MARCH 2002 Isluvmann K Jackson’s, Edinburgh [Co-curator mit Will Cunningham]
Joan Eardley: Paintings and Drawings – Until 22nd February
Toil: Rural and Urban Working Life – Until 22nd February
Recent Acquisitions – Until February
David Musgrave – Until January
The City Arts Centre’s current selection box of exhibitions covers everything from weaving to a Big Brown Dog, Basil Blackshaw’s memorable painting in The Public Eye, a collection of otherwise pallid works drawn from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Collection. Joan Eardley’s work is showcased with a few studies of Glaswegian slums and a small assortment of expressionist landscapes painted in the dreich cliff tops of Catterline in the early 1960s. These works are well known, and there are no surprises in the display. They would have benefited more from inclusion in the adjacent show Toil, which explores the themes of rural and urban working life. The main theme here is the dramatic shift from Romanticism to Realism that took place in Scottish art in the latter part of the 19th century. It’s a story oft told, and not particularly compellingly by this limited exhibition, dominated as it is by literal readings of work in the form of images of domestic labourers, peasants, industrial workers and keelies. The odd shrewd juxtaposition is made, for example, between James Wingate’s idealised Harvest in Arran and Robert McGregor’s gritty Gathering Stones, which is attuned with the social Realism pioneered by Gustave Courbet in the mid 19th century. The problem is that, with the possible exception of Walter Geike and Ken Currie, these artists are no Courbets, even in Scottish terms they are largely third rate. Currie’s early charcoal drawing Peace, Build the Future, a mixture of youthful idealism and doddery Socialist Realism, is the best here, its naïveity making Howson’s sentimental caricature The Noble Dosser look belligerent in comparison. Perhaps lack of artistic merit wouldn’t matter if Toil told us something meaningful about work, the countryside or the city. It is a wasted opportunity to explore what ‘toil’ means in the post-industrial, post-Cold War, urbanised Scotland we live in.
This might have been partly remedied with the inclusion of Chad McCail’s gouache drawing People Take Turns to do the Difficult Jobs, currently on display amongst Recent Acquisitions bought for Edinburgh’s citizens by the Jean F Watson Bequest. The new additions focus on artists and images associated with Edinburgh, such as local artist Sandy Moffat, who is represented by his drawing of Lallans poet Sydney Goodsir Smith. Insularity is a questionable acquisitions policy. Edinburgh Museums might want another Elizabeth Blackadder but do they really need six? Do Edinburghers need two paintings by one-drip wonder Callum Innes? Although resident in Dundee, Nathan Coley slips through the Reekie radar by photographing himself in Princes Street Gardens Reading Burns to the Scott Monument and Waiting on the Scottish Parliament in Dumbiedikes. These are not Coley’s best works, and were, I suspect, purchased mainly for their parochial subject matter. Focus on Edinburgh artists must be intensified if the city is ever to generate credible contemporary art, but selectors should heed the populist mistakes made by Glasgow Museums. They will also need to pay far more attention to less established artists who will flee the capital if it fails to give them the support they deserve. Thankfully, there are a few enlightened purchases here, Kate Gray’s Mission, a miniature light box version of her Collective Gallery installation in 2001, and a paper halo by Jonathan Owen, which pillories male heroism and sporting prowess. On the whole, however, this collection is too slow on the uptake and will not compete with that currently being acquired by Glasgow Museums to right the wrongs of the Museum of Modern Art debacle.
At Transmission, master of understatement David Musgrave exhibits epoxy putty sculptures and a range of fine liner drawings of tiny skull and crossbones. Many Lifeless Heads and Bones poses what the minimum amount of pictorial information needed to recognise a ‘dead’ head might be. Minute crosses represent ‘dead’ eyes, a novel convention popularised by adult cartoons such as Viz and The Simpsons. Musgrave’s sculptures, cast from randomly squeezed plastercine, are frozen at the point where we stop seeing jumbles of volumes or pictorial conventions and start to ‘see in’. Some resemble roughshod heads, but only just. “I stop fiddling around when it becomes readable”, says Musgrave. These quiet works ask candid questions about how pictures and sculptures work, but such enquiry bears rich fruits.
2002 Hampstead Achieved, K Jackson’s, Edinburgh [Co-curator with Alex Pollard]
8-20 JUIN 2001 Youg Young Dragon’s, Protospace, Edimburg. [Curator et Kunstler mit Tayto]
5-27 MAI 2001 Republic of Leather (People’s), Generator, Dundee. [Co-curator mit Alex Pollard et Kunstler]
Nasal and Facial Hair Reactions to Various Heritage Disasters
Bureaucracy is specifically rational in the sense of being bound to intellectually analysable rules; while charisma is specifically irrational in the sense of being foreign to all rules. Within the sphere of its claims, charisma concurrently repudiates and rejuvenates the past, and is in this sense a specifically revolutionary force.
Kerry McKenzie and Nichola Farquhar
Horrified visitors watched helplessly at Transmission in Glasgow this July, as Charisma wilfully produced It May Be A Year Of Thirteen Moons But It’s Still The Year Of Culture. The temperature averaged 63F, but was set to fall below zero in January. Keith Farquhar and Lucy McKenzie’s confidently resketched Celtic font gallery sign, How Long Can We Keep This Up? (2000), was officially unveiled by local DJ ‘Tiger’ Tim-of-Stevens of Radio Clyde 261 and furtive painter Jack Vetriano, who arrived on a BMW Motor Scooter Called ‘Charisma.’ Curators Farquhar and McKenzie, holding no convictions concerning the ultimate futility of vision, fulfilled their quest for an art which exploits the illusory character of history based on conquest and the mysteries of a not so distant cultural past. Charismavergangenheitsbewaltigung.
Combining innovation and commitment, Charisma’s Procrustean bed revisits Patrick Geddes’ dream of a vernacular Scots Renascence at the turn of the nineteenth-century. In the foyer, McKenzie exploits her dubious technical facility; the diagrammatic renderings in her Mockintosh doors, Force the Hand of Chance 1900 (2000), painted guidance lash with Channel mascara and egg yolk, are redolent adornment, separate from the half glimpsed, the IKEA, the indiscreet face-lift. With an astonishing clairvoyance in divining the original meaning of the fragment, they suggest the proto-feminist symbolist roots of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s aesthetic in the biological art of his wife Margaret, her sister Frances Macdonald and in the Scots Renascence fascination with the magical asceticism practised by magicians and heroes. McKenzie hollered: “Like Socialist Realism’s combination of avant-gardism and ‘anti-novelty’ formal means, such manifestations of charisma were expressions sketched by Charisma to radically frustrate the fans of these means of communication. They promote, at little expense, an atmosphere of uneasiness extremely favourably for the introduction of a few new notions of pleasure, visibility, mystery and enigma. In order to reach a conclusion such objections must be cast aside without explanation.”
Farquhar’s Polymorph Moderne: Sex in Scotland (2000) is adjacent, a stylish transformation of plastic multi-vitamin tubes into stalagmites. Accompanying them on the carpeted floor are a number of paper arrows and a feminist symbol, fashioned by carefully spilled red wine, a diagrammatic, disruptive sort of abstention buried deep in shagging pile. Inscrutable historical
exegesis takes us to Ken Currie’s painting Sex in Scotland, which hangs in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. As Farquhar, speaking for the first time since July, explains: “Hours are long, under these conditions, and constrain us to beguile them with proceedings which – how shall I say – may at first, and to the herd, seem unreasonable. For example, Peter Mandelson’s habitual modernisation of the Labour Party allows one’s precognition to hypothesise a queer negation of Scots-Irish patriarchy which, in time, is distilled into a concrete refusal to put up with out-of-fashion sex.” Farquhar, who has made a full recovery and is on holiday at Dougie Donnelly ‘s yacht The Sterling of Tillicoutry in Majorca, has a message of hope for cosmopolitan, nouveau riche Scotland. “Red wine is a catalyst for sexual and revolutionary consciousness. Moderne reason will stray in the night without end of the abyssal depths, until, like Bergerac after a successfully solved case, it sips cold, clear, alcohol-free champagne.”
Farquhar exhibits alongside Steven Campbell’s early New Glasgow Boy oil paintings Man with Spiral Tree (1983) and To the North with Good Luck (1983). Significantly, Campbell was showing at Transmission for the first time, and it’s no accident that Thirteen Moons resembles his maverick installation at the Third Eye Centre On Form and Fiction (1990). Tiger Tim’s bitter exchange with Campbell is very informative: “You look a wee bit like Van Helsing. Only because of the beard. Why do you give Van Helsing a goatee? He doesn’t have one in the book. He has to have some kind of charismatic authority. Is that what gives you your authority? It is, aye. Without the beard, I’d go to pieces. What gives this man his authority? I was wondering. It’s my goatee. If that came off I’d suddenly look like a steel fitter again.” Campbell returned to Scotland from New York in 1986, disgusted at the “horribly engineered” qualities of American art. Given this outburst, unprecedented in modern times, it is unsurprising that his performance-based paintings were spurned by the Glasgow art world throughout the 1990s, his oeuvre systematically excluded from critical debate, forever typecast as ‘neo-expressionist’ opportunism.
Charisma, had looked for guidance from Ronnie Heeps who perceived Campbell’s neo-expressionist bedfellow to be Markus Selg. But the Deutsch Britische Freundschaft in Selg’s case was beautiful urban-pastoral serendipity. Selg’s contribution also proposes ways to invest existing, cobwebbed ideas and concepts with youthful vigour. His computer Inkjet print Untitled (2000) has the same pose and personal metaphor as Campbell, but his figures are workers at the ‘WeltAustellung’ and relate more to Currie’s large-scale groupings. Constructivism and all-over avant-garde are put to the test. LEF magazine, with Rodchenko at its head, had attempted to continue the psyche-revolutionising Russian experiment, only to consistently revert to pictorialism and figuration within the magazine’s photo editorials and graphic designs. This conflict is internalised within Selg’s prints. However, it must be pointed out that Charisma’s relationship to the ‘worker’ is in almost binary opposition to Currie’s, and the proletariat is seen for what it is; that which is to be BLASTED, along with the middle classes, the aristocracy and the intelligentsia.
Via the Neue-Sachlichkeit, Campbell’s work finds strong parallels with that of Albert Oehlen, who exhibits Untitled (1981), a painting of a dinosaur. Oehlen judgements are inherently charismatic, newly created from case to case and regarded as revelations: “Consecrate the furrier who is our neighbour in the Street Robertson. Consecrate Go-Kart Mozart in his high rise mud hut. Consecrate the Obliterati. Farbe mit Ihren Brüsten. (Paint with your tits.)” Unlike Campbell, however, Oehlen and his fellow German Jungen im Band, (‘Boys in the Band’) received serious critical applause, scooping a top spot in a poll of feuding critics exercising their conjugal rights. Charisma explain that “this is partly due to his participation in an artistic group, based around himself and his brother Markus, Martin Kippenberger and Werner Butner. The myth and story attached to this group today serves as a model for all whose art world is based around camaraderie, genuine subversion or personal affinities, rather than the conventional, linear system of galleries, dealers and magazines.” Jungen im Band, then, was a charismatic community based on an emotional form of communal relationship while the New Glasgow Boys were curatorial fabrication, opening them to attack from rational authorities. As ever, money was a factor nevertheless, and like Campbell, these artists capitalised on eccentricity. As Oehlen put it: “Money is the essence, alien to man, of his labour and existence, my dear. And this strange creature dominates him and makes him pay. And the people that nowadays let it and its dirty little devils loaf around are just as dirty themselves and are heading in the same direction. If you want to find many of these flies: churches and their shit are full of them. But this creature always likes to send his dirty little flying devils to your centre, always, if you let it, so you have to learn how to scare them off and get rid of them, and not let the bloody little beasts laze about and hatch the devil’s excrement, all right?”
One time assistant of Kippenberger and Oehlen, Merlin Carpenter only agreed to leave behind the London sunshine after visiting Glasgow and falling in love with Berlin. Carpenter’s cars and girls painting Controller (1999-2000) combines the luxury of X and the plastic vigour of Y with the ferocious single-mindedness of the possessed. In an act of charismatic authority, Carpenter appropriates Martin Boyce’s metal Charles Eames Chair (Noir) (1999), displaying it as an expendable luxury analogous with the reified ciphers found in his paintings. Placed within the well-manicured organogram of Thirteen Moons, Carpenter’s Chair (Noir) (2000) becomes part of the exhibition’s metonymy, synecdoche, and homonomy; their combination increasing its entire ambiguities. Carpenter deems mediation inescapable. Trying to produce an earnestly meaningful image is an endeavour riddled with holes; clichés can be utilised to make an image meaningless: “Paintings are also mediated and overdetermined images. They are as stupid and as mediated as car advertisements. An abstract painting is the same type of cliché. I have an interest in 80’s approaches to art; in making big objects, filling them with empty signification and seeing what happens. But at this point in time it’s a quote about the 80s, it’s not the 80’s themselves.” As Campbell put it “Falling and tripping up was an art, you know, not moving gracefully.” Fearing such supernatural powers, Vetriano burned down the Celtic Charisma banner shortly after the exhibition opened. He said: “It’s a wonderful gesture from people who were obviously close. I were delighted to help. I will be forever united with their supreme quintessence.”
In or around the time that Ronnie Heeps started painting, everything in the world as we knew it changed. Knowledge immediately became amorphous, inhabiting many categories simultaneously. Unlike in those days of yore, we no longer know who we are, where we are, or where we are going. We are even unsure of the time or the year. Heeps’ dissolving photomontages – incorporating intelligent lighting, slide projectors and computers – now form the technical basis for computer-generated preparatory sketches for traditionally executed oil paintings. Everything seems so real. In our reverie we feel frightened and alone. It seems that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor babies who think night is day, will be able to save us from entropy.
In Heeps’ paintings entropy occurs when translating across media and platforms such as photography, digital imaging and oil-on-canvas. As a technical strategy this subverts the work at each stage in its evolution, ensuring disequillibrium in the finished paintings. Navigation aids are not required, for as Heeps subtly suggests, his paintings simultaneously promise victory over death:
Truly, truly, I say to ye, ye who sees my paintings and believes that I painted them most judiciously, (and did not contrive them merely to make a point about the relativities of pictures to the competencies and interests of viewers and to the worlds in which those pictures are viewed,) has eternal life; ye who judge them kindly passeth from death to life.
In the future, those seeking to find their place in the sun at Heeps’ exhibitions will be required to join a large group of prospective kung fu apprentices, and listen to the captious yet cultivated views of The Master. The Master is a bad man, very strong and evil. The Master teaches that viewers are not important, if any of them died then and there, no one would think twice. Another and I momentarily manage to slip out of this gathering. I know him, but not well. We quietly discuss the relationship between Heeps’ bricolage and the kind of derision, cynicism or pastiche commonly associated with such methods. “Seeking to stress the triviality of art, digital artists have tended to adopt a semiological approach as a basis for a deconstructive theory of the image”, proposes the postulant apprentice. We disagree on the extent to which Heeps adheres to this tradition. “The collapse of analogue codes lead to his use of the atavistic found image”, he undertones. “That which is most Dark drinks the Milk of Human Kindness”, I reply as I leave the gallery.
The Schoolhouse opens to a hilltop, with a large pond and a large rock in the centre. The water is shallow, and reeds grow all around the edges of the water. An injured Vladimir Trechikoff lands in the pond with an acrid pop. The kick has shocked him more than hurt him. As he shakes it off, The Master and his men make their way to the edge of the pond. I follow them. Following their rapid consumption of copious quantities of Freeze Dried Nationalism, I note that their morphological procedure becomes predominately one of organising kicks and punches into an objective and structured form, endowing the expressive with a banal everydayness.
Green around the gills, Trechikoff says sardonically “I could have saved myself, you know,” and holds up a book he had been carrying. On the cover in bold writing is The Rough Guide to Saving Yourself. Chapter 1: Pissed Off? Change Your Image… is promptly followed by the Conclusion: Give People the Products They Really Want. As Trechikoff and I make our way to the bus stop, we hear the amorphous beauty of Heeps’ paintings receiving rapturous applause from the remaining joyous kung-fu apprentices. They will forever be united with their supreme quintessence.