Martin Boyce, Our Love is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours, Tramway, Glasgow, Until 19th January 2003.
Adrian Wiszniewski, Dream On, Glasgow Print Studio, Glasgow, Until 24th December 2002.
Boyce’s brooding installation of chain-link fencing, modern steel benches and wire bins currently fills the enormous hangar space at Glasgow’s Tramway. Bright white fluorescent strip lights are fashioned together to produce makeshift electric trees, warming the gallery with their crepuscular light. The calm is occasionally interrupted as the lights dim to allow a short video projection. Accompanied by an ambient looped guitar soundtrack by jazz musician Raymond Macdonald, the phrase ‘THIS PLACE IS DREAMING’ is slowly revealed and dissolved again.
Boyce psychologically transforms the space into a suburban swing park, a playground of adolescent leisure bathed in sodium lamplight. This is a dreaming space, it has an otherworldly quality. The bins that litter the gallery, like vector graphics, veer off awkwardly into space, loosing their shape. At the same time this installation is loaded with referents to the material world, influences that Boyce has reiterated in his work. Reds, yellows, blues, blacks and whites dominate, homage to the work of early 20th century Dutch art and design movement De Stijl. The installation equally resembles the kind of wire fenced nightclub you would expect to find in a cheesy eighties movie set in New York. Just imagine leather bound Mad Max Goths clawing at the wire as a fresh-faced brat packer enters gingerly. Think also of Duran Duran’s Wild Boys video without Simon Le Bonn’s streaked tresses. Boyce’s cues are personally taken from his youthful experiences of early 1980s design, particularly the motorway aesthetic spawned by Ben Kelly’s fabled Hacienda nightclub in Manchester, a look also inspired by 1920s modern design. Early eighties retro-futurism is the source of the show’s title, a line from New Order’s The Village, a romantic electro ditty from their classic 1983 album Power Corruption And Lies. This is a risky move; homages to New Order in contemporary art are as thick as Noel Gallagher these days, common populist props for a weak imagination. Boyce’s installation, thankfully, doesn’t fall into this category. It’s significant that he should pick the moment in New Order’s career when they felt it time to inject some passion into what had previously been a rather austere body of work. Boyce seems to be doing likewise, this being his most impressive and ambitious exhibition to date.
Over on the North side of the Clyde, Adrian Wiszniewski is exhibiting a body of recent works in a small solo show at the Glasgow Print Studio. Wiszniewski is, of course, one of a media-manufactured generation of figurative painters that Boyce and his peer group reacted against in the 1990s. Much has been said of the alleged split between these generations that has served to obscure recent Scottish art. While there may be no direct dialogue between these two artists, common concerns can be detected. Both men share a disdain for the cliché of the bohemian artist. Both are fabricators rather than conceptualists, producing exhibitions and objects that stir nostalgic dreamscapes and imaginative spaces. Each have particularly strong cultural connections with the early 80s romanticism. Wiszniewski was one of the original 80s New Romantics, a figure that author and critic Michael Bracewell has recently celebrated as an originator of the ‘Culture-Vulturing City Slickers’ anti-mode. There’s a common interest in the alleged failures of utopian modern architecture and design. Boyce strips down the work of designers such as Charles and Ray Eames while Wiszniewski creates camp architectural puns, producing An Explanation of the Holy Trinity in the Form of a Chair, a modern three-legged bentwood classic. There has even been the odd point of direct contact, Wiszniewski’s wallpaper School of Linden – a pattern of linden leaves repeated to resemble a shoal of fish – having originally been exhibited at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Art in 1996 alongside a wallpaper design by Boyce based on the opening titles of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Wiszniewski’s chain of associations may have different sources and outcomes, but, like Boyce’s, they are specialist forms of knowledge. Wiszniewski’s wallpaper, for example, is an art joke, a pun on the ‘School of London’, R.B. Kitaj’s term for English figurative oil painters such as Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach.
Important differences remain nevertheless. Wiszniewski’s approach is looser and less consistent, jumping from painting, to neon works, to carpet design, to writing Touching Cloth, a comedy-mystery-musical screenplay. Being a Renaissance man, Wiszniewski’s work is not as clearly structured as Boyce’s. At times, he is willing to wallow in reverie and wistfulness, painting, for example, a Sprite and a Genie. On the other hand, in his best paintings – Two Men at an Exhibition of Contemporary Urban Masks and Italian Popstar – Wiszniewski demonstrates an astonishing command over his world of wilting intellectual loafers and urban sophisticates, in addition to a keen mind for natty, original titles.