Don’t be afraid if things seem difficult in the beginning. That’s only the initial impression. The important thing is not to retreat; you have to master yourself. Unlock that funky chaindance. Tension mars the prettiest face. Suit the action to the word. You know how hard it is for me to shake the disease that takes hold of my tongue.
Korbut Ware-Gore, 1980.
McKenzie, Lucy (1970s-) Artist. Born in former Strathclyde Region, Europe. Size: 1.76 m. Bigoted critics were swift to intimate that McKenzie painted a medal because Scots like subsidy. They do select at an early age and train. In 1980, amongst all the superior painting ladies bestowing habitual elegance was a cheeky looking girl in pigtails, doing the most fantastic stuff! McKenzie was 18 when she pulled into Dundee School of Art waving callously at her nut-mother-father and her then younger sister. She attracted attention with her medals and youthful enthusiasm. Yet her flagitious Germanist cousin had a special preference for make-up, always dressed for a Depeche Mode Night (1999). McKenzie began to care likewise intensively for her exterior. So Frankfurt Hochschule was The Danger in Jazz (2000), and she all psychedelic eyeliner, that, abominably, she was particularly noticeable. Peter Ueberroth, the man in charge of the 1984 Olympics, now believes that this painting was the pinnacle of pride for Los Angeles citizens. However, we must remember that factual and expressional apprehension will vary greatly, depending on experience.
Artists were influenced in some way by the Cold War, as students competed for a liebenswelt. McKenzie was interested anyway only in art instruction. With 4 years she was finally released, because it seemed with orange hairstyle too instruction she. Offering herself as scapegoat for Dundee’s collective guilt, McKenzie packed, short, decided suitcases, for Glasgow. Gallery Charisma gave her an opportunity, letting her sketch Was Guten? (1999). McKenzie turned now to the exact opposite, the East European jet set. Stadium Towers (1999) looked Nazi showpiece gigantic, giving less Olympic, more swastikas bedecking. Each success of a ‘McKenzie’ was welcomed as a victory for seductiveness. McKenzie’s ‘lightning wine bar’ painting Kultura (1999) – XIV Fifa World Cup’a’Culture – made for the first time, the press attentive. Not a painting with rose-pink Glitzer Livree, Rococo frill shirt or toupierter, Kultura was unemotional, analytical, almost regal in its deportment. At the Polish Eingangstuer Thronte, McKenzie knew no grace with unimaginative everyday life types and rejected them. Much against the principle that commanded that each artist is an amateur, McKenzie retorted: “Move out of my way it’s time to make it happen.”
McKenzie’s idea seemed to be inexhaustible. It constantly rooted in dusty costumes, lending a new lining, invariably occurring to the type with the thousand faces. With her hit paintings Olga and Big One, she was fanatically represented. With Untitled, a new mode developed – the ‘New Look’, gaining the sympathy of millions worldwide (accordingly making Untitled a household cognomen.) For many years, McKenzie led a secluded life in Glasgow, working as an artist, but she often felt bored. She claimed the Strathclyde authorities just ignored her after her retirement and she felt bitter.
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
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.
Contemporary French art appears to be on the threshold of crisis, rudely awakened from bureaucratic slumber by the Right who, encouraging debate on museum privatisation, seek to revoke massive increases in state funding introduced in 1982. These attacks on cultural statism threaten French endorsement of the Euro Kunsthallen model, and may shift emphasis away from neo-conceptual practices. Additionally, Nicolas Bourriaud perceives a waning of critical spirit in French culture. Committed to the work of emerging artists, Bourriaud’s dressed-down Palais de Tokyo Site de Création Contemporaine may serve as a corrective. Equally, it could exasperate the problem by pampering the few peripheral French art practices that circumvent €urokunst. Siting an ‘alternative’ space in the 16th arrondissement is not an ironic gesture in the face of horizontal cultural coordination. To make matters worse, the Palais de Tokyo has been parading Parisian squat art; an alternative scene that has little to offer other than misplaced hippie sentiment and attendant expressionist relativism. Despite its faults, the inclusive approach of the Palais de Tokyo does at least suggest that ‘international profile’ can no longer be the only desirable cultural aspiration.
As such, the Musée d’Art Moderne’s concurrent solo exhibitions of Bertrand Lavier and Phillipe Parreno may amount to nothing more than nostalgia; Lavier being a major French figure of the 80s and Parreno, of the 90s. Lavier engages with the intersection between museological endgames and consumer culture. His concerns may be semiotic, but his work is primarily ironic and parasitic rather than erudite. Composition rouge, verte et jaune (1989) looks like a hard-edged abstract painting, but turns out to be a section of wooden sports floor. The semiotic implications of allegedly pure signifiers are probed only for the hollow applause of the converted. Such works are the cultural products of an 80s France that understood the role of museums. Knowing his place, Lavier found these desublimating puns endlessly amusing. A series of Relief-Peintures (1987-91) are constructed from portions of brightly coloured prefabricated building façades; Lothar (1999) is a pylon snapped off by France’s 1999 hurricane painted silver to resemble a Modernist steel sculpture. Only when Lavier leaves literalism and uncooked juxtapositions behind do his museological musings become worthwhile. Walt Disney Productions 1947-1984 – an arrangement of paintings and sculptures based on a cartoon of Mickey Mouse’s visit to a Modern art gallery – works on the level of the pun certainly, but it has awesome psychological force. This realisation of a virtual space is truly nauseating; green and yellow walls enclose bright biomorphic polyester resin sculptures, mobiles and silvery abstract cartoon cibachromes. Lavier’s recent cibachromes, Harcourt/Grévin (2002) unite the glamorous chiaroscuro developed by Harcourt photography studio in the 1930s with the gauche celebrity of the Musée Grévin wax museum. Taste apart, Harcourt and Grévin are equally accomplished mythologisers of Parisian cliché. By photographing waxworks of contemporary figures such as Vladimir Putin and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the now unfashionable Harcourt style, Lavier not only mocks the epochal pretensions of such individuals, but pricks at the heart of representation’s canonising power. More pressingly, Lavier prophesises the avaricious populism that we might expect if French museums are privatised.
Parreno, like Lavier, is respectful of the institution, taking just as great care to produce an exhibition grandiose in aspiration and solemn in tone. Parreno is also drawn to discordance and conflation. The opening work of the exhibition, his short 35mm time-lapse film of growing Norwegian vegetation El sueño de una cosa (2002), is projected onto a Robert Rauschenberg White Painting (1951) every 4 min.33Secs. (John Cage, 1952). The long painful wait through Cage’s music while staring at Rauschenberg’s equally uneventful monochrome is finally rewarded with breakneck rendition of genesis. Parreno here appropriates time and space rather than material culture, he does not use objects but memories, collective hallucinations, ‘the dream of a thing.’ In this way he avoids Lavier’s cynicism, circumventing vulgar materialist questions that museological art tends to raise verbatim, focusing instead on the structures of feeling that permeate culture as a whole. Parreno’s vision of the world is more nuanced, fragmented and estranged since he has faith in the ability of the imagination and our biochemical selves to reconstruct semiotic and spatial relationships. Alien Seasons (2002) a video projection of a cuttlefish camouflaging itself by changing colour to match its surroundings can be read as a metaphor for the means of subterfuge by which Parreno leads his audience into an alien environment constructed according to his wishes. The show’s final work Crédits (1999), extends this metaphor to a false dénouement. A collection of coloured plastic bags hang from a tree planted in waste ground near a 1970s housing project. The luminous bags filmed under relentlessly changing lighting conditions, flutter in the wind and rain to the accompaniment of electric guitar by ACDC’s Angus Young. The sound, lighting and mise-en-scène continuously alter our reading of the video: extra-terrestrial, utopian, haunted, grunge, dystopian, stage-set, children’s game. Blaming the government for France’s allegedly low international profile may not be the solution, for such exhibitions, like life, are movies without cameras, and such movies have no directors.
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Contemptuous, guilt-ridden and disgusted by the treachery and hypocrisy of their profession, Owen and Doolan know how to deal with männliches verbrechen (‘maskulinekrime’) as relentlessly and single-mindedly as a shark. They specialise in keeping villains on the streets and out of the Glasgow Project Room. Their enlightened artisanal activities muster the definitive personas of honourable gentleman, souls of decency, always polite and impeccably dressed, who struggle to maintain their own personal dignity in an amoral and corrupt Modern Athenia. Despite the fact that they hail from different ends of Edinburgh New Town, they play essentially the same parts, world-weary artists with a conscience, a steely-eyed gaze and danger in their rueful laughter. His gas mask decorated by Her Majesty, the boy Owen is one who dared and won, disposing of dangerous men through bribery, blackmail, frame-ups or, in the last resort, painting. Masquerading as a preacher, Doolan, in the interim, hid out from those godamm conservative cops in the imperialist subterfuge of The Dome; brooding, solitary, and friendless except for his grubby cane. After all these years of penance, Owen and Doolan have only two personal weaknesses: they are rebellious and they care. Still, perhaps … and, despite some uneven writing, Woodwardians are always compelling gets as they expiate their sins.
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.