MIXED MEDIA INCOMMUNICADO City Art Centre, Edinburgh, Sat 13 Mar-Sat 8 May
It couldn’t have been scripted better. I’m phoning curator Margot Heller to talk about her exhibition Incommunicado - the subject of which is communication breakdown. We tried yesterday but she was struggling with tonsillitis; today her voice croaks bravely as she says: ‘Let’s give it a go.’ In the background her baby starts howling. The tape could be an artistic case in point, if it had worked. I realise half way through that the little wheels aren’t turning - the light’s gone off.
So yes, as this one attempted dialogue illustrates, communicating is hard. As humans we have these things called words which we use to try to express thoughts, feelings, ideas. And quite often they fail us, or at least frustrate us.
Artists have more tools at their disposal. Their infinite media - colour, images, form, sound - can be harnessed to explore the sense of things that often lie on the edges of words or the spaces inbetween them. Bruce Nauman, whose video piece Lip Sync (1969) features in the exhibition, has said: ‘I think the point where language starts to break down as a useful tool for communication is the same edge where poetry or art occurs. It is how the familiar and the unknown touch each other that makes things interesting.’ Such a tension sustains the show.
Pidgin by Erika Tan
‘A few works will instill a sense of frustration,’ says Heller. ‘But overall I want it to be thought provoking. It
touches on so many different areas and raises the issue of:
is the purpose of art to communicate? I believe that any work of art is communicating something, but the meaning is dependent on the recipient.’ So essentially, it’s about communicating the difficulties of communicating. To us. The audience.
The idea had been forming in her head for a while when she saw a re-discovered Comédie (1966), a film by Samuel Beckett and French filmmaker Marin Karmitz. It accelerates Beckett’s play of the same name into indecipherability. It is a point where literature and art meet, where boundaries blur.
‘l was already working on the show when I saw the Beckett film but as soon as I saw it I thought this will pull everything together - this will be the gel.’
The hysteria over the millennium bug was another influence. Technology, as we are always being told, is helping us to connect quicker and more easily than ever before. And in some ways it is. But there is an issue of quality and depth here. Is faster always better?
In the beginning was the Word. In the end was @ and www. What lies between and beyond are the concerns of Incommunicado. As we finish the interview Margot’s baby is sleeping softly on her shoulder, I’ve reverted to pen and paper and her voice is ready for a long rest. (Ruth Hedges)
BELOW STAIRS: 400 YEARS OF SERVANTS’ PORTRAITS National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until Mon 31 May 000
Maids of All Work, 1864-5 by John Finnie
The word ‘servant' can conjure up several images. including the rogue royal butler. the twisted old housekeeper or the staming girl in the freezing garret. Film. literature and the media have all helped to create these stereotypes.
So it is intriguing and Surprismg to see portraits of actual servants from the past 400 years. espCCially when the painter's brush. elevating them from their subordinate status. has bestowed respect upon them. The full-length portrait of Bridget Holmes is gUite remarkable in this respect. especially when yOu realise that she emptied chamber pots.
This exhibition is not. however. attempting to gloss over the hardship of servitude but as the employers commissioned most of the portraits or the artist painted his own servants. you are not going to see a gallery of miserable wretcnes. It is impossible to disassociate these images from the
fictitious roles already created in your head and several paintings only serve to perpetrate the fictions that we know.
The Trusty Seivant is a mythical mutant figure created as the perfect servant. A pig's snout. ass' ears and stag's hooves are all assimilated to dehumanise the servant and remind everyone of the contempt that they are held in. The paintings depictzng well- bred ladies. dressed as maids coquettishly holding the z'iev-Jer's gave. you can imagine only served to heighten the sexual vulnerability of fe'naées in service. The black servants. or slaves. no matter how viewed or styled. cannot erase the truth of their Slitlétt'Cli and their status as trephies for rich families.
The portraits of lulsoihe cooks and groundsmen are more CASH". \. i(}‘.'.’(:~(! Without a wary eye as their lot seems somewhat more bearabie. it's an interesting exhibition and you cannot help but feel that these people deserve to be celt—zhrated. (Isabella Weiri
News from the world of art
Glasgow Art Fair
THE NINTH ANNUAL Glasgow Fair will be taking over George Square from Thursday 15 until Sunday 18 April 2004. Over 50 UK galleries will take part. featuring the work of 1000 artists. Following on from the success of last year's Extension pavilion. nine established and up-and—coming organisations — including the Collective Gallery, the Embassy. Switchspace and Volume — will be involved. showcasing more Cutting edge contemporary art. New developments to the fair include Prints Studios of Scotland. a collaboration between Dundee Contemporary Arts. Edinburgh Print Studios and Peacock Visual Arts. featuring the work of Anya Gallacio. Martin Boyce. George Shaw and Toby Paterson. Contemporary art club Spin, set up by the National Galleries of Scotland and the Contemporary Art Society (see Art Forum), will be offering guidance on interpreting and collecting contemporary art as well as contributing to a series of talks and presentations. For more information about the Art Fair. see wwwglasgowartfaircom. TRAMWAY’S FORMER CURATOR and visual arts programmer Alexia Holt, who was unceremoniously suspended during the Scottish Ballet/Tramway fiasco, has become Cove Park’s first full time director in a position partly funded by the Scottish Arts Council. Cove Park on the west coast of Scotland was established in 1999 as a charity to provide artists from any discipline with the time and space to develop new work. Recent participants include artist George Shaw, composer Sally Beamish and writer John Burnside. We wish Alexia well in her new post. SWITCHSPACE'S CO—FOUNDER SORCHA Dallas will be opening up a new commercial gallery in Glasgow on 3 April, representing artists Henry Coombes. Kate Davis. Alex Frost. Craig Mulholland and Clare Stephenson. More information will follow in subsequent List issues.
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