Should you be wondering what’s spiking interest outside York Art Gallery….

Steve Messam’s inflatable installation Portico, from a distance looking like flickering flames consuming York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, York. Copyright: York Art Gallery

WHAT exactly is that orange spiky inflatable thing nesting on York Art Gallery’s frontage all of a sudden?

The answer is Steve Messam’s Portico, one of the shortlisted works for the Aesthetica Art Prize 2022 exhibition that opens today.

The County Durham environmental artist’s temporary installation exploits colour and scale, “creating a moment of interruption in the familiar”, in the manner of These Passing Things, Messam’s series of installations for the National Trust at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, near Ripon, from last July to October.

Messam’s bold and large-scale installations “uncover layers of narrative within the landscape, drawing on existing uses of the land and architecture, reflecting an understanding of the geological, cultural and agricultural practices used to shape it”.

Messam says: “Portico changes the way people look at York Art Gallery, temporarily transforming the front of the building and the way people use the space. You can see it from the city walls, the open-top buses, and you can come sit and have your lunch outside and enjoy it too. I love how many people have been stopping to take photos already.”

Cherie Federico, Aesthetica Art Prize curator and director, says: “As a curator, installing Steve Messam’s Portico is truly inspirational. The marriage between the historic and contemporary creates a feeling of surprise, awe, and contemplation.

“You start look at the building with fresh eyes and the gallery is transformed. Portico is a surprise and makes you feel good. The bold colour and spikes ignite the imagination.”

York Museums Trust is urging people to share their photos of Portico by tagging York Art Gallery and Aesthetica Magazine on Instagram and Twitter.

The winners of the Aesthetica Art Prize – York’s international contemporary art competition, now in its 15th year – were announced last night when Baff Akoto won the main prize and Yukako Tanaka received the Emerging Artist prize.

Running until September 18 in one of York Art Gallery’s ground-floor galleries, the 2022 exhibition by the 20 finalists invites audiences to explore, discover and engage with themes from our rapidly changing world.

This year’s finalists hail from Argentina, France, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Great Britain and the United States, and their works is equally diverse, spanning painting and drawing; photography and digital art; three-dimensional design and sculpture; installation, performance and video art.

On show are works by winners Akoto and Tanaka and fellow finalists Messam; Sophie Dixon; Elise Guillaume; Rebecca Lejić-Tiernan; Sarah Maple; Guen Murroni; Bart Price; Jason Bruges Studio; Sara Choudhrey; Akihiro Boujoh; Ulf König; Marcus Lyon; Ellen Carey; Gjert Rognli; Omar Torres; Ingrid Weyland; K Young and Terrence Musekiwa.

Morgan Feely, senior curator at York Art Gallery, says: “It’s a pleasure to host the Aesthetica Art Prize 2022. I hope people will be inspired by the transformation of the exterior of the gallery and come in to see the full stunning exhibition, which is free to see.

“This year’s Aesthetica Art Prize runs alongside our new exhibition Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art. Together, they show our commitment to celebrating new art at York Art Gallery.”

Gallery opening hours are 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Admission to the Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition and the gallery’s permanent collections is free.

“This festival is a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else,” says Aesthetica Short Film Festival director

Aesthetica Short Film Festival director Cherie Federico

NEXT year will mark the 20th anniversary of Cherie Federico moving from New York to York.

By then, the founder of Aesthetica Magazine, the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and Aesthetica Arts Prize will have lived longer in her adopted home city than her native United States.

In 2002, she came to York to study at York St John University and…stayed, seeing possibilities within these historic city walls for artistic innovation.

This is her busiest week of the year, hosting the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, now in its 11th year and bigger than ever, running from Tuesday to Sunday – and online until November 30 – with a remarkable 500 films; themed strands and guest programmes; masterclasses; an industry marketplace; VR (virtual reality) lab; interactive media lab; a celebration of the New Wave of filmmakers; mentoring sessions; networking opportunities and a Sunday awards ceremony.

“It’s become a very significant British film festival, and our ticket sales are healthier than ever,” says Cherie, as the festival restores live screenings in 2021 after last year’s entirely digital event for home viewing only. This year, you can watch in person or online or a hybrid combination of the two each day.

“People are buying hybrid passes to be able to soak up everything in the city – films, masterclasses, panels and discussions – over the six days and also to have full access to the virtual platform to catch up on films and masterclasses until the end of the month.

“There are more films showing than ever before because we’re offering the chance to experience them in different ways; some programmes are online only, some are in-person only, so there are some distinctive programmes, but there’s also cross-pollination between the two formats.

“The thing that has changed this year is that we’ve organised the films into six strands, which came about in response to the pandemic.”

ASFF’s films span documentary; advertising; narrative; animation; artists’ film; comedy; dance; drama; experimental; family friendly; fashion; music video and thriller. “The programme is still organised thematically by genre, but these films now move into different strands too,” says Cherie.

“I was thinking, ‘what are the key things that unite the films in this year’s programme?’, and I came up with How It Was, How It Is, How It Will Be, thinking about the past, present and future, focusing on extraordinary stories in the everyday.

“Strand Two, Humanity On The Edge, addresses ‘Crisis’, whether looking at the effect of climate change or the pandemic; Black Lives Matter;  LGBTQ+ issues; human rights; women’s safety. There is no more ‘normal’. It’s an idea that’s become redundant. Crisis has become a defining characteristic of life in the 21st century.”

Cherie continues: “Strand 3, When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade, is about hope, optimism, positivity. The glass is half full, as we take a lighter look at life to remind us of all the joy and beauty around us, as we take a moment to admire the power and resilience of the everyday person.

“Strand 4, Pleased To Meet You, explores Connections, how relationships are formed, and considers how the digital age has altered the way we build, maintain and cut ties, maybe irrevocably.

“Strand 5, Mirror, Mirror, looks at identity, how we decide who we are or, perhaps, who we want to be;  how you see yourself, whether you’re holding a mirror up to society or to yourself, and how the way you see yourself is often very different to the way other people see you.”

The sixth strand, Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free, addresses how segregation, racism, marginalisation and discrimination are systemic issues deep-rooted within society. “They are part of many people’s daily experiences,” says Cherie. “We must recognise that in the fight to establish true equality.”

In further festival highlights, New Wave introduces the next generation of filmmakers, with ASFF being the only British festival to offer a strand dedicated to graduate filmmakers, under such titles as The Art Of Limitation: Creativity Under Constraints (Saturday, City Screen, 3.30pm to 5.30pm).

The Guest Programmes have been curated by Rachel Pronger, originally from Bradford and now living and working in Berlin after deciding “it’s now or never to move”. 9/11, Twenty Years On is the subject of three programmes at Bootham School: Memories, Monuments (earlier today); In Search Of (Saturday, 3.30pm) and The Fallout (Sunday, 2pm).

“Part One looks at how did we get to the point where people steered planes into the Twin Towers; Part Two covers the day itself; Part Three considers how that moment led to a rise in populism and nationalism, and how you end up with Trump in the White House,” says Cherie. “That moment, 9/11,  galvanised some very dangerous attitudes harking back to 1939.”

Look out for a sound installation at Spark: York, a new location for the 2021 festival, where the sound of a rainforest is accompanied by a CO2 monitor. “The more people that fill the room, the quieter the room becomes,” says Cherie.

For the first time since the first lockdown in March 2020, The Basement at City Screen, York, is open,  playing host to the VR Lab for ten 360-degree films and six immersive experiences each day from 11am to 8pm.

The week’s masterclasses are welcoming the likes of filmmaker Peter Strickland (Katalin Vargo, Duke Of Burgundy); rising director Prano Bailey-Bond (Best Experimental Film winner for Man vs Sand at 2013 ASFF; debut feature film Censor); Hyena writer-director Gerard Johnson; actor Maxine Peake, discussing “acting as authorship”, and The Father producer David Parfitt.

So too are: stop-motion director Anthony Farquhar-Smith (Fantastic Mr Fox, Corpse Bride); rising star Gamba Cole (from Stephen Merchant’s BBC series The Outlaws ); Industrial Light & Magic’s VFX supervisor Julian Foddy and feminist filmmaker Sally Potter (Orlando, The Road Not Taken).

Still to come are: Senna, Amy and Diego Maradona documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Yorkshire Museum, Saturday, 3pm); God’s Own Country and Ammonite writer-director Francis Lee, the Yorkshireman who “doesn’t often do” such Close Up encounters (Yorkshire Museum, Saturday, 6pm) and Alice Seabright, who has written and directed episodes of Netflix hit Sex Education (Yorkshire Museum, Saturday, 6.30pm).

A Sunday streaming at 1pm brings together actor and Primetime founder Victoria Emslie and Lizzy Talbot, intimacy coordinator for Bridgerton, who will discuss the tasks and techniques involved when working with an intimacy coordinator, one of the stage and screen’s increasingly important new roles.

“It’s quite remarkable how many big names we have taking part in the festival,” says Cherie. “It’s a huge, huge festival and it’s really important for people in York to realise the scope and the breadth of a festival that takes place in their city.

“It’s major cultural programming, and I’m proud of the dynamic we bring to the city’s cultural agenda. It’s extraordinary to be able to do this and we’re proud that we brought £2 million to the York economy in 2019, the last time we had a live festival.

“This festival is a unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else, and that’s what makes it so special: the combination of films, the masterclasses and the venues around the city; the union of the historic and the contemporary.”

Please note, ASFF is applying a stringent Covid-safety policy. “For admission, if you have had two jabs, you must show your NHS Covid pass; if not, you must have proof of a negative Lateral Flow Test that day.  There are no exemptions,” says Cherie. “We’re determined to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 at the festival.”

For full details on the 2021 Aesthetica Short Film Festival programme, go to:

Cherie Federico, director of Aesthetica Short Film Festival, is this week’s special guest for Chalmers & Hutch’s arts podcast

Cherie Federico: Aesthetica Short Film Festival director

THE 11th Aesthetica Short Film Festival is running in York this week and online until November 30. No better time for Two Big Egos In A Small Car podcasters Chalmers & Hutch to invite director Cherie Federico for a chat about York’s fiesta of film.

Under discussion too in Episode 63 are: Adele’s algorithms; The Young’uns’ gig theatre in The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff at York Theatre Royal, and are Public Service Broadcasting’s powers of Bright Magic fading?

To listen, head to:

Director Cherie Federico’s Ten To See at 2021 Aesthetica Short Film Festival

David Blank feat. Pinksand: Foreplay, music video, directed by Delia Simmonetti, showing at the 2021 Aesthetica Short Film Festival

THE 2021 Aesthetica Short Film Festival opens in York tomorrow with the invitation to “discover new cinema”.

In its 11th year, the BAFTA-recognised festival takes the form of a hybrid event after being entirely online in Covid-impeded 2020, now combining a live festival in York this week with a longer-running virtual event online.

Cinema screenings and live events, such as masterclasses, are taking place from tomorrow until Sunday, spread across multiple venues, while the digital platform offers live-streamed events from York, a range of virtual masterclasses and On Demand film programmes, available until November 30.

Under the hybrid umbrella, the festival can be attended in three ways: in person, virtually or through a mixture of both, with tickets on sale at

To view the programme, featuring no fewer than 500 films, head to:

Aesthetica Short Film Festival director Cherie Federico

Here are director Cherie Federico’s Ten To See recommendations for the 2021 Aesthetica Short Film Festival:

1. Daily film programmes: Official Selection
ASFF has six thematic film strands this year, released online and screening in cinemas. Each strand features multiple genres of film, including comedy, drama, documentary, animation and thriller. Short films, feature films and VR (virtual reality) films are available to watch On Demand and in cinemas. For more details, go to:  and copy:

2. VR Lab and associated panel discussions:
ATTENDEES can experience virtual reality and 360 films at the VR Lab in York or at home with a headset. Festival panels with industry experts offer the chance to learn more about cutting-edge technologies in filmmaking.  Go to:

3. Masterclasses 

EVERY year, ASFF welcomes industry leaders from assorted disciplines to discuss their craft, offering the opportunity to gain first-hand insights in direction, animation, VFX (visual effects), documentary production and cinematography. This year’s line-up includes speakers from the BBC, Film4, Channel 4 and the Guardian.

From Adaption To Oscar Nomination: Sally Potter OBE, November 5, Yorkshire Museum and live-streamed
LEGENDARY English director Sally Potter’s ground-breaking films have earned her a rightful place in cinema history. Trained as a dancer, Potter moved into film in the 1970s, forging a reputation as a fiercely feminist filmmaker with The Golddiggers, Orlando and The Party.

Filmmaker Sally Potter

Her latest non-linear drama, 2020’s The Road Not Taken, demonstrates how she remains a filmmaker of rare vision and imagination. Potter’s discussion with host Mia Bays, of Birds’ Eye View, will span five decades. For more details, visit:

4. Masterclass: Industrial Light & Magic: Fantastic Universes, November 5, Yorkshire Museum and live-streamed

AS the visual effects and animation studio for Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic has been responsible for building some of the most memorable and magical worlds in modern cinema. VFX supervisor Julian Foddy, who has worked on blockbusters such as Fast & Furious 9, The Mandalorian and the forthcoming Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, presents a masterclass that will illuminate this fascinating area of post-production.

For more details on Foddy’s compelling insight into the hard work and innovation that it takes to build captivating and convincing universes, head to:

5. Masterclass: Striking Portraits: Documentaries That Change The World, Asif Kapadia, November 6, Yorkshire Museum and live-streamed

ACADEMY Award, four-time BAFTA-winning and Grierson Award-garlanded filmmaker Asif Kapadia has worked across both fiction and documentary, with credits such as The Warrior (starring the late, great Irrfan Khan), Senna, Amy and 2019’s Diego Maradona.

In this illustrated masterclass with Jason Wood, Kapadia discusses his extensive career, his influences, his hopes for a more diverse industry and his pioneering work in creating influential portraits of often flawed and troubled icons. More details can be found at:

6. Guest Programme: Imperial War Museum

IMPERIAL War Museum presents a programme of archive footage under the title of How The Past Is Presented: Geopolitics in Iraq and the Gulf.  More details:

Vocalist and sound artist Yifeat Ziv: Sound installation at Aesthetica Short Film Festival

7. Guest Programme: 9/11, Twenty Years On
AESTHETICA marks 20 years since the attack on the Twin Towers, New York, with a three-part programme of films examining its impact and aftermath. More details:

8. Family Friendly Screenings

AESTHETICSA believes film is for everyone. These family-friendly programmes are designed for four to 12-year-olds, although they touch on emotions and offer layers of meaning for adults and carers alike, featuring animations, comedies and age-appropriate dramas. More details:

9. Sound Installation, November 5 and 6, Spark:York

EXPERIMENTAL vocalist and sound artist Yifeat Ziv presents a multi-speaker sound piece entitled Amazonian Traces Of Self, based on her experience in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. More details:

10. Industry Marketplace

UNIQUE to ASFF, the Industry Marketplace is a vital meeting space for established and aspiring filmmakers, industry professionals, academics, students and film-lovers. The 2021 event welcomes representatives from film festivals, universities and casting companies as well as strategists, consultants and mentors, in person on November 5 and online until November 30. More details:

Trailblazers Arthur Kleinjan and Juliana Kasumu win Aesthetica Art Prize awards at York Art Gallery in timely ‘call to action’

Arthur Kleinjan’s Above Us Only Sky: Winner of the 2021 Aesthetica Art Prize Main Prize

ARTHUR Kleinjan has won the 2021 Aesthetica Art Prize Main Prize and Juliana Kasumu, the Emerging Prize, in York.

The winners were announced in a virtual private view and awards ceremony online, ahead of the public opening of the exhibition at York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, that will run until September 5.

Both artists’ moving-image works question the world in which we live, diving into some of today’s most pressing topics, from the construction of complex identities to notions of truth and storytelling.

Dutchman Kleinjan’s winning work is Above Us Only Sky, a compelling film wherein a narrator leads the viewer into a magical-realist history bereft of fabrication. The story begins with an investigation into a plane crash in communist Czechoslovakia, when one woman survived after an unlikely fall from the air.

“This event becomes the point of entry to a dense web of seemingly unrelated events that question the logic of chance and synchronicity,” says Aesthetica Art Prize director Cherie Federico.

Technical gremlins with the sound prevented Kleinjan from making an acceptance speech from his home, but he could be seen on screen, cupping his hands in thanks, making heart signs and giving thumbs-ups.

British-Nigerian artist Kasumu’s winning Emerging work, What Does The Water Taste Like?, was prompted by intimate conversations, “questioning the production of identity as it relates to her own personal affiliations with the complex ways where past and present remain in constant dialogue”.

“This engages in interpersonal speculation regarding identity production and sentiments of ‘home’,” says Cherie. “Juliana’s work presents perspectives on the intimacy between kith and kin.”

Juliana Kasumu’s What Does The Water Taste Like?: Winner of the 2021 Aesthetica Art Prize Emerging Prize

“I’m honoured, I’m excited, I’m grateful, so excited that the project is being seen in this way, as it’s so meaningful, not just to me, but to my family,” said Juliana, in her digital livestream interview with Cherie, later revealing she happened to be “in York right now”.

What inspired Juliana’s artist film? “My practice has been such a long journey of questioning, asking questions and wanting to resolve my feelings about my identity as a British Nigerian, the disconnection, when I’m here, or in Nigeria, or travelling the world,” she replied.

Kasumu is resolving her journey to her identity, such as the matter of her name, and trying to understand that path as a “second generation child of two immigrant parents”. “Even people who are not second generation will understand it,” she said.

The straightening of hair was central to the film, noted Cherie. “I guess for me, in retrospect, I feel that even in the pain and the frustration, there is also love,” Juliana said. “You will see she [the mother] is nurturing the hair as a labour of love, even though the things that have brought it about are painful. There is a tenderness that can exist, where love can exist, but pain can also exist.”

What’s next for Juliana? “I’m in post-production for a short documentary I made in New Orleans about this amazing woman who runs the Baby Bangz hair salon [at 223, N. Rendon Street],” she said.

Cherie describes the Aesthetica Art Prize as a place of discovery, sculpting the future of the art sector through supporting the most talented new practitioners from across the globe, from the UK to the USA, Italy to Norway, Germany to Brazil, Singapore to Mexico, Taiwan to Australia: “trailblazers who digest the very nature of life in the 21st century, further questioning and making sense of a rapidly changing world”.

In all, more than 4,000 artworks were submitted for the 2021 prize; 125 entrants making the long list; 20, the short list of “new luminaries and chroniclers of our times”, chosen for their originality, skill and technical ability for the exhibition at York Art Gallery.

Cherie says: “Life was complicated before Covid-19, and the pandemic has placed a new set of constraints and challenges on society. The question that runs through all of our minds like a ticker tape is: ‘where do we go from here?’

Straighten, from Juliana Kasumu’s prize-winning art film What Does The Water Taste Like?

“The winning works are just that: a call to action. These works are covering themes such as the climate crisis, colonial histories, racism, new technologies and the impact they have on our lives. Both Juliana Kasumu and Arthur Kleinjan draw on personal and universal narratives, with immediate artworks that reflect on the times in which we live.”

Hosted by the York-published international art magazine Aesthetica, the Aesthetica Art Prize was set up 14 years ago to provide a platform for those redefining the parameters of contemporary art.

It has since supported practitioners to gain funding, residencies and commissions, while finalists have featured in exhibitions at The Photographers’ Gallery, V&A, MoMA, Barbican and the National Portrait Gallery, in London. Winners receive prize money, exhibition and publication opportunities , plus further opportunities for development.

The 2021 shortlisted artists with work on show at York Art Gallery are: Kleinjan; Kasumu; Monica Alcazar-Duarte; Andrew Leventis; Chris Combs; James Tapscott; Alice Duncan and Cesar & Lois Collective; Carlos David; Seb Agnew; Kitoko Diva; Christiane Zschommler; Henny Burnett;   Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard; David Brandy; Shan Wu; Cathryn Shilling; Dirk Hardy; Gabriel Hensche and Erwin Redl.

The work spans painting and drawing; photography and digital art; three-dimensional design and sculpture; installation, performance and video art. As with each year, the selected pieces push the boundaries of form and genre, inspiring viewers to see the world in new ways.

“Their works cover pressing themes, from the climate crisis and colonial histories to racist bias and new technologies,” says Cherie.

“The pieces draw on both personal and universal narratives, unearthing the intricate layers of what it means to be alive today. These works are immediate, compelling and highly relevant works reflecting on a new zeitgeist.”

Among the featured artists, Kitoko Diva’s The Black Man In The Cosmos is a poetic and experimental art film created as a part of a video installation, mixing new forms of Afrofuturism, cyberspace imagery and poetry, that addresses the contemporary identity crisis issue among European Afro-descendants.

Winning work: Dutchman Arthur Kleinjan’s Above Us Only Sky

Henny Burnett’s 365 Days Of Plastic takes a critical look at plastic consumption, moulding a year’s worth of packaging into sculptures that comprise a four by three-metre wall. “The scale of food packaging, recycling and waste disposal is there to be seen in plain view,” says Cherie.

Andrew Leventis’s Freezer Box (Vanitas) and Refrigerator (Vanitas) tap into the material realities of the Covid-19 pandemic. His paintings transform Dutch vanitas into 21st century works that consider the experience of mass panic and how the idea of “stocking up” on items became crucial, almost primal, in a notion to survive.

Monica Alcazar-Duarte’s photography series, Second Nature, looks at how algorithms are used, through search engine technology, to support and maintain biased thinking. “These images are an amalgamation of re-staged moments from stories of discrimination gathered from algorithmic search results on the internet,” says Cherie.

In Gabriel Hensche’s Almost Heaven, the artist performs and dances to a song he does not like, Take Me Home, Country Roads. “The result is unnerving and unsettling; the piece demonstrates a perpetual layer of disconnect that we experience through the lens and daily on the internet,” says Cherie.

Reflecting on running such a prestigious prize, the director says: “I’m honoured to have the opportunity to engage with, and support, so much talent. Every day, I am inspired by these artists. I can only thank them for giving me the opportunity to experience such captivating work.

“Curating this year’s exhibition was infinitely rewarding. The process is rigorous because there are so many talented artists that apply.”

Cherie told the awards-ceremony online audience she ‘could not tell you’ how happy she was that the show would be opening in “real life”. “I’m talking tears of joy,” she said. “It’s just so wonderful to be able to put these works on display at York Art Gallery for the world to see.

“Life was about finding a new balance. It was strange and odd, but I’ve learned so much,” says Aesthetica director Cherie Federico of her lockdown experiences

“Art is the mechanism by which we can begin to make sense of the world. If there has ever been a time that we need art in our lives, it is now. The world has been permanently changed by the pandemic. We are living history.

“This is the moment that will alter the way we live, communicate, work, play, socialise, travel, experience the joys of culture, forever.”

In many ways, the pandemic has opened up a new set of possibilities, suggested Cherie: “I lament the loss of some things, while other changes, I welcome. It’s the permanent sense of the real and virtual, the ease and unease, presence and absence. I feel so emotional when I see footage of life in 2019; I well up and my brain starts to access the enormity of the situation.

“I work through all the details. The fears, anxiety and worry. These are feelings that are going to take a long time to understand.”

On the one hand, Cherie had to slow down in the three lockdowns; on the other, ironically, she found she had to “speed right up”. “Life was about finding a new balance. It was strange and odd, but I’ve learned so much,” she said.

“Art is the thing that holds everything together for me. It’s what helps me to work through the sense, anxiety and worry. Art reminds me of our humanity, encourages me to take risks and bold steps forward.

“I see this as a chance to improve, to take this experience and do something with it: rebuild a better, greener and equal society. These are noble aspirations, I know, but the opportunity is here and waiting for all of us to act upon.”

Prize winner Arthur Kleinjan

Nothing happens without action, asserted Cherie, pointing to the exhibition being a rallying call. “So much of it focuses on the very fabric of our lives and the possibilities that are there for the future,” she said.

“The thing about this pandemic is that it has affected every single person on planet Earth. Just think about that for a moment. We have had this enormous shared experience – and there is something very special about that. In many ways, it means you are not alone, and with that comes great comfort.”

Summing up the exhibition, Cherie posits: “The shortlisted artists speak to each other about what it means to be here, in this moment. The dialogue is robust, urgent and necessary. Race and identity are key themes.”

The Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition runs at York Art Gallery until September 5. Tickets are free but booking is essential at

The 2021 Aesthetica Art Prize anthology, Future Now: 125 Contemporary Artists, is available to order for £12.95 at

Entries are open already for the 2022 prize at

Who won the awards at the 2020 online Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York?

Double winner: Maija Blåfield’s The Fantastic won both the Best Of Fest and Best Documentary awards on Sunday at the 2020 Aesthetica Short Film Festival

MAIJA Blåfield’s aptly named The Fantastic has won the Best of Fest at the 2020 tenth anniversary online edition of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival.

More than 300 films competed for the awards in the BAFTA Recognised festival in York, ranging from poignant documentaries that tap into the climate crisis to touching dramas about loss and forgiveness.

At Sunday evening’s close of the six-day festival, the live-streamed awards ceremony was hosted by regular master of ceremonies Greg McGee, following the judging by experts from Film4, BFI Network, ICA London and Nowness.

Winning awards at ASFF can bolster the success of the stand-out films, as shown by past winners going to receive Oscars, such as Chris Overton’s sweet-natured The Silent Child and Benjamin Cleary’s Stutterer.

The Conversation: Winner of the Best Dance award

Keep an eye out for The Fantastic after Maija Blåfield’s film garnered both the Best of Fest and Best Documentary awards. In this short, eight former North Koreans discuss illegal foreign movies they watched in their homeland. How did they imagine the reality based on fictional films? The Fantastic is not about North Korea, Blåfield says.

Further awards went to:

Hijack Visionary Filmmaker Award

Thinking About The Weather, directed by Gardar Thor Thorkelsson

DESPERATE to resolve his anxieties about the looming climate apocalypse, the filmmaker embarks on an odyssey around Britain, speaking to coastal inhabitants resting on a rising coastline, as well as Extinction Rebellion protestors.

Safe Water: Winner of the Best Advertising Award

Best Advertising

Safe Water, directed by Mario Dahl

A GIRLl walks right to the edge of the board, breathing deeply, ready to make the biggest jump of her life, but what awaits her down there? Safe water is more important than ever.

Best Animation

The Passerby, directed by Pieter Coudyzer

ON a summer’s day, the paths of two boys cross unexpectedly. The Passerby considers what happens when two lives become intertwined and the possibilities emerge of a new journey together.

The Passerby: Winner of the Best Animation award

Best Artists’ Film

Factory Talk, directed by Lucie Rachel and Chrissie Hyde

FACTORY Talk is an intergenerational conversation about identity, sexuality and masculinity. Through the clanging of metal, they make small talk, but the dialogue turns away from mere nostalgia.

Best Comedy

Maradona’s Legs, directed by Firas Khoury

DURING the 1990 World Cup, two Palestinian boys are looking for Maradona’s Legs: the last missing sticker they need to complete their World Cup album and win a free Atari.

Maradona’s Legs: Winner of the Best Comedy award

Best Dance

The Conversation, directed by Lanre Malaolu

THROUGH a dynamic fusion of movement and dialogue, The Conversation explores the challenges black people experience when communicating their racial experience to white partners.

Best Drama

The Present, directed by Farah Nabulsi

ON his wedding anniversary, Yusef and his daughter Yasmine set out to the West Bank to buy a gift. Between the soldiers, roads and checkpoints, how easy is it really to go shopping?

Softer: Winner of the Best Experimental award

Best Experimental

Softer, directed by Ayanna Dozier

DOZIER examines the demands that black women’s bodies be made “softer” – be that in their voice, manners, or, critically, their hair. This experimental short plays on grooming rituals.

Best Fashion

Baba, directed by Sarah Blok and Lisa Konno

A COMBINATION of design and documentary, blending elements of truth, fiction and constructed narrative. Baba provides a surreal but nonetheless light-hearted portrait of a Turkish immigrant.

Night Bus: Winner of the Best Thriller award

Best Music Video

Adventure, directed by Zak Marx

ADVENTURE explores the world of competitive moto-racing in finely textured, surreal miniature. It follows the #2 rider as he ruminates in the shadows of world champion Jammin’ Jackie Hudson.

Best Thriller

Night Bus, directed by Jessica Ashworth and Henrietta Ashworth

DRIVING through the nocturnal streets of London on the eve of her 30th birthday, a night-bus driver discovers a supernatural entity who has boarded her vehicle and threatens to stay.

VR Free: Winner of the Best 360 Film award

Best 360 Film

VR Free, directed by Milad Tangshir

VR Free explores the nature of incarceration while capturing the intimate reactions of inmates as they encounter virtual reality and immersive videos of life outside of prison.

Best Feature – Documentary

Neighbors, directed by Tomislav Zaja

AN observational documentary about people who experience mental illness but are leaving their institution after decades spent in isolation. Zaja’s film follows the individuals as they venture out into the big unknown.

Neighbors: Winner of the Best Feature – Documentary award

Best Feature – Narrative

How To Stop A Recurring Dream, directed by Edward Morris

FACED with a split custody break up, a family’s older daughter kidnaps her hostile sister in order to embark on a journey and reconnect before they are forced to part. Shot in and around locations pertinent to the director’s childhood.

York Youth Award

Talia, directed by Cara Bamford

TALIA loves nature. She’s always looking for new ways to slip out of the house, exploring the world beyond her front garden. But after being caught, her father forbids her to leave without permission.

One award is yet to decided: Festival Pass Holders can vote for the People’s Choice Award until November 30. To do so, they must choose their favourite film by clicking the “Vote Now” button within each ASFF programme.

“So pleased with the films this year”: Aesthetica Short Film Festival director Cherie Federico

In her closing speech on Sunday, ASFF director Cherie Federico said: “I am so pleased with the films this year: they are talking about topics that are so important to me, as a person, a mother, a friend…a festival director. 

“Equality. It’s just one word but, for me, it is the most important word in all languages. It means that the world has equilibrium and that we are joined rather than divided. 

“There is only one future and one way out of this pandemic and that is it: we just break down all barriers and remember we are one. This is our time, right now on Planet Earth. It’s incredibly powerful when you digest it.” 

American Cherie, a New Yorker who crossed the Big Pond to study at York St John University and never left York, turned her thoughts to the fractious US election. “I didn’t realise how much Trump’s presidency affected me until Biden won. I cried. It was an overwhelming sense of relief that we could turn a corner, we could end a fascist regime masquerading as a democracy. 

The Present: Winner of the Best Drama award

“We could overcome all the injustices, racism and prejudice. I am be proud of who I am and where I come from again.”

Cherie continued: “I cannot even begin to explain how this makes me feel. We were heading somewhere that mirrored 1930s’ Europe and I found it terrifying. It would keep me awake at night. 

“I am so very grateful that the hate will now end. I know it’s just the beginning because you can’t undo some of that which has been done, but we can try and that gives me hope.” 

Returning to matters ASFF, Cherie had wanted to host a street party in York to mark the tenth anniversary. “Instead, it’s me in my office by myself, but I know that you are there and have been enjoying our masterclasses, film programmes and everything that is on offer,” she said after Covid-19 enforced the online edition. All of those session are On Demand until the end of the month.” 

Thinking About The Weather: Winner of the Hijack Visionary Filmmaker Award

Looking ahead to ASFF 11, Cherie signed off: “Until 2021, when we can hug, kiss, dance and laugh in the streets! We must all come together in person and celebrate equality, creativity and diversity.” 

Greg McGee, ever lyrical co-owner of According To McGee, hosted the live-streamed awards ceremony from his Tower Street gallery.

Introducing the event, he said: “This year, the pandemic has subordinated everything in its path. Most of the consequences have been dreadful. Some have been tentatively positive and conversely more human.

“Nowhere else has that been more explicit than cinema. It’s your creativity and new narratives that are making life in Lockdown bearable. In terms of quality, this has been the best ASFF yet, and never has it been more crucial or vital.”

Greg McGee: Hosting the live-streamed Aesthetica Short Film Festival awards ceremony from his gallery, According To McGee on Sunday evening

Greg continued: “The tenth-year anniversary is not the Great Gatsby party we would have liked, but the films themselves vindicate what has been a decade of evolving, striving quality. “One of the most sensitive litmus tests of any genre is how well it exports. There are approximately 50 countries represented in this year’s ASFF, such as USA, Canada, Australia, Israel, Lebanon, France, Spain, Denmark, China.

“Every one of the films have connected and have lost none of their power through the intimacy of being watched at home. This year’s festival has really shown us the power of modern film, and how it can sensitise us, change us, enhance us, or quicken the beat of your heart, and I have to say nowhere is that more elegantly distilled than in Aesthetica Short Film Festival. Here’s to the next 10 years.”

Addressing the online audience of film-makers and film industry personnel, Greg concluded: “If anyone is going to successfully bequeath a multi-faceted celebration of culture, cinema and, ultimately, optimism, it’s ASFF, and it’s you, of course, with your hard work and your vision that provides the building blocks upon which this global event can continue to thrive.

“Here’s to ASFF21. The 11th one will be the biggest one. Slainte! Salute! And ba-da-bing.”

10 “Must Attend” events at York’s online Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2020

LOCKDOWN 2: The Sequel will not affect the tenth anniversary edition of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York.

ASFF already had decided to go virtual in Covid-19 2020 for its history-making online run from tomorrow (3/11/2020) to November 30, inviting you to “Discover New Cinema At Home”.

“The online programme brings a wealth of new opportunities for digital visitors, though returning patrons can enjoy the same diverse and forward-thinking identity that ASFF has defined over its ten-year lifespan,” says director Cherie Federico.

“With this ground-breaking blend of virtual developments and steadfast programme of short films, masterclasses, guest programmes and development opportunities, ASFF promises a festival this year like no other.” 

The film programme features 300 works in the Official Selection across 12 short film genres, released in six daily curated strands from November 3 to 8, entitled Just Another Day On Earth; Humans And Their Environment; Connections: People, Places And Identity; Breaking Down Barriers; Reclaiming Space: Universal And Personal Narratives and Keep On The Sunny Side Of Life. 

Cherie Federico: Ten years at the helm of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival

This year’s extensive Guest Programmes presents specially curated screenings from 13 organisations. Key topics and themes include Defining Gay Cinema, Tales From Isolation, Documenting Modern Britain, Indigenous Cinema, I Still Can’t Breathe and The Future Of AI. 

Showcase Screenings offer films from London College of Communication, London College of Fashion, Arts University Bournemouth, Regent’s University London, University of York, York St John University, University of Lincoln, Falmouth School of Film and Television and Ravensbourne University.

Here are ten hotly anticipated events to be experienced from the comfort and safety of your own home, as picked by Cherie, from a festival with 450 films, 100 industry events, 50 masterclasses and one online platform.

ASFF Ten Year Anniversary Guest Programme, released online on November 3

IN this one-off honorary event, ASFF welcomes back alumni from the past nine editions of the festival to present specially curated short film strands that define the turbulent times that we face today.

Turning the spotlight on the climate crisis, global migration and the evolution of technology, this rousing and interrogative collection of films provides a visionary time capsule for audiences.

Virtual Industry Marketplace, available to visit from November 3 to 30

MORE than 40 exhibitors from film festivals, screen agencies and many more will congregate on ASFF’s new virtual platform for this networking event.

For emerging talent and industry practitioners, this is the perfect chance to meet the people you need to boost your film-making career. 

I Still Can’t Breathe Directors Notes and Can We Talk DXB, released online on November 3

THE death of George Floyd in May at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer sent the world spinning on its axis.

This series of short films, curated by digital platform Directors Notes and Can We Talk DXB, an online source dedicated to lifting Black voices, continues the conversations that grew louder as a result of Floyd’s brutal death with this charged and demanding programme of short films.

VR For Change: Beyond Entertainment, November 3, 3.30pm, Industry Channel 1

WHERE does the potential for VR and 360-degree filmmaking end? This focused discussion explores the possibilities that these rapidly advancing approaches to capturing content in medicine and education among other fields. 

World Class Filmmaking: Making More With Less, November 4, 10am to 12 noon, Industry Channel 1

SECURING financing is a longstanding obstacle faced by emerging filmmakers as they take their tentative first steps into their careers.

It is vital, however, to learn the skills needed to create your vision on a modest budget. Step forward Lincoln School of Film and Media to host a resourceful panel discussion that will cover everything, from film production to marketing and distribution.

Re-Imagining The Film Industry: Beyond Covid-19, November 4, 1.30pm to 3.30pm, Industry Channel 2

AS this year’s online edition of ASFF highlights, the film industry has adapted since Covid-19 forced the world into lockdown. Courtesy of Ravensbourne University, this thoroughly constructed panel aims to address big questions that filmmakers hold with no clear end in sight to our current circumstances.

Iconic Cinema: Andrea Arnold in Conversation, November 6, 7pm, Industry Channel 1

MULTIPLE Cannes and BAFTA prize-winning English filmmaker Andrea Arnold joins ASFF 2020 for a deeply reflective, insightful career retrospect.

Chaired by Birds Eye View founder Mia Bays, Arnold will dissect the themes and inspirations behind her body of work, such as Cannes Jury Prize winner American Honey (2016), Fish Tank (2009) and her Oscar-winning short, Wasp (2005).

Presenting The Facts: Documentary Filmmaking, November 7, 12.30pm, Industry Channel 1

THE possibilities have never been greater for non-fiction filmmaking, but nevertheless it is not without its challenges. A  panel of knowledgeable, successful documentarians will lend key advice to virtual attendees, with a special focus on short-form content. 

A Life In Music: Barry Adamson In Conversation, November 8, 2.30pm, Industry Channel 1

FORMER Magazine and Birthday Party bassist and Nick Cave collaborator Barry Adamson will share his love of music and cinema in a special masterclass, hosted by Jason Wood, artistic director of HOME, Manchester. HOME arrtistic Director Jason Wood.

Adamson, whose music has appeared on the soundtracks of David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, has been instrumental to British pop culture for more than 40 years. “This is a must-see event for film and music lovers alike,” says Cherie. 

Dame Judi Dench: An Icon Of Cinema, November 8, 4pm, Industry Channel 1

DAME Judi Dench, Oscar and BAFTA award-winning actress from York, will join ASFF 2020 for a special retrospective wherein she will draw on a lifetime of unforgettable portrayals and productions.

Festival tickets can be bought by signing up to ASFF’s online platform. These include:

The Unlimited Pass: Unlimited access to the platform, including screenings and masterclasses, sessions and panels, November 3 to 30.

The Festival Week Pass: Unlimited access to the festival platform, from November 3 to 8.

The Day Tripper Pass: Unlimited access to the festival platform for 24 hours from first log-in.

The Film Fan Pass: Unlimited access to all films from November 3 to 30. Not inclusive of masterclasses and sessions. 

For tickets, go to: You can log in to ASFF 2020 on your TV, smart phone, tablet or computer.

Only One Question for…Aesthetica Short Film Festival’s American-born director Cherie Federico

As you celebrate the tenth anniversary of ASFF in York, what fills you with pride, Cherie?

“BRINGING a celebration of creativity, film, digital media and culture to the wonderful city of York, where I’ve been for nearly 20 years now.

“We’ve done something that no-one else in the country has done, fusing a cutting-edge festival with a city’s history, creating a bone-fide festival that last year drew over 26,000 people to York, which shows that we’ve got it right.

“The programme is right; the city of York is right, as we create an experience for both visitors to the city and people who live here, while also supporting York’s status as a UNESCO City of Media Arts.

“It’s been a heck of a journey and it took a lot of vision when nothing like this had been done in the city before, then growing it further and further each year. So, here’s to the next ten years.”

Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2020 runs online from November 3 to 30. Go to to download the full programme.

Aesthetica Short Film Festival goes online for biggest and longest fest for 10th year

“Aesthetica Short Film Festival 2020 will be the most exciting yet,” says director Cherie Federico

TWO of York’s four cinemas, Cineworld and the City Screen Picturehouse, are temporarily closed but the Aesthetica Short Film Festival is responding to Covid-19’s 2020 challenges to the film and events industry with its biggest programme yet.

What’s more, the tenth anniversary edition of this annual autumn highlight of the York culture diary will run all month, from November 3 to 30, rather than the six days first planned before lockdown. No wonder, director Cherie Federico calls it “this beast of a festival” that promises to be “the most exciting yet”.

ASFF 2020 will be held on your phone, TV set, tablet and computer, at home rather than around the city of York, in the necessary concession to taking the festival online for digital and live-streamed events.

“I gave myself an August 1 deadline to decide what festival we should hold, so what I was doing all the time was planning two alternative festivals: a hybrid one, both live and online, or a fully virtual one,” says Cherie.

“So, I’ve been doing double the work. August 1st came and I’m really glad to have made the decision then, as this is now going to be a massive, massive event with more than 100 events taking place online.

“My idea was that it would have to be a bespoke and special experience, something that people would invest time in, which is why we’re extending it to a month, with a month’s pass letting you have a festival in your front room, where you can connect with this amazing independent film content.

“Our festival supports creative industries, brings new to the attention of audiences and continues our ethos of the past nine years, but this year you have to log on online.”

Cherie had no qualms about making the festival digital for 2020. “Most people have a smart TV now, so the concept of watching films at home was already happening,” she says. “Running a festival that can be seen on your TV is almost keeping up with the times, so our festival is transferable, though it’s not replaceable as a live event.”

Films in competition at ASFF 2020 will span animation, documentary, drama, dance, fashion and thriller. This year they will be released in six strands from November 3 to 8, with no fewer than ten programmes per day under the strand titles of Just Another Day On Earth; Humans And Their Environment; Connections: People, Places and Identity; Breaking Down Barriers; Reclaiming Space: Universal And Personal and Keep On The Sunny Side Of Life.

That adds up to 60 films a day, 360 screenings in all, with festival viewers invited to acquire a Festival Pack comprising a festival bag, printed programme, lanyard, the latest edition of Aesthetica magazine and VR [Virtual Reality] cardboards.

“If you’re wondering how you can experience VR films at home, you can order a VR Aesthetica headset for £5.95 online from our website,” says Cherie.

“We’re also probably the only festival that has printed a programme this year, but we felt it was important to mark the tenth anniversary that way.”

Cherie hails another plus point of going digital. “You can pursue your particular interest like being able to watch all the documentaries in the festival if that’s your specialism, so you can create your own festival, but we also want to encourage people to do something they would not normally do, by watching all six strands, each chosen to raise important questions about the world we live in today,” she says.

These cumulative strands of short and feature-length films will be released to virtual passholders from 8am daily and will be available via the festival’s online viewing library until November 30.

ASFF 2020 also will feature 21 guest film programmes, taking in such themes as the climate crisis, new technology, Black Lives Matter and human rights. “Basically, we’re covering every topic that we’re facing as a society, so it’s a really poignant look at the world we live in now,” says Cherie.

Further highlights will be ten showcases for new talent, an online industry market and an industry programme of more than 50 masterclasses, spotlights and panel discussions, giving insights into film productions and exploring filmmakers’ motivations and expertise.

Actress and writer Maxine Peake will give a masterclass, and among the guest speakers will be Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold; BAFTA-winning filmmaker Sarah Gavron; BIFA-winning and Emmy-nominated documentarian Jeanie Finlay; Oscar- winning sound designer Glenn Freemantle and double Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Paul Franklin (Inception, Interstellar). So too will be animators, cinematographers, editors, production designers and representatives from Film4, BBC Films and Framestore.

One name leaps out from the masterclass programme: York-born Dame Judi Dench discussing her career on screen and stage on November 8 at 4pm. “I’ve been trying to get Dame Judi involved ever since we started the festival, and she said ‘Yes’ this time because of her connection with the city,” says Cherie.

“She’s very happy to lend us her support and expertise to our programme and we’re delighted she is taking part. It was confirmed six weeks ago when normally our programme would have been signed off.”

Looking ahead to next week, Cherie says: “The best thing with ASFF is that you always get a memorable experience, and 2020 will certainly be that with 300 films in competition and 200 other films showing.

“No stone has been left unturned in thinking about what the visitor experience should be like this year and how we can make it special. The digital festival is well designed, navigation online is easy, and we even have an instructional video on how to use this platform.

“Tickets are sold per house, so it becomes very good value for a family of four, and we’re still doing programmes for young children and young adults and still working with schools, where films will be screened this time.”

Tickets are available for 24-hour, seven-day and one-month film and industry passes, as well as a film-only pass for November.  Go to for tickets and to download the full programme.

Rhea Storr and Chris Yuan win Aesthetica Art Prize awards at York Art Gallery

Aesthetica Art Prize main prize winner: Rhea Storr’s A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message

RHEA Storr has won the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize main prize at York Art Gallery for her work A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message.

The Emerging Prize was awarded to Chris Yuan for Counterfictions at Thursday evening’s award ceremony, hosted by York’s art and culture publication Aesthetica Magazine.

The winners were selected from a shortlist of 18 artists for this annual competition, a first look into new creative talent that showcases works that redefine the parameters of contemporary art, with artists reflecting on the global situation.

“They offer us insight into how we can encourage positive change,” says Aesthetica director Cherie Federico. “The exhibited works explore themes such as race and identity, technology, dataism, surveillance culture, geopolitics and the climate crisis.”

Mad Mauve, from Patty Carroll’s series Anonymous Women – Demise, one of the finalists in the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize

British artist and filmmaker Rhea Storr’s A Protest, A Celebration, A Mixed Message considers cultural representation, masquerade and the performance of black bodies.

Her winning work is concerned with the ability of 16mm film to speak about black and mixed-race identities, using moments of tension where images break down or are resistive. “Images that deny access – fail to articulate what they represent or don’t tell the whole story – provide significant starting points,” says Rhea, who began her PhD in media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, last year.

Through video, fiction, sound, design and performance, British artist Chris Yuan examines the messy web of human construction. His Emerging Prize winner, Counterfictions, constructs alternative realities of ecological collapse after the construction of President Trump’s border wall proposal.

A still from Chris Yuan’s Counterfictions, winner of the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize Emerging Prize

His film weaves together information from scientific facts and quotes from the president, as well as references to literature and mythology.

The Aesthetica Art Prize provides a platform for practitioners across the world, supporting and enhancing their careers through global recognition and new opportunities.

“Since its establishment 13 years ago, the prize has supported a vast number of artists who have progressed in their careers, gaining funding, residencies and commissions,” says Cherie. “Finalists have been featured in both group and solo exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, The Photographer’s Gallery, V&A and MoMA, among others.”

Soft Takeover, by Andreas Lutz, among the 18 Aesthetica Art Prize finalists

This year’s shortlisted final 18 artists were: Andreas Lutz (Germany); Andres Orozco (USA); Bill Posters (Barnaby Francis) & Daniel Howe (UK); Chris Yuan (UK); Christiane Zschommler (UK); Christopher Stott (Canada); Erik Deerly (USA); Fragmentin (Switzerland); Emmy Yoneda (UK); Geoff Titley (UK); Kenichi Shikata (Japan); Laura Besançon (UK); Natalia Garcia Clark (Mexico); Oliver Canessa (Gibraltar); Patty Carroll (USA); Pernille Spence & Zoë Irvine (UK), Rhea Storr (UK) and Stephanie Potter Corwin (USA).

“The Prize has two layers: one dedicated to supporting artists; the other for presenting ideas to global audiences to initiate change,” says Cherie. “Curating this year’s exhibition was immeasurably satisfying and I’m privileged to have the opportunity to see so much talent, drawing on both personal and universal narratives.”

The Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition, featuring work by the winners and shortlisted artists, runs at York Art Gallery until July 5.

A still from BobSink, Pernille Spence and Zoe Irvine’s piece in the Aesthetica Art Prize final

Looking ahead, submissions are open for next year’s Aesthetica Art Prize with a deadline of August 31 2020. To find out more, visit