In contemporary North America, youth is commonly understood as the period after childhood when young people learn life skills and explore their identities in preparation for impending adulthood, within the formative, protective structures of family and school. This view of youth, however, is a relatively recent one and stands as a distinguishing feature of modernity in the Western world. Many pervasive ideas about youth come from psychology, anthropology and sociology—fields that came to the fore in the twentieth century. Within the social sciences, young people became a category to be studied, understood and conceptualized. In the wake of such theorizing, notions of youth have become persistently linked to wildness, authenticity, freedom and idealism—seductive qualities that have been cast as both dangerous and desirable.
Kids these days focuses on a selection of recent photographs, videos, drawings and prints by Canadian artists. In their examinations of youth and youth cultures within a North American context, the artists employ strategies that echo methodologies used in the social sciences. They document and study the physicality, expressivity and behaviour of young people, concentrating on their tastes, thoughts, communication methods and leisure activities. The works suggest an underlying desire on the part of the artists to capture and comprehend the essence of youth or to affiliate themselves with its attributed characteristics. Popular ideas around youth are also present in the books on display, in the artists’ reflections on their works and in written responses by Gallery visitors.
Concentrating primarily on representations of girlhood, Kids these days offers various views on youth and gender as social and cultural constructs that are also experienced as intersecting lived processes. In other words, youth, like gender, is constructed not only by those who study it but also by young people themselves who, in various ways, actively perform, physically embody and acutely feel it. Kids these days aims to explore this phenomenon as it is articulated within a selection of recent Canadian contemporary art practices.
This exhibition was first presented in 2014 at the Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University in Sherbrook, Quebec, under the title Bande à part/Kids these days and was subsequently remounted by MSVU Art Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2016. The curatorial research for this exhibition was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.
The category of youth is not a straightforward one. Beyond its designation of the stage of life between childhood and adulthood, it encompasses a complex multifaceted “imaginary”—one that is rich in analogous associations and imagery. In its most negative light, youth is denigrated as the incarnation of debauchery and excess, but in its most positive light, youth is idealized as the embodiment of pre-socialized authenticity, unbridled potential, creativity and freedom. The celebratory virtues typically associated with youth strikingly correspond with those sought after by many artists within their own art practices.
A fascination with youth’s attributed imaginary is vividly articulated throughout the artworks in superyoung, a companion exhibition to Kids these days. Displaying an aesthetics of youth, the featured artworks capture and embody an overarching youth-inspired perspective, mindset or way of communicating. Unlike many of the artists in Kids these days who predominantly assume the role of observer, the artists in superyoung unreservedly adopt and appropriate attitudes, styles, vernaculars and modes of expression commonly ascribed to youth and youth culture. This youth-inspired performativity also manifests itself less explicitly through the creation of artworks made within a coded sensibility of youth—as if made by youth themselves.
Comprised of drawings, collages, textiles, sculptures and videos, superyoung presents a wide range of work marked by aesthetics, styles and strategies that broadly evoke youth and youth culture. These works often display an unpolished, unschooled aesthetic or conversely, a naïve, romantic expressivity. Some recurring tropes are heightened emotionality, nostalgia, humor, playfulness, irony, cynicism and an appreciation of D.I.Y and pop culture.
The curatorial research for this exhibition was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.