Teenagers star in the Gravitas exhibition at London Art Fair

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One of the ancient Roman personal virtues, ‘Gravitas’ referred to a depth and seriousness of character, says curator Christiane Monarchi, and was “a pre-condition of the youth’s transition to adulthood”. Inspired by the notion, she’s curated an exhibition titled Gravitas for the Photo50 at London Art Fair, considering how the quality is embodied by contemporary teens and “how they’re presenting themselves to the world when they’re ready”.

Currently when young people are portrayed in the popular media “there always seems to be polemics about something”, she points out, “whether it’s obesity or children on ADHD medication, it’s always bad and troubling”. With her show, she hopes to convey something more expansive, including work by 13 artists at varying stages in their careers, and often selecting work on groups demonised by the media.

Baptiste Lignel’s photobook Pop Pills charts the personal progress of nine American teenagers on ‘behaviour medication’, for example, while Abbie Trayler-Smith presents an intimate portrait of teen obesity. Anthony Luvera uses his collaborative Brighton-based project Not Going Shopping to explore attitudes towards queer communities, and Sophie Green and Spencer Murphy provide vivid documentation of young ‘boyracer’ and biking subcultures.

From the series One Wheel Bad © Spencer Murphy

Wendy McMurdo shows new work reflecting her ongoing interest in the effect of technology on children, while Bronte Cordes – one of the exhibition’s youngest artists – is sharing an autobiographical piece called Twenty One, which meshes together archival footage of birthday cakes and cycling trips with clips of herself in her bedroom.

“I found it interesting to have artists talking about their own experience from this period, when just emerging from it,” says Monarchi, “whereas, for the most part, the rest of the artists are looking into this time period from further along in their lives.”

Gravitas will also feature new work by Frances Kearney and Sian Davey, along with images by Madison Blackwood, Yvette Monahan and Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert. One of the most ambitious pieces is Melanie Manchot’s video installation, 11/18, which features footage of the same young girl filmed for one minute, once a month, from the age of 11 to 18. Displayed over nine television screens, it shows the marked changes in physiognomy, style and attitude that take place over these critical years.

Ethan McMurdo as monk, St. Ronan's games festival, Innerleithen, Scotland on 19th July 2014.
Ethan McMurdo as monk, St. Ronan’s games festival, Innerleithen, Scotland on 19th July 2014 © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Manchot will join Monarchi, along with McMurdo, Lignel and Anthony Luvera, to talk through her work as part of the Photography Focus day on 18 January, and Monarchi also hopes to continue her research beyond this exhibition. “I’d love to pitch an expanded edition,” she explains. “I had to draw the line at 13 artists, but there are many others I would like to work with.”

Gravitas is on show from 18-22 January at London Art Fair, Business Design Centre, Islington.