9 August 2014
The Herald (The Arts p.6)
Cerebral show celebrates the work of eight exciting artists.
Counterpoint, whose title aims to bring together the diverse themes approached by the artists in this new group show at the Talbot Rice Gallery, is part of both the Edinburgh Art Festival and the Generation series of exhibitions which have been happening all over the country in celebration of the past 25 years of Scottish art.
This is not a show of blockbuster names or major works revisited, as much of Generation is, but provides a swathe of work created by artists chosen by principal curator Pat Fisher just for the occasion. “I suppose I was just looking for a number of artists who are not quite typical of the period, but whose work I still felt was significant,” Fisher explains. “We had previously worked with a couple of the artists, and we wanted to give them another opportunity.”
For Fisher, the Edinburgh background to the exhibition is key, as is the intellectual capacity of the artists to engage the audience. This is, after all, a university gallery. “The Georgian Gallery, along with the Playfair Library, is a very important architectural space that signifies the Enlightenment,” says Fisher. “Charles Darwin studied in the Georgian Gallery, which used to be the University’s Museum of Natural History.”
There is reference to this here in the work of the eight artists brought together for this loosely linked show, from Alec Finlay’s aesthetically spare take on the lives of bees to Keith Farquhar’s university magazines featuring Nobel Prize-winning scientist Peter Higgs (of the Higgs Boson).
There is engagement too with what can seem like the elephant in the room in many exhibitions – the referendum on independence. Ellie Harrison’s confetti canons, due to fire off on September 18, should Scotland vote for independence, are both provocative and amusing. Entitled After the Revolution, Who Will Clean Up the Mess? the confetti will lie for a month in the gallery where it falls – if it does – on the day. The canons are arrayed at one end of the gallery like some sort of military display. The confetti, by the way, is in red, white and blue, and would fall on the work that dominates the rest of the gallery, Farquhar’s installation of two prone street lamps, wired for light, massive yet strangely vulnerable on the floor and uncomfortably alien in close up.
Artist Ross Birrell engages with independence or otherwise with his large text work in the neighbouring White Gallery, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle Cast Into The Firth Of Clyde. In the annex of the Georgian Gallery, his video of himself throwing Heidegger’s Being And Time into the Grand Canyon has a warped echo in Andrew Miller’s wall of photographs of discarded objects and societal junk, Bhagwansingh’s (2014).
Another of Miller’s works, Refraction (2014), dominates the White Gallery space physically, a sculptural steel framework (a little like a climbing frame) of wooden benches angled to provided viewing points into the gallery – though it is not immediately apparent that one can sit on them. Aurally, though, the space belongs to performance artist Michelle Hannah’s vast video of her lonely late-night Playfair Library performance, a laser-strewn fantasy of science fiction meets 1980s pop, in which Hannah, her face dotted with crystals, sings amid the mute statues of the historic library like a refugee from a future world.
That future takes somewhat worrying shape in Craig Mulholland’s bowling alley, a juxtaposition of the real and the virtual, although the real is virtually skinned, its aesthetic a computer-styled reinterpretation of reality. The virtual bowling alley, on a screen above its physical counterpart, is where the action happens, retelling the same story as the skittles are repeatedly knocked down before picking themselves up again.
Upstairs, before the multi-room video installation from Shona Macnaughton, Alec Finlay’s bee sculptures and drawings reference the neonicotinoids decimating the Earth’s bee population in an installation of straw satellites and hives, of poetry and appropriation. Juxtaposing the flight of the bee and the workings of GPS, his work is an apt counterpoint for anyone feeling lost in the Festival melee.