Edinburgh's galleries have united to present a snapshot of contemporary art. But is the BRITISH ART SHOW 5 any more than a collection of half-baked jokes?

Worc's: Mark Fisher


THE CURATOR SAYS IT'S ALL ABOUT THE AMOUNT of air you get in a room. Yeah. yeah. yeah. It‘s a load of balloons: 5()()() of the things stuffed into a space the size of your bedroom (with another 2().()()() waiting elsewhere in the Botanic (iardens to replace the burst and deflated). Hui/The :lir In A Given Spare might be an investigation into spatial awareness as far as artist Martin (‘reed is concerned. but to you and me. it‘s a fantastic playroom. Some people are freaked by the disorientation of drowning in a sea of inflated rubber. the balloons squeaking bird-like in your ears while raising the leycl of electrical static. But I loyed it. It's a truly sensory experience. those bright colours massaging themselyes oyer

all points of your body. freeing you into a land of

peaceful isolation (someone can be a balloon's width away from you and you'd neyer know it). Hey. and it‘s fun.

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Yes. it‘s a simple idea. but it's one of the few exhibits that raises the emotional temperature in the British :\rt Show 5. There are two things that blight this trayelling suryey of contemporary art which has settled into eight lidinburgh galleries for two months. liirst is the profusion of one-trick ponies.

exhibits no more interesting in conception or

execution than your ayerage joke in Private Eye. Second is the knowing air of ironic detachment that you hoped had died out a decade ago. If you seek nourishment. surprise. engagement. confrontation. anything to quicken the pulse. you’ll haye to search hard. If this suryey is to be relied on. British art at the start of the 21st century ranges from the banal to the mildly diyerting.

It’d be easy to pick on the arriyal of the cartoon in the National (iallery of Modern Art

Art at the start of the 21st century ranges from the banal to the mildly diverting.

Left: Martin Creed's Half the Air in a Given Space, Below: Chad McCail's People Have Relaxing Orgasms and Obedience Doesn't Relieve Pain

1 magi doesn't. relieve pain

as an example of the leyel to which contemporary art has sunk. l)ayid Shrigley. Michael Landy and Tracey limin turn in pieces of home-made naiyete. deliberately resisting the polish of consumer culture in favour of rougher. more idiosyncratic doodles. Their presence makes you question why we tend not to treat cartoons as art. Iiyen if you come up with an answer. it's an interesting question; there‘s no need to dismiss these artists. Shrigley is fun (here and at the (‘ity Art ('entret. l.andy reflects on the small print of mass market consumerism and. in limin’s scatological scrawls. there's a leyel of disturbed anger that is unsettling.

.»\t least these artists are honest about their cartoons. The problem comes with the many contributors to the exhibition whose yision is no more profound than that of a cartoonist. They produce art as gags. not eyen especially funny ones. ideas that simply don't withstand the scrutiny of the gallery enyironment. The stuff on show in the (‘ity Art (‘entre and the ('ollectiye Gallery is depressingly uninspired. the work on yideo being especially indulgent. ;\nd eyerywhere. most notably the liruitmarket Gallery. we find the wry. heartless note of cynicism.

Of course. in a Venture as extensiye as this (and isn‘t it great to haye so many galleries partaking in the same exercise'.’). there is good work on show too. The hot spots are the Talbot Rice (iallery. the Dean Gallery and lnyerleith llouse. Seek out Laura l‘ord's ('liinI: (fir/s. half a dozen life-size dancing school girls. a disturbing blend of doll-like prettiness and blank-faced anonymity in the Dean. There's a similar sense of alienation in (bad .\lc(‘ail‘s great oblong paintings in the Talbot Rice. their poster paint simplicity and sloganeering subtitles creating an unexpected meeting of ('ommunist propaganda and June! am! John. These like. the work of Dayid Hockney. Padraig 'I‘imoney. (‘onor .\lcl’eely. and (ilenn Brown. are welcome eyidencc of artists working beyond the leyel of soundbite inanity.

The British Art Show 5 is at eight Edinburgh galleries until 41un, see art listings for details.

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