New life in the Old Town

As galleries everywhere continue to feel the pinch, Edinburgh entrepreneur Emily Ash is breathing new life into the art world with the temporary take-over of an historic Grassmarket building. There she will exhibit new works by eight artists from around the world. James O’Brien reports.

At 8pm, on Friday 31 January, David Mach. one of Scotland’s most famous sculptors, will set fire to an intricate match-head sculpture of a male negroid form. As the flames leap into the air, onlookers may be surprised at the apparently willful destruction ofan artist‘s own work. In fact, the action constitutes the final stage of its creation: it is moulded by hand and design, bonded by flame and charcoal. Mach’s work will then take its place in the Challenging Perspectives: New Lines of Direction show, a dramatic, and graphic example of what Director Emily Ash understands by the term ‘drawing’. ‘The exhibition is about “drawing” in the widest sense‘, says Ash, ‘that is, . mark-making, the construction of an image or metaphor, a dialogue with form, material and space.‘ The Ash Gallery‘s current space is a disused snuff factory in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town, a magnificent, five-storey, 16th century building which will briefly become an art gallery before passing into the hands of its new owners. There is something appealing in this meeting of Old Town history and contemporary art world, and Ash, who used to manage a tiny gallery in the Canongate, sees the challenge of this vast, temporary space as symbolic of a new attitude towards the housing of artworks in the 905. ‘Fluidity and flexibility seem to be the order of the day,‘ she says. ‘By opening up new, temporary spaces you can expose thehidden fabric of the city, at the same time imbuing it with the spirit ofthe avant-garde as a revitalising force. The Old Snuff Factory exemplifies this notion better than any other building I‘ve ever worked in.‘

Mach aside, the building will host works by seven other artists of international renown, each one attempting to interpret the notion of ‘drawing’ in a variety of media and contexts. None of these interpretations is confined to paper and pencil. The German artist Joachim Fleischer, for example, works with metal constructions, small motors, fan belts and a piercing, intense light, throwing an ever-changing projected image into




Joachim Fleischer uses intense light, metal constructions and a motor, throwing a

the working space. He subverts ideas of fixed imagery, creating a fluid beauty in the rafters of the factory roof.

Brigitte Schwacke works with large wire constructions suspended against a white background, creating intriguing constructions which, from a distance, look like pencil marks on paper. Erwin Herbst also creates line from contorted, movable forms, encouraging the viewer to touch the pieces and set them in motion, so that they constantly redefine the space around them.

Watch out too for Kate Davis, winner of the ‘Young Artist of the Year 1989’ prize and tipped by the Guardian as one of their ‘artists of the 19905’. Her works are highly selective she calls them ‘silent dialogues between truth, energies and states'.

From Poland, Joanna Przybla reflects on the man-made environment, and the desecration of the natural world by juxtaposing natural and mass-produced materials. Canadian Susan Kealy extends the investigation, probing into the notions

changing projected image on to the well

ofidentity, exclusion and the politics of ill-health. Old plaques from a sanatorium are inscribed with cryptic texts, similar to the many plaques found around the Old Town. Complex and innovative as it is, her approach to ‘drawing' conforms to the classical notion of line, form and perspective. With this new show, Emily Ash hopes to extend the practical understanding of‘mark-making‘, the colourful, seductive variety of media used in these works— fire, metal, rubber, glass, plaster, charcoal, light , language - contrasting with the powerful resonances of Old Town history. The Old Snuff Factory used to rent out its windows to people who wanted to get a good view of the executions on the Edinburgh gibbet in the Grassmarket. A less blood-curdling invitation awaits those who wish to sample, for themselves, the innovation and internationalism of the Ash Gallery‘s New Lines of Direction. Challenging Perspectives New Lines of Direction is at the Old Snuff Factory, 105 West Bow, Sat 1-1 5 Feb. David Mach will burn his match-head at 8pm, Sat31 Jan, in the Grassmarket.


The List 31 January— 13 February 1992 47