Catch a fire

Flammable Solid Flammable Liquid marks the beginning of Tramway’s new visual arts programme. Caroline Ednie talks to artist Glen Onwin about his new


According to Conceptual Artist Joseph Kosuth in his essay ‘Necrophilia Mon Amour', ‘True artists work with meaning, not form and to think the reverse is tantamount to saying that when you speak you think in terms of grammar and not in terms of what you want to express.‘ In light of his current exhibition, and indeed the prodigious body of work behind him, it would be fair to say that Glen Onwin, unlike many of his Conceptual contemporaries, does not think in !

terms of grammar.

Onwin has, over the last twenty years, explored layers of meaning via materials which are culturally, historically and personally loaded. Flammable Solid Flammable Liquid, a series of seven elements created specifically for the Tramway Space, is a gratifyineg succinct articulation of the artist’s work to date. Tar, coal, salt. and oil embody a myriad of references alluding to a central element of fire and its primordial

connections to life itself.

‘lt’s a very complex work, and all my materials are meaningful,’ he says. ‘Coal dross is sunlight in compressed form, as is the crude oil. I use pyrite crystals. pyrite meaning ‘full of fire', because I'm interested in the connection some scientists are making between pyn’te and the beginning of life on

f earth. On another level, one of the reasons i use tar is

' that when l was young I used to play with the hot tar

' when they were digging up the tram rails in

i Edinburgh. Everything is open to interpretation and l r

- want people to look at it in their own way.’ i

The exhibition is also a treasure trove of an i

: historical allusion. An expanse of copper sulphate

? blue recalls Onwin's predecessor Yves Klein. ‘Yes it

- is an Yves Klein blue, he‘s one of my great

i influences. There are all sorts of art historical

references in the work, from Klein‘s use of blue and his fire painting to Malevich's black squares, and

1 references through salt to the work of Robert Smithson. Beuys is also a major influence.‘

Flammable Solid Flammable Liquid is real triumph,

9- 1:: 83’s.. ' i . q “a. . Sien Onwin's Tramway installation prior to opening ; though, lies in the way that it successfully addresses the scale ofthe Tramway.‘l work with buildings because i enjoy the idea of allowing people to look at ' them. That‘s why I’m using the whole height ofthe wall. People will start to look at the space and see the structure reflected in the space. The building will be . drawn into the space.’

Despite the eco-conscious interest which the exhibition will inevitably invite, Onwin‘s work avoids the preciousness characteristic of much ‘environmental’ an and, although monumental in scale, there is no aspiration towards machismo. On the whole, finely balanced volatility.

Flammable Solid Flammable Liquid is at the l Tramway until 3! March.


_ Building blocks

This is an exhibition of space. Ben Johnson and Stephen McKenna are both painters who focus on the relationship between space, objects and light, and explore how they combine to constitute ideal environments. Both are working in a rarefied domain where the difference between art and architecture becomes indistinct.

The concept for this exhibition draws on the precedent of the lirblno Panel, a Renaissance depiction of the flagellatlon of Christ set within a perspective view of an idealised city. This is a fascinating example of technical skill being suffused with artistic vision to create a heightened, poetic image of physical space.

A correlation exists between the early imaging skills employed In the

,4. r


Ilrbino Panel and the computer- generated drawings and photographs that are the basis of Ben Johnson‘s paintings. ills views of tranquil interiors and city-scopes are executed in an immaculate style that leaves no trace of brushwork. By fusing art and science, the past and the present, Johnson seeks to depict a harmonious,

Ben Johnson in his London studio ordered environment that is conducive to the pursuit of high ideas and ambition.

This is a very alluring aspiration, pervasive in modern architecture, and nowhere more evident than the refurbished Fruitmarket Gallery. However, it is also an ideal fated to be

forever unattainable on account of the

essential disorder of human life. Viewed from this perspective, the emptiness of Johnson’s paintings can seem eerie, not meditative; and his cloudless skies turn a lifeless blue, devoid of oxygen. By contrast, reality is the scuffed wooden floors that disrupt the Fruitmarket’s pure geometry, and the tannoy announcements from Waverley Station that interrupt the reverential silence.

Stephen McKenna’s work is suffused with a dream-like quality. iiis riler still-llfes combine architectural fragments with mythological references to create compositions of allusive mystery. Latierly, he focuses on interiors and landscapes, drawing out the patterns of spaces and enclosures that they contain.

Together, these artists offer an interesting exploration of the boundaries of spatial perception. it is a challenging show, but it is also one which rewards thoughtful viewing. (Justin McKenzie Smith) Timepresentandtimepast...’isat The Fruitmarket Gallery until 26 March.

54 The List 1 1—24 March 1994