_ East, west,
home’s. . .?
As eastern Europe attempts to come to terms with its new-found. doubled-edged ‘freedom’. and Scotland attempts to find it in the first place. Simon Yuill examines Margaret Hunter‘s exploration of the personal and political issues raised by unification and division.
The ‘Nurnberger Trichter‘. literally the name ofa funnel-shaped hearing aid once used in Germany. was also adopted as a sarcastic tag for the system of forced education in which the pupils need only memorise such knowledge as is ‘poured‘ into them. In the hands ofartist Margaret Hunter. it becomes an image describing the situation of contemporary East Germany. a country once subject to the didactic education of State Communism. now struggling to cope with new lessons from the West. notably entrepreneurship and unemployment. Turned upside-down. the funnel becomes a dunce‘s cap. the badge ofthose banished to the corners of the class for failing to learn their lessons.
Having divided her time between East Germany and Scotland since 1985. Hunter is sympathetic to those often seen as the dunces of Europe. An outsider when she first arrived in Germany. unable to speak the language. her drawings became for her a means ofsurmounting the communications barrier; a central theme in her work is that of a body caught up in processes of splitting and binding. She relates her personal experience to that ofthe two countries which for her have become one home — East Germany. healing the wounds ofseparation and Scotland. bound to an unsympathetic political partner. Her own sense of alienation was similar to that experienced by many Germans. East and West.
; after reunification. The drawing ‘Joint Venture‘
relates to a picture she painted on the Berlin Wall in 1990: depicting two heads forming an arch between which a stream ofexchange passes. it describes the ‘ideal ofreunification‘. When transferred to the Wall. she added two crowds of tiny figures pushing and pulling the heads. something closer to the actuality of it all.
After graduating as a mature student from Glasgow School of Art in 1985. Hunter went to Berlin to study under Georg Baselitz. Drawn by his work rather than the place. the city nevertheless became a major stimulus for her. while the Ethnology Museum‘s collection of non-European art proved to be a third source of inspiration. In her two sculptures. ‘The Receiver‘ and ‘Leaning Woman', metal forms — small
I ; . I l
funnels in one. a large wedge in the other— force their way into carved-wood bodies, adapting a kind ofsculptural collage technique from contemporary African sculpture. Unlike many
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Western artists, she avoids exploitation ofsuch art , as an image of the alien and exotic, instead
incorporating it into her formal language, using the body as an area where experience inscribes itself. It is how to reconcile what we find alien within ourselves that Hunter explores.
The themes ofsplitting and reconciliation refer not only to the cultures of East and West, but also to the disjunctions between past and present, as in the drawings of Magdeburg Cathedral. a tottering spire of misplaced sculptures clothed in scaffolding. conveying ideas about renewal. support and collapse. Such feelings are familiar to those who leave their families to work abroad. as Hunter herselfhad to do. and the painting ‘Excess Baggage‘ depicts a woman carrying her family inside her on a journey across barbed. difficult borders.
Despite the context in which her work developed. Hunter avoids obvious political imagery of the type employed by Ken Currie, for instance. whom she criticises for his failure to make any real contact with Eastern European experience. Her work embodies the belief that one must experience an active involvement with such countries in order to understand them. and operates on this kind of personal level. For all the conﬂict this may entail. her figures are not victims: they bear up and survive under the pressures of change. The distraught dislocation expressed in ‘Two Paths‘ is transformed into the security and completion of ‘Personal Flame‘.
Changing Places: Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture by Margaret Hunter, is at the Collins Gallery, Glasgow, until 10 Oct. After touring to Germany, the exhibition will go on show at Edinburgh 's Talbot Rice Gallery in May [993.
The List 25 September - 8 October 1992 53