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.