What a load of rubbish
Miranda France went to the McLellan Galleries’ new exhibition ‘Out of Order’ and stumbled on an industrial extravaganza constructed out of other people’s waste.
Like the Wombles. David Kemp, Ron O’Donnell and Jim Whiting have a shared obsession with rubbish. Unlike the Wombles. they don’t limit themselves to disposing carefully of it: Kemp and Whiting turn it into extravagant statues and machines. O'Donnell scatters it through his huge vibrant photomontages. All three are anarchists who profess themselves ‘bored with things that are brand new’ and rummage through the debris of our technological age to create their own chaotic order.
Totally unprepared for David Kemp‘s elaborate practical joke. I stepped into his allotted space and stepped out again. thinking that I must have ended up in the museum section by mistake. His exhibits are all in glass cases: tribal masks and costumes. dusty relics of an unidentifiable age all meticulously labelled and catalogued. His short film ‘The Tribe That Held The Sky Up‘ explains the relics’ provenance — they are the results of an archaelogical dig carried out on the deserted island of ‘Britland’. home of an aggressive warfaring
people who burnt a hole in the sky and were wiped ' out when it collapsed on top ofthem. It’s an
original idea — even if it does feel like a cross
' between Friends oft/2e Earth preachifying and The
Hitchhikers" Guide To The Galaxy rib-tickling — and Kemp takes the joke further by making all his relics out ofunlikely throwaways. like high-heeled shoes and vacuum cleaner parts. The implication that we. 20th century Scrooges. are taking a trip with the Ghost of Christmas Future to glimpse the sorry remains ofour descendants is intriguing. But also confusing. Every society has its icons. but why have our descendants reverted to rain dances and tribalism‘?
Make your way through Kemp‘s ghoulish caverns and shrines and you find two lofty galleries given over to a retrospective of Hon O'Donnell‘s work. O‘Donnell used to record our society‘s detritus -— from disused factories to down-and-outs in Edinburgh‘s Grassmarket — with black and white documentary photographs. Now he creates his own images of decay in huge lurid photomontages stuffed with kitsch and plastic. Crunched up coke cans. cigarette packets and discarded chocolate wrappers untidy scenes of domestic decadence; in one picture. litter is
actually exploding out of a dustbin which appears to be orbiting earth. lnstinetively you feel that pictures like these. all bright colours and disembodied mannequins. are meant to be jokey. In my case they provoked a very wry smile. I found the surfeit of yesteryear’s ephemera and waste depressing— probably not the reaction that O‘Donnell was looking for. but. on the other hand. he admits to having messages and morals and to being. though not actually an Angry Young Man. ‘interested in being angry”. so he's not simply looking for laughs. The portrait of a family tucking into Kelloggs Nuclear Wasiies proves that much.
Escaping toJim Whiling‘s industrial extravaganza is a relief. His Unnatural Bodies Redeemed are high-tech animated ‘sculptures' dominating a room which looks more like an aircraft hanger. The primitive metallic figures expose all their workings and are apparently — and perhaps conveniently — actually programmed to break down. A row ofhandbags snap open and shut (Whiting‘s been accused of sexism) and a
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spare-parts scorpion writhes unpredicatably across the ﬂoor. Best of all are the ‘ﬂying shirts' which whiz along a cable-slapping slow-wilted spectators in the face like a storm ofangry bureaucrats. Jim Whiting‘s show — minus the parts which have been programmed to break down — runs from 1pm to 2pm every day and should be particularly popular with children.
()ui of()rder‘s strength is in the fact that it manages to have a recurrent theme without becoming tedious and a message without sermonising. The moral is that our technology incurs a waste which can be turned to creative use: outside the gallery‘s front door are two cheerful ‘palm trees' sprouting orange traffic cones instead of leafy fronds. lfthey were looking for a family exhibition which is thought-provoking but. above all. entertaining. the McLellan Galleries have come up trumps.
()utofOrderis ail/1e McLellan Galleries until 14 July. Admission [I . 50 (50/) ).
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The List 17—30 May 1991 67