Weird and wonderful
People made out of Hoover tubing riding scooters. marching rows of empty shoes -— Alastair Wallace’s kinetic sculptures transform the ordinary into the surreal. Sue Wilson spoke to him about his forthcoming exhibition.
Alastair Wallace's outlandish kinetic sculptures have become something of a feature of the Edinburgh cityscape over the last couple of years -- you may remember Saddle Up. the large moving picture featuring a SOs-style cowboy and policeman. or the mass of spinning umbrellas arranged around a video screen. both of which adorned the Fringe Office‘s window during the last couple of Festivals. His last Edinburgh show. Animator. featured a marvellously oddball collection of objects — a skeletal figure made from vacuum-cleaner tubing. riding sinuously on an old Vespa scooter: an orange jumpsuit attached to an air-pump which inflated it into a humanoid monster reminiscent of kitsch horror films or children's nightmares.
Lanarkshire-born. Sunderland-trained Wallace has been concentrating on 3-D kinetic work since 1990. having stumbled upon the idea almost inadvertently. ‘l was just plodding along as a painter. getting more and more bored and disillusioned. then one day l was working on a painting and I realised I needed a bit of it to spin round.‘ he explains. ‘So I bought a model motor from Harburn Hobbies and that was the beginning - at first I was putting moving parts onto paintings. with all the mechanics at the back. but after a while the back was getting to be outrageous, two or three feet of mechanical bits sticking out. and people were spending more time looking at the back than the front. so I started incorporating the mechanics into the whole thing.‘
Despite the apparent complexity of the sculptures' moving parts. Wallace says he just ﬁgured out the technicalities as he went along. ‘l‘m not an electronics expert.‘ he says. ‘I worked as an apprentice electrician for six weeks when l was sixteen. but the only thing I learned to do there was to go and buy bottles of Int Bru for the bigger boys. I just found when I started that. ifl wanted an object to move in a particular way. if I sat down and thought about it really hard. and did lots of doodles. I eventually came up with a way of making it work. One thing I remember which must be connected is a bizarre burglar alarm l rigged up on my bedroom door when l was about eleven. made out of the insides of toilet rolls -- I think it was inspired by the den they had on Double Dec/tars. It had a great big pot of marbles. and when you opened the door it tipped up and they thundered down through this thing. then they all crashed into a huge tin at the bottom.’
52 The List 26 February—l 1 March 1993
Animator II will feature two new. large-scale works. still under construction when I visited Wallace in his studio. ‘()ne will have 53 pairs of shoes. arranged in fifteen ranks inside a metal framework] he explains.
‘I worked as an apprentice electrician for six weeks when I was sixteen, but the only thing I learned to do there was to go and buy bottles of lrn Bru for the bigger boys.’
‘There's a motor linked with bits of fishing-line going over the bars to the shoes. so as the mechanism goes back and forwards all the shoes will clump up and down at different times. The other thing has a load of mirrors hanging down from the ceiling. revolving. with slide projectors shining on them. The whole thing will stand in a big tank of water. w hich’ll be sprayed over the mirrors. so you can see the effect of the water running down in the slide reﬂections on the wall. Then there'll be these great big faces photocopied onto acetate. suspended in front of the mirrors. so as the two things move round. at first you just see a big rectangle of light reflected. then a face comes into it and moves out the other side.'
Alastair Wallace: unexpected iuxtapositions of ordinary inanimate objects given independent lite
Wallace's work is comical. surreal. grotesque and vaguely disturbing all at once: unexpected juxtapositions of ordinary inanimate objects given
independent life »- rather like l'imiuviu‘s Sorcerer's
Apprentice scene. only more so. ‘11 is kind of a cinematic thing] he says. ‘()ften it starts with objects
l like I bought the Vespa bccatisc it was a beautiful thing. about 35 years old: the rest of that piece was
made out of things I bought at car—boot sales. So a
; Hoover that belonged to someone in Livingston or
somewhere meets a knackcred \"cspa from North Berw ick. and they're joined together into something that’s alive: it's just too weird for words. With the new work. ljust like the oddness of all these empty shoes moving 7- most of them belong to people I know. and it's really weird to imagine them all next to each other. sticking out of these shoes. And with
the mirrors and slides the reﬂections become almost like a face appearing at the window through the rain.
or someone sitting at the window when it‘s raining. one of those images you just kind of recognise. ljust try and get each piece to create an atmosphere of its
.Ilnimulor II is u! the ('o/li'r'live Gui/cry in Edinburgh from 4~ 35 .llurt'r'i.