Working on nothing but everything, ROSS BIRRELL gets hectic with theories. Words: Neil Cooper
Here we go again. some nutter getting people’s backs up in the name of art — and somehow managing to keep a straight face while defending it. You know the drill: burn a million quid. Get some shut-eye for a week in a big glass box. Nothing so demonstrative for Glasgow artist Ross Birrell. who‘s just spent ten days working at a desk in the CCA. Busy doing nothing in fact. Well. not nothing. but doing somethinghabout nothing. which may not be much at all. but it‘s certainly not nothing. Is it‘.’
‘I spent ten days writing my thesis.‘ says Birrell. ‘an essential component of which ~ is about avant-garde theory and practice. so it made perfect sense to finalise things in public. I probably would’ve done it anyway. mind you.’
Confined by metal barriers and obligatory museum issue red rope. Birrell gradually transformed the space around him from a formal desk and computer set-up into a room grafitti-ed with slogans such as ‘Down With Intelligence’ and ‘Art ls Useless — Go Home’. closing proceedings with a performance by his aptly named band. Vacuum. ‘lt was a process that moved from high theory to low art.‘ states Birrell. who was last seen exhibiting a lump of coal he’d insured for £3333.
88 THE LIST 10—24 Sep I998
‘if yes; ceaseéea . nothing. titer»: we;
5;: SE; v . ..
Man at work: Ross Birrell painting slogans at CCA
Last week. the second part of the exhibition. Nihil. opened in a deceptively formal way. with texts by German philosopher. Kant. in their original Latin lining the CCA walls. ‘lt's related to Homo Armlenn'crs in a way.‘ Birrell muses. ‘but it's also completely different. Whereas the first piece was bright and garish. a sort of conceptual slapstick. Ni/ii/ is dimly lit and. with more of the trappings of a regular art-space. creates an air of sanctity. There’s still laughter there. but it doesn‘t go for the jugular quite so much.‘
What does it go for then? ‘lt’s about the limits of art’s inability to express itself.‘ according to Birrell. ‘On one level. this is an intellectual conceit on my part; but on another. it‘s facing up to all this and making a serious point. There are contradictions at play there too.’ he insists. ‘If you consciously try to do nothing. then you're clearly doing something.‘ Whicli. if you want to make something (or nothing) of it. is where we came in.
Birrell has likened this work to both Yves Klein‘s g“ Void. where Klein exhibited an empty gallery. and to composer John Cage’s 4'33 in which silence itself acted as music. It’s also akin to the permanent void inherent in the work of Samuel Beckett. ‘lt’s going back to a creative nothingness.‘ he says. ‘So you create yourself out of nothing. I‘m not a Zen Buddhist. but it’s certainly moving into that way of thinking.‘
Yes. but is it saying anything? ‘I don’t know.’ is Birrell‘s honest. something or nothing answer. ‘lt‘s pretty existentialist. l suppose. I‘m certainly not the first person to look at all this. but you have to return to it every now and then.‘ Which is something.
Nihil is at the CCA. Glasgow until Sun 19 Sep.
Eavesdropping from behind a bottle of Beck‘s beer.
NEWS IS OUT on the selectors of the British Art Show, which is to kick off in Edinburgh in 2000. Pippa Coles, of Edinburgh's public art agency, Art In Partnership; writer and artist Matthew Higgs and London-based artist Jacqui Poncelet are the trio with the task of eyeing up Britain's artists for the prestigious touring show. Selection is to take place over the coming year and will be announced towards the end of 1999. THE MAN KNOWN for his penchant for paintings by Beryl Cook, his Art For People policies and founding Glasgow's critically slated but ’people popular’ Gallery Of Modern Art, Julian Spalding has gone. After unsuccessfully applying for a newly created post, Spalding is allegedly out of a job. But talk is that Tony Blair fancies Spalding as a governmental art advisor. Are we to look forward to 'The People's Art Promoter'? Meanwhile Bridget McConnell, formerly of Fife Regional Council, has been appointed to the new post of director of Cultural & Leisure Services for Glasgow City Council. Let's hope that working with council officials is an improvement on ‘dancing with a corpse', as Spalding was wont to describe it.
CULTURAL EXCHANGE GOES ON between Scotland and 'the land down under’, Australia. The number of artists travelling between here and there must mean that on every Qantas flight there is a posse of artists talking art world intrigues and patronising the drinks trolley. The latest artists to head under are Glasgow boys Nathan Coley, Martin Boyce and Simon Starling, who are showing in Strolling at Melbourne's Museum Of Modern Art.
IN OUR REVIEW of Carl Andre's show at lnverleith House (issue 341) we incorrectly stated that this was Andre's first solo show in Scotland. In fact Andre exhibited at Edinburgh’s Graeme Murray Gallery in 1981. At lnverleith House Andre is showing new, site-specific work. . r 'r .5. ’a ’
Spaceshit: Turner Prize nominated Chris Ofili, known for his use of elephant dung, talks art in a new TV series, Sampled, see page 89