Category Archives: Criticism

The Garden

Some small hope, far away when national imaginaries were composed of garden centres, golf-courses, sewage works, car parks, underpasses and airports, an epic struggle took place between The Garden, and the bare-breeched brethren of the Rossie-Crosse, those reptilian supporters of The Academy and The Lyceum. In England, during the period March 21st 1975 AD, a thriving and cultured garden community was established just outside the walls of London at Coombe in Cornwall. Peter Blake, Graham and Ann Arnold, Annie and Graham Ovenden and David Inshaw found a garden wherein they were set free from managed modern transitions and the staged internationalism of the Napoleonic Empire by the truth of the Cor Anglais and the poems of Wordsworth, Milton and Thomas Hardy. “Peter Blake has suggested that they were artists who chose, quite deliberately, to go and work as artists in the country (as opposed to the city), an environment no less real for the artist than the city, throughout twentieth-century urban snobbishness tends to think differently.”[1] Withdrawing from the state into a sheltered Atlantis of like-minded people ruled by friendship, they hailed Epicurus, Elgar and the Reggie Perrin Commune. The Brotherhood of Ruralists became increasingly absorbed by the mythical aspects of the countryside, showing a great deal of interest in an archaeology of foliage, fairytales, folklore, legend, naming rituals and the labyrinths of 19th century British art. Raised in summer days of splendour, a number of Arcadian and faerie paintings followed, uniting William Blake with Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite fantasies. Despite his change from flat cryla paint to oil, Blake’s distinctively sensual pop style remained evident, albeit in a style that aped the piety, virtue and infant joy of early-Netherlandish painting. Work-in-progress Titania, was painted as a sexually aware adult, complete with pubic hair and a distinctly seventies perm. The result was an uncomfortable contradiction between fantasy and verity, a magical realism of grottoes, gothic cottages, the crosses of old grey churches, Hermits, Orpheus and children’s games. The Brotherhood of Ruralists had no manifesto, no promotional strategy, and held no bureaucratic positions, and therefore made little impact on the institutionalised British artworld. Flowing with milk and honey and safeguarded by their recondite Englishness, the Ruralists resisted being bewitched and imprisoned by dystopian urbanists in their steel palaces where they would have been forced to shake their Fascist Groove Thing for all eternity. Blake remained the leader of The Garden until the turn of the eighties when the modern-day Ophelia and former leader of The Ravishing Beauties Virginia Astley’s comely alienated euphony succeeded him. “For every locomotive they build,” Astley once said, “I shall sample another church bell.” The Green Book, sowed these seeds back in the soil as far afield as Glasgow, a dear green place where foppery flourished in the early eighties.[2]

After many years of reassuringly dull Sundays, the garden in which quene Astley felt secure was again thrust into turmoil. The municipal Archfiend and his demons were real and able to perform certain kinds of miracles and spatial metaphors by performing an attack on totalising theoretical endeavours. ‘Foliage is power’, was their motto. According to Hollinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotlande and Irelande (1577), the ensuing struggle for halcyon power over between Astley’s sons, erstwhile concrete fetishist new wavers turned agrarian ethno-historicists David Sylvian and John Foxx had led to a state of civil war. Moss covered urns were toppled by cascading floods of whispering rococo vine. The homely irregular doors of informal cottage gardens were decayed as discursive terms with mock deconstructive terror. While amorphous in all but its central components, Astley’s initiative to halt the spread of Anglo Platonism and Scots Aristotelianism ceded de facto control over much of mainland Britain to Sylvian and Foxx. Although it would nominally preserve Arcadian sovereignty under a greatly weakened and yet to be defined ruralist authority, the plan would effectively partition The Garden approximately into halves controlled by a Sylvian/pro-urban fox hunting on mountain bikes wing in Westminster and a Foxxian-Beechgrove Garden coalition of willing at Holyrood committed to a way of life directed at worldly happiness. The Sylvianian alchemical index of possibilities promoted peaceful wars, the smoking of hash pipe, a remarkable abundance of brilliant trees, replacing glacial ambiences with a bright temperate dog day’s air, leading life back to the soil and the poems of Wilfred Owen. The Foxxian system of romance favoured the poems of Ivor Cutler, scrapping weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde, travel by horse and carriage, communally renewable energy and a damp climate. Both were united in shaping self-conscious mythologies embedded in nostalgic rituals of ecclesiastical architecture, acoustic arrangements, Gregorian chanting, ambient posturing in white linen suits, sweeping vocal chords, drinking the blood of poets, and neo-expressionist LP sleeve design.

Ignorant of a romantic narcissism in which the pastoral is valorised, concepts of uninuclear and polynuclear conurban continuums continued to ignore the existence of village-type communities within large cities. The Scottish Green Party, winning six knighthoods from Foxx, noted with melancholic reflection that “wir naitral environs is the foonds that ilka commonweel is biggit wi. Whaniver we skaithe the warld aboot us we skaithe wirsels. Akis o thon, taen tent o the warld aboot us is mair nor necessar.”[3] Preferring to follow these diktats than remain under the Norwegian yoke, Lee O’Connor fled with grace in a stolen white van along the Edenic banks of Loch Sunart in desperation to convert the lions of the urban central belt. Once in the capital, O’Connor dreamt of a virtuous commonweel in his kailyard.[4] His Strontian Dream (2002) was of the otherworldliness of his West Highland hometown Strontian (Gaelic for ‘Nose of the Fairies’), wistful, gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, a truth inspired by cheap whisky. He slurred songs of a culture that most Scots no longer understood. As he breakdanced in New Town gentleman’s clubs yelling ‘I am the man from Scottish steel the rigger boots of the oil jobbers embrace the garment too’, he re-enacted Alexander Carse’s dramatic opposition between courtly sophistication and rustic innocence The Visit of the Country Relations (1812). To the vital centre, the naturalism of O’Connor’s New Labour-free paradise, his total rejection of active supernatural powers was anathema. After the Scottish Labour-Whig usurpers formed court in May 2003, he was caricatured as an embodiment of Antichrist for his belief in decadence outlined in his Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603). He retained a tenuous existence in a tree house growing in the fruitful’st soil of Edinburgh’s Dean Village where he abided faythfilll to the cause and grew accustomed to daintie food and soft beds of down.

The Labour-Whig pretenders could not seale their commission. The True Kynge and all his Counsell granted to them anone. And he held himselfe an Assemble at Yorke, gave charges, and taught manners, and commanded that rule to be kept ever after, and tooke then the chartour and commission to keepe, and made ordinance that it should be renewed from kynge to kynge. Living unnoticed, regulated by the seasons, the True Kynge pampered his belly, pausing in hiatus opposite a chewing gum wrapper mask, shrouded in Neil Bickerton’s dusky subterranean installation ‘WE WIN’ (2002). Have you ever been in a chewing gum castle before? It’s kind of a secret, but I know you won’t tell. Medieval fortifications and teeth can be symbols of power, security and protection, as when the animals discover them in defence. As chemical records of our primitive years, teeth are also ciphers of archaeology. Gum is desire given flesh (kidnappers in Borneo once abducted a diplomat for a ransom of Double Bubble). Gum is a mind free from disturbance and a body free from pain, to chew it is to coax a living from the soil. To smell it is to know the luscious smell of delicious land. Reminiscent of Les Levine’s gold gum sculptures, Bickerton’s tiny chewing gum castle had a saliva moat, and battlements menacing high fantasy, but don’t worry – the only thing that he keeps there are rotten teeth. As long as you brush your teeth and chew the chewing gum with studied nonchalance, not even your teeth will ever see the toothsome battlements of Bickerton. However, the more you attempt to remove this gum from your mouth the larger and more unmanageable it will become. In all, Bickerton’s naturalised epistemology left his people hungry, vulnerable, frustrated and panicky because the harder they tried to pull against false seers, the larger the mass of interruption became.

The messianic thoughts of The Lonely Piper ruptured this country of the mind, turning total corporeal war of the State into his own psychological war. Our curiosity is interested to know who and what this man really was, and perhaps all the more so, that our poetical conception of him is so different from the reality. Sometimes in fear of becoming a burden to his clan he would set out on a quest or journey through life collecting experiences and skills that he could share and therefore regain a place of standing with his people. On return from viewing the Monarch of the Glen (1965-68) in Peter Blake’s fifedom, he gushed a montage of aphorisms; standing in awe of sylvan views, affected by fragments and hidden treasures. An empirical record of the powers of the mountain that reign at their strongest during the night and particularly in the winter months, the Mountain Hairs that Turn White in Winter (2002) potentially recover memory from within the ancestral well. Some of this knowledge, understanding and wisdom gathered over the centuries can be found within this dark space, hopefully like our ancestors we will emerge out of the prefabricated darkness into the perfect pollenated light a little more aware.

[1] NICHOLAS USHERWOOD, “The Brotherhood of Ruralists 1975-1980”, The Brotherhood of Ruralists, Lund Humphries, London, 1981, p50.


[2] The Green Book, Issue 5, Spring/Summer 1981 had a powerful impact upon the work of the New Glasgow Boys.


[3] Scottish Green Party, The Thochts o the Scots Green Pairtie, Election Manifesto 2003.


[4] See Craig, Cairns. “Myths Against History: Tartanry and Kailyard in Nineteenth-century Scottish Literature”, in Colin McArthur (ed.) Scotch Reels. London: BFI publishing, 1982.

Lucy McKenzie | TATE

Lucy McKenzie

Motivated by the shelter of like-minded people ruled by friendship, Lucy McKenzie’s philosophy is clearly signalled by the conviviality of her work and by the ways in which she has clearly remained determined to tackle success and failure communally, to be judged by her foes as well as her friends. While a student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, McKenzie drew on her teenage experience as a rriot girrlesque fanzine writer, hauling together gloriously ragged exhibitions such as Shake the Disease. Mixing work by established international artists Richard Kern and Kai Althoff with Scottish, German and Polish upstarts such as Keith Farquhar, Alan Michael, Ewan Imrie, Paulina Olowska and fellow members of Deutsch Britsche Freundschaft, McKenzie was certainly a precocious magpie, but she was no networker. Then as now, her practice centres on respect and a highly tuned sensitivity to the ambience of the work of other artists and writers. Proud of her alleged provincialism, she works only with close friends, establishing elegant affinities between her work and that by those she admires.

Group exhibitions organised by McKenzie have transformed the pseudo-globalised neo-conceptual facade of contemporary Scottish art, bringing together works by artists long separated by generations and geographies. Curated with Charisma collaborator Edinburgh-based artist Farquhar, It May Be a Year of Thirteen Moons, But it’s Still the Year of Culture at Transmission Gallery in Glasgow re-wrote the history of nineties Scottish art. Rebuffing the slick café-bar cultural caricature of Glasgow and its artists, Charisma reclaimed the working practice and inspired mistakes of New Glasgow Boy Steven Campbell, reading his work in relation to their own idiosyncratic practices and the maverick theatrics of Martin Kippenberger and Albert Ohlen. The Best Book About Pessimism I Ever Read at the Kunstverein Braunschweig broke new ground between a number of younger European artists and perambulating Scottish elders painter-playwright John Byrne and painter-novelist Alasdair Gray. Charisma also pioneered the sartorial cause that is Mark Leckey in Scotland, while taking glutinous greyhound paintings by Edinburgh’s Archie Webb and the psychedelic outpourings of Glasgow’s Ronnie Heeps to guttural comrades across the North Sea. McKenzie remains fiercely independent of the dominant aesthetics and promotional curatorial sectors of the art world, both in Scotland and abroad, rigorously overseeing all aspects of her public exhibitions and dealing only with imaginative private gallerists that fully understand what she is trying to achieve.

While living in Glasgow, she has been involved in a number of more intimate projects with close friend Olowska, a Gdansk artist that she met while on exchange to Karlsruhe Kunst Akademie in Germany in 1998. Drawn to the rich visual culture of the former Communist-bloc, McKenzie collaborated with Olowska on a number of exhibitions in Gdansk, including apt art show Dream of a Provincial Girl and Aesthetic Integration, a vast series of works painted on the walls of the Solidarity Shipyards as part of the annual Festival of Mural Painting in Kliniczna. In Scotland they conjured Heavy Duty, a substantial joint exhibition held at Inverleith House in the capital’s Botanic Gardens. In Warsaw they recently ran Nova Popularna, an organic moonshine bar decorated in psychic homage to the Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange. McKenzie and Olowska flourished by ensuring that their saloon remained outside the trade routes and prosaic chit chat of global art. Women-only-Wednesdays at Nova Popularna made sure that Warsaw’s women didn’t get hassled. The local Polish clientele were greeted with a flurry of aniseed schnapps, honey vodka, Charles Rennie Macintosh curtains, seductive carved furniture, etched Nova Popularna chalices, vorticist wall paintings and diplomatic posing. The bar vitrine offered lady tennis player favourites KIM cigarettes as well as CDs showcasing the talents of the clientele. Edinburgh fashion designer Beca Lipscombe designed the official Nova Popularna dresses, aprons socks and belts worn by landladies McKenzie and Olowska and their loyal bar staff. Events were spearheaded by McKenzie and Olowska’s friends such as French artist Mathilde Rosier, who played piano behind the curtain, gentle jazz chanteuse Bianca Glazebrook and London covers band Donatella, featuring Bonnie Camplin dressed as a middle class housewife. Slideshows accompanied Thai barbeques while painter Merlin Carpenter played Take That records. During her days off, McKenzie worked on double portraits with Olowska and produced six hand-made posters advertising upcoming events, a few examples of which feature in this issue of Tate. A communal labour of love, Nova Popularna was a volte-face against insipid art groupies and globalised cultural entreprenurialism; its adjacent European fraternity might only be found, perhaps, in the small dark illegality of DIRT bar in Berlin or in the unreserved cultural intransigence of the Manchester Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

This summer, McKenzie returns home to her native Glasgow to organise another series of rainy Flourish Nights, shambling affairs that take place amongst the Baudelairean decay of Flourish studios and the Victorian wood panelled sumptuousness of Sloan’s Bar in central Glasgow. Last year saw music from Country Teasers’ decorous frontman Ben Wallers in addition to numerous films and performances, including McKenzie and Olowska’s poised Oblique Composition. This year will feature performances from Mancunian punk legends Howard Devoto and Linder Sterling in addition to Keith Farquhar and Craig Gibson’s A Rites of Passage From T-Shirts into Shirts, an elaborate cat walk presentation by Edinburgh’s self-styled Charisma Police. McKenzie continues to work on moist paintings and flashy iconographic short stories about haunted architects and balding popstars. For her solo show at Tate Britain, she will flaunt the Glaswegian Flourish posters within a faux salon-style gallery setting, festooned with marbled effect columns and courteous wainscoting inspired by 1980s editions of The World of Interiors magazine. The Flourish posters will be duly canonised, deliberately paraded with a baroque panache that is as dated as eighties wallpaper borders and museological art. The cultural and political devolution of the eighties and nineties has, of course, rendered Tate Britain an annex of heritage culture, no longer the axis of Modern Art in Britain but a nursing home for the aristocratic customs of a dying empire. McKenzie’s trompe l’oeil approach to institutional dogma and fashion is affectionately oblique, a sure sign that her alluring art périphérique is more widespread and influential than whatever she might produce personally, and is undoubtedly beyond the jurisdiction of any cultural plutocracy. McKenzie’s is a generous art that continues to be one made by her people for the good of people.

Rip it Off and Start Again

It’s ten years since opera critic Jeremy J Beadle penned Will Pop Eat Itself?, detailing the plagiarist tactics of the Kopyright Liberation Front, M/A/R/R/S, Technotronic and Jive Bunny. Believing they had overcome the hip-hop copyright crisis, record corporation lawyers suddenly faced bigger battles. Increasingly Baroque copyright breaches were aided by the explosion of cheapo samplers based on the £13,000 Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument (1980), once the exclusive preserve of Her Majesty The Kate Bush. The early nineties were a musical carnival, during which the reproduction of cultural history became exponential to the swiftly escalating rate of consumption.

This account of pirate pop culture tells only half the story. Programma 100, a Soviet plan to replace 100 Western products denied in the embargo that followed the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, overshadowed maverick breaches of copyright in the West. Knowing that their technological research was lagging behind the capitalist countries, the Soviet Union dispatched KGB spies to steal Western technology plans. Meanwhile, denied access to basic home computing by exorbitant prices, Soviet citizens took matters into their own hands, smuggling in small bits of Western computer technology and making back-room copies. Since the Soviets had no domestic software or pop music markets and no laws to protect imperialist copyright claims, Western software was regularly hacked and recorded music freely bootlegged. By the late eighties, Soviet gamers were enjoying Cyrillic versions of Manic Miner (1983) on machines such as Hobbit, Moskva 48, Bajt, Spektr 48, Dubna 48K and Fanny – homemade clones of Sinclair’s 1982 ZX Spectrum. With Spectrum clones used widely in schools and even on the odd nuclear submarine, one time samizdat Soviet culture was churning out instant nostalgia for the masses. Glasnost helped to accelerate the bedroom mores of pirate video games, music bootlegged on vinyl and exposed x-ray film and apartment-based Sots Art.

If Beadle’s harbinger of future pop correctly predicted the trend towards piracy and über self-consumption in the West, it perhaps overestimated the continuing appeal of pop glamour, a bastion of Official Culture. Browbeaten by the pantone boyish girl bands of the nineties, the plagiarist pop world of the early 00s more closely resembled the black market of the USSR’s twilight. If pop music was finally buried in the later nineties, it was being regularly mourned by a magpie möbius strip of retrofuturism aided by the speedy distribution of eighties computer simulators, MP3s and MP3 mixing freeware. Retrogaming on 8-bit simulators regularly breeched software developer’s rights, and the utopian polyphonic minimalism of the Commodore 64 SID chip bounced of the bedroom walls of the world once more. C64 superstar composer Rob Hubbard played live gigs, the Internet filled up with SID files and Commie rockers such as Ladytron did good business with their Uncle Robert’s analogue Moog, Trio’s Casio VL Tone and a Speak and Spell once swapped on Swap Shop.

Bastard Pop made headway on the airwaves in the early 00s, skilfully broken into the mainstream by XFM’s Remix Show, which encouraged young listeners to send burnt CDs. Home mixers sporting pseudonyms such as Freelance Hellraiser, Girls on Top, French Bloke and Soulwax pulled off inspiring and often hilarious mixes, combining metal with hip hop, grunge with R&B and new wave techno pop with, er, R&B. Totalitarian Superstar DJs were placed under house arrest as the masked masses took to their PCs. Inspired by Orc, the spirit of Revolution, the firstborn of Los and Enitharmon, they pulled up the spiralling roots of corporate pop, and shared the spoils among the lepers of Soho. ‘Destroy originality’, they instructed as they dug their polished nails into the eyes of Whitney Houston. Despite the DIY democratic energy, sticking to the rules of ironic juxtaposition quickly threatened to transform Bastard Pop into a musical equivalent of Dogma film. Luckily for the majors, this restricted the sacking of the back catalogues. Unluckily for the listeners, unnecessary dogmatism transformed Missy Elliot’s whining acapellas into the James Brown back breaking beat of Bastard Pop. The customary litigation threats piling up under XFM’s letterbox soon came in perfumed envelopes, S.W.A.L.K as the record companies whiffed the sweet stench of cultural sterility. Sporting MBEs awarded for charitable contributions to the world’s fastest burning subculture, by 2002, the major players of the bootlegging blip were signed up as Kylie and Cher’s superstar megamixers. Those who remain

Trading Spaces: Switchspace and The Chateau, Glasgow

Sorcha Dallas and Marianne Greated opened the countless doors of Glasgow’s nomadic gallery Switchspace in February 1999. Dallas’ West End tenement became host to the first of over 15 shows. Tiring of appeasing stairhead neighbours and of watching telly in the kitchen, the duo curated 9 exhibitions at a disused space under the Offshore Cafe the following year. Subsequent fundraising events allowed the organisation to curate the launch of Glasgow arts and music venue The Chateau, an old dilapidated Gorbals warehouse. Refurbishing the 5,000 sq ft venue, covered in dead pigeons and broken glass, was a gargantuan task eagerly tackled by Switchspace and Chateau volunteers. The independent space opened in December 2002 with a huge extravaganza featuring the work of ten artists in addition to live cabaret from Franz Ferdinand, Uncle John & Whitelock, Scatter and Park Attack. Since then, The Chateau has provided cheap studio space, Pointless Cinema film screenings, barbeques, firework recitals and a Hogmanay bash, as well as celebrated exhibitions such as Big Friendly Show.

Switchspace continues to programme innovative venues, encouraging grass-roots cooperation rather than competition among artistic peer groups. Edinburgh artists such as Craig Coulthard, Tommy Grace, Dave McLean, Julia Schnabel and John Mullen have all exhibited under the Switchspace umbrella at the Glasgow Project Rooms, an artist run space willing to accommodate Switchspace’s interest in the East coasters. Lorna Macintyre recently exhibited in an East End tenement loaned to Switchspace by property agency Fab Flats. Switchspace and their artists clear the place up, paint the walls and use the property as their gallery, before the organisation moves on to another Fab Flat. For nearly five years, Switchspace have relied on ‘subsidy’ provided by part-time work, fundraisers and the generosity of exhibiting artists. Recently, Dallas and Greated’s hard graft was awarded a grant by the Scottish Arts Council, something that will finally allow Switchspace to pay artists, writers, invigilators and invest in an education programme for locals schools. Regrettably, Scotland’s cultural commissars giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other. In the future, the sweat equity of the Scottish art community may have to know no bounds. Glasgow’s Tramway 2 – Europe’s largest contemporary art space – has been threatened with anschluss by Scottish Ballet, an dreadful slight on artists’ enormous contribution to Scottish culture and a clear signal that outmoded aristocratic cultural hierarchies endure. As Scottish Ballet enjoy their new underfloor heating at Tramway 2, let’s hope that Scottish artists are warmed by the friction burns caused by scraping pigeon shit off windows broken from both sides.


The Chateau


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.