AS the world is increasingly shaped by surveillance and data collection, the human condition has become one of rehearsal and performance.

So says Cherie Federico, director of the 2018 Aethetica Art Prize, whose 12 finalists are exhibiting at York Art Gallery until September 30 in the annual competition's best show yet.

"Exploring the wider effects of over-consumption, media simulation and emotional disconnection, the artworks presented in 2018 call into question new modes of communication, offering reflection on the era of post-truth, where human autonomy can be reduced to calculable, predictable patterns of behaviour," Cherie says. "As a result, the works included this year offer a reflection on how to make sense of this age of anxiety."

York Press:

Ocean Wave, 2017, by Jiayu Liu

For this year's prize, artists were asked to respond to the changing landscape of society. Selected from 4,500 submissions, and a longlist of 100 artists, the shortlisted works cover wide-ranging topics that delve into the human condition, reflecting not only on new forms of communication but also the depleting nature of analogue, a rise in technologies that mimic nature and the after-effects from the war on terror.

"Each piece draws on social and political structures to question the value we place on the world around us and on ourselves," says Cherie, who has curated the exhibition with Griselda Goldsborough. "From global financial systems to technology that replicates nature, the diverse subject matter included in this year's exhibition holds innovation at its core, defining a new vocabulary for life in the 21st century."

Highlighting the notion of representation, Profiles, the winning work by David Birkin – a British photographer now resident in New York – addresses the way that contemporary conflict is depicted. In collaboration with the NGO Iraq Body Count, the project includes photographic transparencies generated from identification numbers, questioning the values placed on humanity.

York Press:

A visitor looking at Profiles, the winning work by David Birkin

"Looking at the relationship between spectacle and loss, at its core Profiles focuses on the representation of civilian casualties from the Iraq War and the paucity of such images," says Cherie.

"Volunteers recorded each death, with every death given a number, like the Nazis did to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. In turn, Birkin has given each Iraq Body Count number a colour, and then the details of each death is recorded down the side of each coloured photographic transparency, detailing the dead person's name, age, job and cause of death." Hauntingly, too, the transparencies are displayed on old X-ray boxes from British and American hospitals from the Iraq conflict.

"The first 18 years of the 21st century have been defined by war and terrorism, and Birkin is commentating on our increasing desensitisation to war. He's also talking about 'commemorisation' and how there's nothing to commemorate these lives or what they did," says Cherie. "His work is also challenging its own genre of photography, what a photograph can be, as well as challenging you about war; about humanity; about how we get information; what's fact in our world of post-truth and fake news."

York Press:

Emerging Prize winner Electra Lyhne-Gold's Lost In Translation

Emerging Prize winner Electra Lyhne-Gold also considers the theme of representation in Lost In Translation, wherein she stages herself in surreal, fictional narratives, inhabiting invented personas or characters as she mouths words from familiar adverts against a blue backdrop.

"Continuously exploring how the viewer interacts with the figure in the works, she uses humour to usurp capitalism while undermining advertisement culture through mimicry and imitation," says Cherie. "What's so powerful is how the language that's used in adverts and for computer games is the same as is used in Trump's statements."

The other finalists in the competition run by the York arts publication Aesthetica Magazine showing in York are: Fabio Lattanzi Antinori; Jiayu Liu; Jukhee Kwon; Kenji Ouellet; Laura Woodward; Lisa Chang Lee; Noémi Varga; Peter Davis; Reginald Van de Velde and Shauna Frischkorn.

The Aesthetica Art Prize, now in its 11th year, spans the arts, from photographic and digital art and painting, drawing and mixed media to three-dimensional design and sculpture, video, installation and performance, and this year's entries were drawn from countries as diverse as Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Singapore, Great Britain and the United States.

York Press:

Lisa Chang Lee's "quietly unassuming​" Laughter Box

Among the stand-outs are Shauna Frischkorn's McWorkers portraits. "They're done in a Renaissance portraiture style but they're all of fast-food workers, calling into question 'McJobs' and social status that contrasts with the original portraits of people of great wealth," says Cherie. "There's a repetition to the uniform that's worn which shows how that impacts on individuality, and Shauna's work also reflects on our 'fast culture': fast food, the obesity epidemic, landfill waste."

One work that may tickle you but then disturb you is Lisa Chang Lee's Laughter Box, on first inspection a "quietly unassuming little box". "It's emblematic of our desire for neat, shiny objects, like the sleek modern mobile phones we now have," says Cherie. "The box has mirrors so you can see yourself in it, and it also has sensors, where, if you stand quietly, it will start laughing at you, and the quieter you are, the more the laughter grows as it fills in the emptiness of silence.

"It's reflecting on our age of anxiety, constantly looking at social media and how we're becoming obsessed with how we present ourselves, always editing and cropping our images."

York Press:

Babel Library by Jukhee Kwon. "It looks like a waterfall but also like a nuclear bomb," says Aesthetica Art Prize director Cherie Federico

Every year, the prize becomes more ambitious, believes Cherie. "The works submitted and selected are increasingly dynamic: they evoke a range of emotions from despair to hopefulness for a future world where society is more harmonious," she says. "It is an honour to view so many innovative pieces that chronicle the times in which we live.

"All of this work is reflective of what's going on in our world, putting up a mirror to our society, and a lot of artists today are discussing the same subjects; they were already commenting on our age of anxiety before we announced this year's theme. So we've now got a bird's eye view of current thinking here in York."

Looking ahead, entries are open for the 2019 Aesthetica Art Prize until August 31. For more information, go to Meanwhile, visit the same website for details of a series of talks relating to this year's theme.