31 July 2014
The List (p.88-89)

Counterpoint at Edinburgh Art Festival 2014: hoping to add to contemporary art in Scotland, not just repeat it.

Alec Finlay, Ellie Harrison, Michelle Hannah, Andrew Miller & more contribute to GENERATION showcase.

Talbot Rice Gallery is doing GENERATION with a twist. It is one of 60 venues taking part in Scotland’s biggest ever showcase of art – a huge national event celebrating the work of the country’s artists over the past 25 years – but when the project was announced, Talbot Rice’s principal curator decided she wanted to do things a little differently.

‘When GENERATION came about, I had a touch of the awkward squad about me,’ Pat Fisher says. ‘I didn’t want to just do a monograph exhibition of an artist within that period. I toyed with various things but none of them seemed the right fit. We wanted to find out what we could do that would add to the story, not just repeat it.’

To move the story on, the gallery selected eight artists to take part in Counterpoint – a series of solo shows that Fisher says will come together and resonate with one another across the Talbot Rice’s unique gallery spaces. ‘These artists are in the vanguard of the art world,’ Fisher adds. ‘They are the vectors of something new rather than something that follows on.’

The eight artists include Michelle Hannah and Shona Macnaughton, who have both used performance to respond to the institutional architecture of the gallery, part of the University of Edinburgh. Hannah used the university’s Playfair Library for ‘Statue’, the first recording of one of her singing performances, in which she used lasers to refract off her sequin-covered face.

‘Universities as old as Edinburgh are aware of the historic tradition they come from, but it’s also a place of new ideas,’ Fisher says. ‘That idea of the laboratory and of experimentation – of risk-taking – is something we try to fold into our exhibition approach. In this show we’re giving artists the opportunity to develop their own work, so it’s also creating this other counterpoint about what is the association between a visual art installation and performance art.’

There is a strong element of performance throughout the show, which is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival. As well as an evening of live work held in the gallery on 16 August, performance forms the basis of much of the work on display. ‘Performance is coming back,’ Fisher adds. ‘It’s not as it was in the 1970s, it’s a new type of performance. It looks at the notion of what performance might be and how you record it – how you create a stage scenario.’

In the main gallery space, Andrew Miller has created a breakfast bar that will act as a meeting point, while Craig Mulholland presents ‘POTEMKIN FUNKTION’, an installation that includes sound work and a custom-made bowling alley. In the upper gallery space, Alec Finlay has created a multimedia work looking at satellite communication, GPS navigation and the spacial memory of bees.

In the Georgian Gallery, Ellie Harrison has installed one of two pieces in the show that reference the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September – the other being Ross Birrell’s work for his ‘Envoy’ project, in which he will throw a metal cast of Heisenberg’s uncertainty equation into the Firth of Clyde on the day of the vote.

For her work, ‘After the Revolution, Who Will Clean Up the Mess?’, Harrison has installed four confetti cannons and a detonator bearing the word ‘Yes’ in the gallery. For the first 48 days of the exhibition, her work will sit quietly alongside a series of sculptures by Keith Farquhar – but if Scots vote for independence, the cannons will be detonated as part of an event that will be broadcast live on the internet on the night of the vote.

‘It’s a really over the top, ostentatious celebration creating a massive spectacle,’ Harrison says. ‘Within a space like the Georgian Gallery, something of that scale is almost completely overwhelming. It’s ambiguous – you’ve got all this confetti going everywhere, but you’re actually creating a massive mess that somebody’s going to have to clear up. In a gallery context you’re also doing something really inappropriate and temporally defacing the other artworks.’

The work mirrors the sense of anticipation that exists in Scotland in relation to the referendum, Harrison says. ‘Nothing might happen – it could all be a massive anti-climax, but that’s what I’m interested in. It’s the temptation to push the button, but without really knowing the chain of events that will unfold. That’s the situation I’m creating in the artwork.’

The performance aspect of the work is something Harrison says engages people, creating an experience rather than a commodity out of her art. ‘I’m drawn to performance because I’m drawn to anything that can create an atmosphere. That’s why I like to use humour because it’s a way of engaging people across the board. Whether they think it’s art or not, they’ll understand it on some sort of level.’