Recorded Passage is an exhibition based on individual stories of emigration. But is it art and should it be in a gallery? Beatrice Colin
One cloudy day in the beginning of February. fourteen ladies from Glasgow. Derry and Donegal ceremoniously unpacked a chest of clothes in the Street Level Gallery. Re-creations of styles worn by emigrants from lreland and Scotland to America and Canada at the beginning of the century. the clothes were hung around the walls of the gallery on wooden
In collaboration with artist Amanda McKittrick the women had sewn the garments in memory ofeight people whose stories they had discovered through oral history sessions in the process of putting the exhibition together. Tea-stained calico cotton. bloomers. petticoats and bonnets were then printed with photocopies ofold black and white photographs and each stitched with a name tag to identify for whom it was made. Later that day. the women wrote personal letters to the people. now dead. whose lives
they had uncovered.
‘Minnie’s friend Marion was accidentally shot with ' a gun when she was nine. her mother died when she was only three and her father committed suicide because he couldn‘t get a suitable housekeeper for the rest ofthe family.‘ says one ofthe Ladies from the Evergreen Pensioner’s Club in Derry. ‘So when i you get into it. it is really most sad. The public in general weren‘t aware of what‘s gone on. Amanda
has brought it all to life.‘
guilt? is it even an?
The next day at the official opening of the exhibition. it's hard to make sense of what actually has been brought to life. The clothes make the gallery look more like the wardrobe department in a costume drama than an exhibition. From perception to realisation. Recorded Passage has all the sentimentality of Little House on I/I(’ Prairie and the heightened tragedy of an Edward (iorey cartoon. ls this project therapy for two countries' collective
‘lt is art." muses Elsie from Derry. ‘:\'o. it‘s more . history, I would say. Why is it shown in an art gallery? Well you better ask Amanda. because we 1 don't know. She wanted to involve people. but I 5 would say that there is a lot of art in it,' Amanda McKittrick is from an li'ish family w ho :
moved to London. She has a deep mistrust of the an establishment and of the pci'ceiyed truths of history. With these fourteen women. she wanted to rewrite the emigrants‘ plight in a medium that eyery body Could comprehend.
‘When i finished art collcge I didn’t see the sense in making pictures and putting them on the wall and walking away. never knowing w hat anybody thought and never making any kind of contact with pcople.‘ she says. ‘l felt I wanted to make work that my family would understand nephews. that everybody would get something from but that had the same kind of status of art that is shown in galleries. lirnigration in Ireland is part of every body‘s life and l inst thought it was an exhibition idea which would actually touch cverybody.‘
But like heritage centres and 'l'\' biographies. this is
escapism masquerading as personal history.
'lt is quite nostalgic.~ .‘ylcls'ittriek says. ‘liut l think that the way we use phott graphs ol people's faces is quite romantic. I also think that history hasn't got enough romance and enough ol that personal human
emotional connection within it History denies the the sense ol yourself and your personal history is put down Bringing in oral history stops
"l'he fact that the indiy idtt‘als were naive and romantic about it was really appropriate and gave us something that I felt that history should have nrore of. There‘s so much written about etiiigration that it needs that over—lhc-top romanticiscd side of it put back in to balance it.‘
lTnfortunately the fact that the work is shown iii a gallery context simply heightens how naive and insubstantial it is. Although the women inyolved
oby iously learned front the experience. the resulting
work does not constitute a valid L‘\illiil[l()ii. (‘omrnunity art treads a thin line between being worthy or obtuse. /\’(‘t't/l'ifr’r/ l’rtywtei’ raises questions about the purpose «it this kind or protect and where the results \iltllliti i‘c sir m t: /\)(’t(Ht/(hfluﬂnit’t'1‘tt‘r'hd'lt't'l/lit'filllf/I/jorilU/i
my granny. my nieces and
_ New frontiers
In staging the combined works of Robert Carswell and Robert Euman, the Collective Gallery have one of the most unusual couplings of young artists in terms of disparate styles.
Carswell’s bold and illuminating abstract works are immediately (and perhaps a tad unfairly) reminiscent of fellow Scot, Bruce McLean’s striking large scale paintings in their choice of vibrant colour and form. Yet Carswell’s Recent Paintings set their own agenda in a mission to - according to the exhibition notes - ‘use design as a metaphor for our need to measure and confine the world’.
The notion of structure and barriers being set up only to be challenged and dissolved again works less well on the small-scale but makes a greater impression in untitled works. These
1 are allowed to flow freely over an
; entire wall awash in green neon
: broken only by fuzzy blue squares to
i constrain the piece. Again in another t untitled piece which ressembles a
Robert Carswell’s Untitled at The Collective Gallery, Edinburgh
section of graph paper blown out of proportion, the idea of constriction comes into blasting red focus.
Robert Euman’s Painted Offerings could not be further removed from his
peer’s bright colourful works. These are dark, brooding small-scale paintings that demand the viewer’s intense inspection. Deriving much of his inspiration from movements as diverse as Surrealism. Primitivism and with more than a passing nod to the influence of expressionism, Euman has attempted to, ‘strike links with the past while incorporating contemporary thoughts and impressions’.
Yet many of the paintings seem over-
worked to the point of obscurity;
allegorical figures and images emerge from layers of thick, short brushstrokes but fail to offer a developed touch. It is, however, in those paintings that feature flatter, simpler motifs in almost muted shades that Euman seems to excel. Overall, this show is an uneasy combination of work at various levels of development. (Ann Donald)
Paintings by Robert Carswell and Robert Euman are at the Collective Gallery until 5 March.
The list 25 February in March 1994 53