Category Archives: Reviews

Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt

generation-guide-reader-600px-1

Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt (p111-119) is my contribution to:

GENERATION: 25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland Guide and Reader

Edited by Moira Jeffrey

National Galleries of Scotland and Glasgow Life

Over the last twenty-five years Scotland has had a growing reputation as an international centre of artistic innovation and experiment for the visual arts. These books accompanyGENERATION: 25 Years of Contemporary Art, a major nationwide exhibition programme showcasing some of the best and most significant art to have emerged from Scotland over the last twenty-five years.

The GENERATION Guide provides a fully illustrated guide to the programme with entries on the work of more than eighty artists being exhibited in over sixty venues throughout Scotland and information about group exhibitions and other projects. It forms the first comprehensive overview of the art of the period. It includes Turner prize winners Douglas Gordon, Simon Starling and Martin Boyce and 2014 nominees Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips.

The GENERATION Reader, edited by writer Moira Jeffrey, provides the first collection of key documents from the period including essays, critical writing and artists’ own texts, and offers a guide to the ideas, events and debates that shaped a generation. In it, a selection of archive texts from the period sit alongside newly-commissioned writing which includes an introduction by novelist Louise Welsh and specially commissioned essays by Juliana Engberg, Nicola White, Dr Sarah Lowndes, Professor Andrew Patrizio, Professor Francis McKee  and Jenny Richards.

GENERATION Guide and Reader books come in slipcase.

 Extent 240pp/128pp. Paperback. 95 colour illustrations, guide and reader in slipcase.

£14.95

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.

Richard Wilson: Irons in the Fire

Richard Wilson: Irons in the Fire

Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh

Until 14th December 2002

“Personally, I have always considered Richard Wilson to be the finest British landscape painter of the late eighteenth century”, quipped art historian David Hopkins. Judging by the audience, many turned up at the Talbot Rice expecting the sumptuous aristocratic trappings of Wilson’s idealised Italianate vistas. Instead, they were tackled by a Sim City of scratchy diagrams and homemade models mounted on shaky filing cabinets and rusty shelving. “I don’t belieeeve it!”, reverberated around the gallery, but no, it wasn’t that Richard Wilson either. This Richard Wilson is the one that made that monumental lake of recycled oil 20:50 (1987), now permanently installed at the Saatchi Gallery.

Touring Sheffield, Leeds, Edinburgh, Manchester, Warwick and London, Irons in the Fire should set a few people straight on Wilson. Far from being a one hit wonder, he has had an illustrious international career as a site-specific artist, from collaborating with the industrial sound sculpture group Bow Gamelan Ensemble in the eighties, to his current grand architectural visions. Wilson isn’t in the acrimonious business of trotting out permanent monuments primed for vandalism and a jumble of angry letters to the local rag. His experience with Bow Gamelan committed him to the transformation of everyday urban industrial detritus into rich metaphor. Wilson has a Zen like respect for materials and environment, making his work by taking things away, producing something from nothing. His best works are quintessentially nineties ambient interventions into the built environment, some so casual they might be mistaken for the work of vandals. Pimlico Proposal for example, involves cutting and replacing circles of concrete and cladding from sections of wall and pavement on the short walk between Pimlico tube station and Tate Britain in Millbank. This whispering campaign subtly draws attention to the very fabric of the city, producing an understated trace of a trail blazed by thousands of tourists every week. Bronze Pole of the North (1995) for Tate Liverpool, is an unrealised proposal to cut a large pole through the gallery’s three floors into the bed of the Albert Dock. The pole would rise and fall according to the tide, confusing inside with outside and bringing the serenity of culture into conflict with the perfidiousness of nature.

Wilson’s romantic cross-examination of material culture seems to underlie this exhibition’s uneasy relationship with the museum, something we ought to expect from a practiced public artist. The Joint’s Jumping (1996-99) is an unrealised proposal for the BALTIC contemporary art space in Gateshead. Wilson planned to set the façade in motion by creating two templates of the former flourmill in orange neon, one placed skew-whiff over the other. By fluctuating between the two, this heavy industrial building would have a danced on the Tyne, a metaphor for the dynamic, metropolitan Kunsthalle culture represented by BALTIC and its many clones. BALTIC would thus have taken the appearance of a go-go bar, a sardonic comment on contemporary art’s status as a leisure industry and New Labour’s vision of ‘creative economies’? Perhaps Wilson’s work is unwittingly compliant with this frappe-drinking culture. “It works, but filing cabinets and Dexion shelving have become moribund media within the overly civilised western art milieu”, estimated artist Keith Farquhar. Farquhar has a point, trashy was certainly chic in art circles in the early 1990s, dressed-down industrial buildings being used for a flurry of artist led initiatives, but now it all looks a little rusty. The post-industrial aesthetic presently belongs to the establishment; think of Tate Modern, BALTIC and the Palais de Tokyo, Paris.

A further conundrum faces Wilson’s work, namely that is rarely designed for the gallery. Like much conceptual and land art of the 1960s in which it finds precedent, it exists here only as documentation. This could have lead to an absurd fetishising of the minutiae of Wilson’s working practice, consecrating his every mark and remark. Irons in the Fire, however, does an impressive job of representing the complex genesis of his work, utilising witty maquettes, sketchbooks, montages and DVD documentary footage. What saves this from becoming dreary is the amateurishness of the constructions. Wilson’s work has the charm and innocent invention epitomized by balsa kits, Meccano and Valerie Singleton’s sticky-back plastic, the ‘furniture’ cut from an IKEA catalogue in Tumbleroom (2001) being a high point.

 

Jordan Baseman, EF103 603, Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee. Until 23rd May 2o02 Salla Tykka, Cave, Tramway 2, Glasgow. Until 8th June 2002

Jordan Baseman, EF103 603, Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee. Until 23rd May 2o02

Salla Tykka, Cave, Tramway 2, Glasgow. Until 8th June 2002

Helsinki based Salla Tykka is one of a number of young Scando artists to have benefited from international exhibitions supported by the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art in recent years. At Tramway she stages a trilogy of short films exploring the transition from childhood to maturity. ‘Thriller’ introduces the broken narrative following a young girl who trapped in a log cabin in a woodland archipelago. The soundtrack and running sequences are highly reminiscent of slasher flicks such as Friday the 13th and Halloween. The film ends with the girl shooting a sheep with a shotgun. ‘Lasso’ sees a teenage girl returning from a brisk jog in the country to a house. She rings the bell to enter but gets no reply. As she walks around to the rear entrance she spies a sweaty bare-chested boy through the window skipping energetically through a lasso. She is mesmerised and weeps openly as a rousing crescendo sounds, taken from Ennino Morricone’s classic soundtrack for Sergio Leone’s ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’. Heavily reminiscent of David Lynch movies and sci-fi, ‘Cave’ sees a mature woman entering a mine wherein she witnesses a group of men in working in overalls. She appears pensive and paralysed, as though she has discovered Scaramanga’s secret den. The men spot her in the darkness with a torchlight, but simply move on. Enigmatic subjectivity is the name of the game, Tykka trading heavily on metaphors of the forest and the cave as uncivilised, enchanted places in which people are subject to demonisation and animalistic sexuality. In each video the season constantly seems to be passing from winter into spring, another loaded reference to the transient cycle of life and the transition from innocence to knowledge. For some audiences, this is more Bet Lynch rather than David Lynch, Tykka’s overt seriousness and over reliance on film genre theory tipping her work towards the brink of cliché. It nevertheless has an obvious appeal to organisers of international art shows focused on a supposedly lost European humanism, and to audiences simply desperate for emotive art that might fill a gap created by flip contemporary culture. For those of a gothic disposition willing to make the leap and fill in the gaps, Tykka is an aromatic dish.

In Dundee, Philadelphia born one time Young British Artist Jordan Baseman also exhibits three video works, one of which is fortuitously titled ‘Thriller’. Baseman takes his cues from the mediated culture that informs Tykka’s work, but he is more willing to trade in irony and dark humour. Working with peripheral figures and places, Baseman’s videos raise similar issues of identity to Tykka’s work. He is nevertheless more focused on the split between the public and private self, an idea formulated by the mass media. The script of ‘Thriller’ is very obviously fashioned from fragments of a transcription of Martin Bashir’s interview with Michael Jackson. Baseman employs two young white female southern English actors to play the roles of Bashir and Jackson. The Jackson character earnestly yet unconvincingly answers questions regarding her ever whitening features, her nose job, childhood fame and how she came to gain the title ‘King of Pop’. The interview segments are punctuated by short blanks accompanied by excerpts of Jackson’s music, giving the film an upbeat vox pop feel. This flatness signals that superficiality is all pervasive. Do such interviews really penetrate the mask offered by stars such as Jackson to offer us home truths, or are such exposes really an excuse to make money from a willing public hooked on voyeurism? Are the interviewers really in control or are their questions used to the interviewee’s advantage? ‘Thriller’ is a fairly light-hearted take on the issue of whether we ever have a way of knowing or understanding what makes us different from one another. Baseman’s video works on the whole are a kind of striptease, revealing something but not everything. Like Tykka, he makes much use of the classic thriller tactics, leaving false trails and unresolved conflicts, prolonging the shelf life of his work by keeping his audience guessing.

Win Together Lose Together Play Together Stay Together

Win Together Lose Together Play Together Stay Together

28 Leven Street, Tollcross, Edinburgh.

Edinburgh’s abysmal lack of independent artist initiatives has been confronted lately with discreet domestic organisations such as Magnifitat, Tag Team Experiment and a spattering of large group shows at The Roxy. Despite the best efforts of some, new galleries have nevertheless failed to emerge. A courageous group of recent Edinburgh College of Art graduates have at last temporarily beaten rabid property speculators to borrow an empty property from Alec Farquhar of Macbet bookmakers. Craig Coulthard, Ruth Ewan, Tommy Grace, Astrid Johnston, David MacLean, Cathy Stafford and Kate Owens have lived and worked closely together since graduating and are determined to remain, unlike many artists who flee the city for the laser lights of London, New York or Glasvegas. The Tollcross Clock seems to have been chiming last orders lately for the shambling nocturnal theatre district of Edinburgh. The impact of major supermarkets has encouraged closure of Tollcross’ long established fishmonger, florist and ice cream parlour in addition to a spate of dry cleaning and turf accountant fatalities. Bad news for the merchants of the gateway to the Old Town but good news for locally based artisans, inspired by an ardent love of its magnificent Baudelairean decay and united by an Epicurean sense of purpose. Motivated by the shelter of like-minded people ruled by friendship, their philosophy is clearly signalled by the exhibition title; these artists are not just playing to win, they are tackling success and failure communally. Their work is loosely connected by a utopian neo-romantic sensibility and a common interest in ritual, myth and heraldry. Coultard has painted a commanding series of defunct mediaeval heraldic shields used to represent the old Scottish counties before they opted for dreary corporate identities. Grace’s beautifully distressed ‘Paulus Group’ photoprint represents a quasi-Masonic checkerboard of Renaissance tiles disappearing infinitely into the painterly horizon. Using plastic beads and glue, MacLean conjures an intricate image of Christ playing dice, a blasphemous emblem of the triumph of chance over divination, and an excellent metaphor for the show as a whole. There isn’t one weak moment. The main draw, nevertheless, must be Owens’ ‘Divine Geometry’, a decorative window display made from unfashionable reformed potato snacks such as Mini Chips, Monster Munch, Space Raiders and Discos. Owens’ witty window dressing skills make her a formidable challenger to the baroque sensibilities of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen. It’s good enough to eat.

Until 30th May 2002
(Wed- 6-9pm, Fri-Sun 12-7pm)

 

 

 

City Art Centre, Edinburgh Joan Eardley: Paintings and Drawings – 3 Stars Until 22nd February Toil: Rural and Urban Working Life – 2 Stars Until 22nd February Recent Acquisitions – Until 22nd February Transmission, Glasgow David Musgrave – Until 18th January

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.