) makes abstract paintings that react to space and context. Her works are reflections of light and surface formed through a fluid yet precise process. Often influenced by literature, Mollett reveals a deep relationship between the ethos of life and of time, unable to be articulated through representation alone.

Christopher Page (b.1984) is a painter of light, shadow and reflection. He makes trompe l’oeil paintings on canvas, and directly on walls and ceilings that confuse the boundaries between real and virtual space. Whilst drawing from Baroque illusion, they hover on the edge of abstraction, thinking as they do about our flattened world of screens.

Daisy Parris (b.1993) is a painter of psychological space. Direct text-based works and abstract paintings are made up of a vernacular that has developed through experience, relationships and through the depths and the peaks of their human existence thus far. Their work is sometimes silent, sometimes savage, with paintings on canvas that construct self-portraits of personal battles and triumphs.

Gray Wielebinski’s (b.1991) practice incorporates installation, video, drawing, performance, collage, sculpture, and more. He explores the intersecting themes of power, nationhood, desire, and memory. The process of collaging runs through his practice in many forms by transforming iconography and visual codes, his work interrogates dominant frameworks and belief systems and proposes alternatives. Continuously attentive to the fraught status of American mythology and landscape, his recent work has focused on surveillance, strategy, and secrecy, particularly as these intersect with questions of gender, sexuality and the social.

Joseph Yaeger (b.1986) is a contemporary painter interested in cultural memory and how painting can transform recognizable visual imagery. The art of film and film making inspires his practice which is regularly carried out in watercolor. His work is characterized by techniques of doubling, mirroring, and close-up views of his subjects, often concluding in paintings that are uncannily recognizable, yet equally untraceable.

Daisy Parris, A Layer of Grease, 2023 © Daisy Parris. Courtesy the artist and Sim Smith, London. Photo: Damian Griffiths

About the exhibition

‘Present Tense’ is a group exhibition comprising 23 contemporary artists and highlights a snapshot of some of the creative practices of today’s generation working in the UK.

The exhibition explores a wide range of topics including the representation of diverse identities, socio-political exclusion, contemporary engagement with art history and various aspects of human psychology in painting, print, drawing, sculpture, ceramic, installation and film.

The exhibition begins in the Bourgeois Gallery. Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings highlight scenarios of inclusion-exclusion and question individual and group compliance to state policies. Lydia Blakeley transforms scenes captured on her mobile phone into deliberate painterly manifestations from the digital source, thereby continuing the on-going art historical conversation between painting and photography. Gray Wielebinski’s powder-coated sculptures modeled on shooting targets engage with us in the space and provoke us to think about how we might perceive the fragility of our own bodies and those of others.

The Rhoades Gallery sees Christina Kimeze’s work bypassing the use of canvas and instead paints her meditative mysterious figures onto tactile suede mat boards. The bodies moving and twisting in George Rouy’s work cannot easily be classified either in terms of gender, nature or intention and seem to come to life from the artist’s subconscious world. Daisy Parris combines paint, text and mark-making in work that resonates with deep psychological underpinning drawn from the depths of the artist’s personal feelings and experiences. Ella Walker’s practice of drawing and painting challenges us to see how what is considered the art of the past can be a source of contemporary inspiration and creative insights.

Worlds of make-believe and a humorous take on reality can be seen in the work of artists assembled in the Pigsty Gallery. Human limbs and forms are either integrated or appear to emerge out of the sculpture of Clementine Keith-Roach. The trompe l’oeil effect of Christopher Page’s works prompts us to question more deeply the reality of what we think we can see and what might exist beyond the surface.

Within the Workshop Gallery Ebun Sodipo inserts the presence of black trans people into a world in which they are often excluded. Antonia Showering’s work provokes memories of past antecedents in the history of art, in this case Surrealism, in her dreamlike subject matter that moves fluidly between abstraction and figuration.

Shawanda Corbett and Sang Woo Kim bring the exhibition to a close. The work of each artist introduces the concept of autobiography through the mediums of painting and sculpture. Both artists hint at how intimate reflections about inner thoughts and feelings and our relationships to our bodies can be projected in the public realm via paint and clay.

Lydia Blakeley, Set Adrift on Memory Bliss, 2018 © Lydia Blakeley. Courtesy the artist and Niru Ratnam, London. Photo: Damian Griffiths

What are the major themes within the exhibition?

Many of the artists within this exhibition work with a variety of mediums such as paint, sculpture, ceramics, film and performance to give expressive form to their sense of lived experiences. Rose Hastings, Hannah Quinlan and Ebun Sodipo for example, challenge the prevailing inadequacies in representation and use their creative practices to question dominant and systemic power structures that are upheld around gender, race and sexuality. An active questioning of heteronormative standards is engaged throughout the exhibition, creating spaces for celebrating and uplifting diverse voices and perspectives.

Intersectionality is a term originally coined by scholar and American civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw, describing how different modes of discrimination, on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, class, physical ability, are connected to one another and form individual experiences. There is a deep recognition and celebration of intersectional identities in ‘Present Tense’ with artists such as Gray Wielebinski and Daisy Parris exploring how binary ideas of identity can intersect with one another in different ways, shaping individual experiences amongst societal power structures.

Interior Experiences and Introspection
Many of the artists are interested in how our lived, internal experiences continuously shape who we are, how we understand ourselves, and who we can be. Artists such as Ania Hobson, Ebun Sodipo, Christina Kimeze and Victoria Cantons, have socially engaged practices that speak to ideas around psychological space, the unconscious mind and the complexity of human emotion. Through the work of Sholto Blissett, Lydia Blakely and Christopher Page, for example, the audience is encouraged to actively self-reflect on their own experiences as inward observation is a key element of their creative processes.

Representation of the human body as expansive, complex and multifaceted is activated through a variety of mediums in ‘Present Tense.’ Shawanda Corbett’s work uses ceramics and performance as her mediums to communicate the relationships between differently abled and abled bodies, using clay as a vessel to record bodily and material interactions. George Rouy focuses on amorphous and malleable portrayals of the human body through painterly techniques, positioning bodies that are genderless and unbound, escaping fixed definition. Clementine Keith Roach investigates intersections between skin and clay through intricate casting processes, while Victoria Cantons explores bodies through portraiture, highlighting ideas around inner formations of identity and raising questions around individual freedom.

Materiality and intricate creative processes are important to all the artists in ‘Present Tense’. Each artist brings their own expertise to the medium and craft they work with. Some artists create connections between art historical and contemporary approaches to the crafted object such as Sholto Blissett and Clementine Keith-Roach. Some artists within the exhibition are paying homage to traditional creative techniques while addressing major gaps in art history. For instance, Ella Walker challenges historical representations of femininity within the art historical canon through her use of traditional processes of fresco making.

What other artists does work in the exhibition relate to?

Nicole Eisenman (b. 1965) is one of the foremost painters of her generation. She develops a powerful figurative language through her paintings and sculptures that combines elements both factual and fictive, mainstream and countercultural.

Philip Guston (1913 – 1980) was a painter who created work based on genuine emotion and lived experiences. His paintings continue to exert an influence on younger generations of contemporary painters.

Lee Lozano (1930 – 1999) was one of the foremost female conceptual artists of her time. Her practice mainly included paintings, drawing and the written word. She produced groundbreaking work in a progression of styles, from the figurative and cartoonish pop-expressionism of her early paintings and drawings, through serial minimalism, to language-based conceptual pieces.

Christina Quarles (b. 1985) is a Los Angeles-based artist, whose practice works to dismantle and question assumptions and ingrained beliefs surrounding identity and the human figure.

Gray Wielebinski, Reactive Figure (Texas Star), 2023 © Gray Wielebinski. Photo: Damian Griffiths


The quality of dealing with ideas rather than events and freedom from representational qualities in art.

Commedia dell’arte
A form of theater with its origins in Italy that was popular across Europe from the 16th to 17th centuries. The use of pantomime was a key element of performances with masked characters wearing easily identifiable uniforms such as Harlequin and Pierrot.

The use of manual skills and experience to produce objects. Craft objects can be made from a wide array of materials and be either functional in purpose or created solely for aesthetic reasons. Craftmanship, is most commonly used as a non-gendered description of this practice.

Differently abled
A term used as an alternative to ‘disabled,’ emphasizing diverse abilities and strengths rather than limitations. It promotes positive and inclusive language in discussions about individuals with disabilities.

The division of something conceptually into two contrasted categories; often one physical and one philosophical.

The act of representing shapes, forms and/or figures.

A mural painting technique where pigments are applied to wet plaster, creating a lasting integration as the plaster dries. This method, historically employed by artists such as Michelangelo, is known for its durability and association with movements like the Italian Renaissance.

A term used to describe the behavioral, mental and phycological characteristics around masculinity and femininity which are socially constructed. Gender also refers to the constructed and normalized roles that have been attached to men and women historically, and in contemporary society.

A way of looking at society and the wider world conditioned by a purely heterosexual viewpoint.

Trompe l’oeil
An artistic technique that creates realistic illusions to deceive the viewer into perceiving painted or sculpted objects as three-dimensional. This style, often used in murals and decorative arts, aims to trick the eye and achieve a convincing visual deception.

Discussion Questions

Key Stages 1–2

  • The human face appears in many of the artworks in the exhibition. As you move through the galleries, select some examples and discuss what kinds of emotions you see in these facial expressions—happy, sad, surprised etc. Can you create a story around some of these characters?

  • Select one painting and one sculpture in the exhibition that represents the human body. Compare and contrast how the selected artists differ in their approach to the human form— consider the choice of materials used, color, size and emotional impact.

  • Choose one figure represented in your chosen artwork. Can you replicate the pose of the figure as a ‘living sculpture’?

Key Stages 3–4

  • Many of the works in ‘Present Tense’ were made specifically for the exhibition. What are the issues you care about today? Make some notes and sketches to show what art you would make in response to these issues.

  • Different forms of technology such as photography and film have influenced some of the work in the exhibition. What ways would you use technology to create an artwork? Describe what your artwork might look like.

GCSE & A-Level

  • How does the exhibition actively challenge traditional notions of identity in terms of gender, race and class, while embodying the idea that ‘the personal is political’?

  • How do some of the artists in the exhibition navigate the boundaries between physical and digital methods and mediums? What impact does this have on your experience of the artwork?

  • In what ways do some of the artists in the exhibition use art historical references and techniques to create contemporary works that address current social and political issues? How does forming connections between the past and the present in this way serve as a powerful mode of communication?

Creative Activities – During your visit

  • Fold a piece of A4 or A3 paper to make your own personal zine to take with you through the exhibition. Use this zine to journal your responses to the artwork you encounter during your visit. Look at how artists such as Daisy Parris and Ania Hobson use diary text and comic book styled figures in their work to inspire your zine designs.

  • Look at Christopher Page’s use of trompe l’oeil. Look into the painted mirror. What do you see? How do you want to be seen? Invent your own story of what is reflected to you!

Creative Activities – In the classroom or at home

  • Artist Paloma Proudfoot explores portraiture and human anatomy through a range of materials such as ceramics, rope, hair and fabric. Create your own puppet using cut out paper body parts and drawing pins to hold your pieces together. Decorate your puppet with colors inspired by the artworks in the show.

  • Shawanda Corbett uses clay to make physical impressions and recordings of her body. Create an artwork that uses parts of your body as your own mark maker. Use clay, plasticine or Modroc to manipulate and make bodily shapes with. Think about all the different ways you can make marks and take up space using your body!

  • Artists Lydia Blakeley and Ebun Sodipo use digital media to source and create the imagery for their works that cross the boundaries of painting and photography. Using a camera phone, experiment with different ways to react to and capture the world immediately around you. Create a new composition by manipulating from a selection of your imagery.

Supplementary Research

Hauser & Wirth Somerset: Present Tense

In the Studio with Victoria Cantons and Xu Yang

Shawanda Corbett on breaking the mould of ceramic art

Emanuel de Carvalho redresses the lack of representation of queer bodies in the art canon