Poison Pen, and Ross Sinclair’s Fan Club at the Stills Gallery, Edinburgh.


Power Plays

How are power relations explored in visual art? Two exhibitions shOwing together expose the relation between an individual and a power structure. Patrick Vidaud investigates.

A double bill is arriving at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh. First, a touring exhibition (from Camerawork in London) by the Canadian Jim Miller deals with the Kellogg Corporation’s macho treatment ofwomen in general and one employee in particular. The second exhibition, chosen by Stills from a competitive open submission by artists for the space, is a commission awarded to Glaswegian Ross Sinclair. He will set up an installation on the theme of artists' use ofgalleries and gallery spectators for self promotion.

Jim Miller heard ofthe case of Majorie Carlyle who, after 30 years of loyal service with Snap Crackle and Pop at their giant plant in London. Ontario, was summarily dismissed on suspicion of being the author ofpoison pen letters relating to an office scandal. Charges were never formally proffered and seemingly no legal action taken for unfair dismissal. Whether or not Marjorie Carlyle was guilty (the consensus opinion is that she probably was not) is beside the point. Miller, in this show, has latched onto the connection between the company‘s equally dodgy advertising policies and its labour relations.

Jobs in the factory were allocated strictly along gender lines allowing economies in wages as the traditionally less militant women did work that was classified as lesser and was therefore less well paid. In the advertisements, women were made to feel responsible and guilty when Kellogg’s weren’t there for the family breakfast. After mum had doled out the compulsory heaps of sugar-sodden cereals to dad and sprogs, she could scamper off for some menial work at the plant. Jim Miller highlights this less than surprising convergence of patriarchal management and advertising strategies through Marjorie Carlyle‘s tale. He uses photos, some taken from her house opposite the factory, juxtaposed with narrative on typical pre and post-war Kellogg’s ads. Window views of the plant's reality pierce the idyllic Norman Rockwell-like family groups of

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radiant and freckled WASPS. Although the problems of corporate misogyny and injustice addressed by the work are familiar and easy meat, it sounds as though here they will be interestingly packaged.

Exploring the relation between artist. gallery and viewer consumer. Ross Sinclair will plaster Stills and any available space on the other side of the High Street with life-size photo portraits of himself. After inarvelling at the outside pics which ‘will echo the formal embellishments of formal architecture‘ and then being ‘enveloped‘ by those on the stairwell, the viewer will emerge at the front end of the gallery to yet more of the same and the offer of ‘souvenir postcards to take away as free works of art!’

That much is revealed by the press release for the exhibition, titled ‘Fan Club’. But let’s be serious for a mo and look behind the hype. The intended connection between the two exhibitions is the relation of individuals to the power structures that keep them in readies Carlyle and Kellogg’s on one hand and an artist and a gallery


- {Ir ; ~ - drift-l "a a“ ‘x V ' t j Extract trom a collage in Jim Miller‘s Poison Pen exhibition.

Multiple vision: at Ross Sinclalrot Edinburgh’s Stills Gallery.

on the other. Sinclair would have us take an ironic and literal view of galleries as the places where artists are promoted. The viewer is the Fan Club and yes the artist is promoted. He is on the

; walls. All over them. Fair enough. but will the

idea work. has this approach enough spice and novelty to provoke more than a get-me-outta—here reaction? In advance. at least, not for me. Inspired (as his writing in Alba

; shows) by Baudrillard and Barthes and their

warnings about the repetitiveness of authority-speak. Sinclair will visit upon us. to my mind. a seriously brain~damaging version of what Barthes describes as ‘the bastard form of mass culture humiliated by repetition‘.

Although it need not detract from the work. it's worth noting that this is not a new idea. Persil seized upon it with even more monomania when they placed the same wash-day mum ad in every advertising space ofentire Parisian metro stations. We have the Andy Warhol serial self-portraits and those ofGilbert and George - more effective exposes of the theme. Finally we come to the business of the artist as message. As old as self-portraiture. this has recently been taken to its ultimate conclusion. Bill Taylor Woodrow and his associates hung themselves up framed from a gallery wall complete with catheters and pee-bags for a three-day sojourn. The citizenry loved that. Perhaps they will love this: it is after all the age of the mega-decibel. Whatever happens they will probably chuckle because this is a king-sized leg-pull by one (let‘s not forget) who gax e Glasgow 1990 its epitaph ‘Capital ofCulture Culture of(‘apital'.

Poison Pen and Fun ('Iuh are u! Stills Gallery. Edinburgh from 25 Feb—30.414”.

The List 22 February 7 March 199155